Home Features The truth about my ‘sex tape’ – by Alexandra Ryan

The truth about my ‘sex tape’ – by Alexandra Ryan

As The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill has been signed into law, Alexandra Ryan tells her story

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I am a victim of Revenge Porn.

It feels so liberating to finally put this down in writing. I have bottled this up, cried it out, screamed it into my pillow, hit it through walls, used it to hurt myself, even though what happened to me was not my fault.

A lot of people have asked me why I set up my ‘Bare It’ campaign this summer and what it was really all about. For me, it was about taking back my body and finally getting to control the narrative.

 

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There are some people who will read this piece and remember the time they heard about “Ali Ryan’s sex tape”. The rumour of its existence became salacious gossip in Dublin social circles about five years ago.

It was a hot topic within the newspaper industry, among TV professionals, PR companies and even worse, it made its way to random people I had never even met.

The day I found out that there was a video of me having sex with a man I trusted, not only in existence, but in circulation, was the worst day of my life.

From the outset I want to make it crystal clear that this video was taken without my consent. I had no idea that I was being filmed, my view was compromised, so even if I wanted to, I never would have known I was being filmed.

I was 25. I cared for this man. I had known him for years. I trusted him.

I remember the last time we slept together so vividly now. I retrace every single step that I took that weekend, the silk top I wore, the bottle of red wine I clutched in my hands as he opened his front door, the way I curled my hair, the excitement I felt.

Alexandra Ryan: Founder and CEO of Goss.ie

I would give anything to go back in time and stop myself from getting in a taxi and going to his house that weekend, eating and laughing with him, slipping into his room together after a long night of dancing and drinking.

I had no idea that that weekend I would be getting involved in what was set to become a web of lies, deceit and a violation that would affect me for the rest of my life.

There will be a lot of people reading this who think they already know the story, but I can assure you, you do not.

A few weeks after we had slept together the man I had been with resumed an on and off relationship with another woman, who also worked in my industry. We sometimes had to be in contact for work, and she always had an issue with me. Before this incident ever happened I always knew she didn’t like me.

He and I were both single when we slept together that weekend. But as an and off couples do, they got back together a few weeks later.

Around that time I was on holiday in Greece with my little sister. One sunny evening I began getting back to back missed calls from a blocked number. (Never a good sign really is it?).

I was in Greece when I got the call that would change my life

I anxiously answered my phone as it rang for the fifth time in a row with ‘No Caller ID’ glaring from my screen. When I answered, the woman who was back with the man I had slept with was on the line: “I’m looking at your sex tape right now, this is not good, you do not look good”, she then suggested that everyone was going to see it, now that she had it in her possession.

I laughed it off and presumed she was just trying to upset me. But then she started describing the video in detail, laughing as she did, repeating things I had said, describing the positions we were in.

I can’t put into words how distressing, heartbreaking and terrifying this moment was. Time completely froze, I could hear my heart beating through my chest like a thousand drums were banging in my ears, I thought I was either going to black out or have a heart attack.

I knew she wasn’t bluffing anymore once I heard the specific details, she sneered and giggled as she described step by step what was in the video. She now had something on me and she was going to use it to try and ruin my life.

I was still in such disbelief. I had never ever been in a sex tape, never consented to being filmed. Why would someone I trust, someone I had known for years, do this to me?

My sister and I were sat outside a restaurant overlooking the sparkling blue ocean, it was such a calm and beautiful setting, but it all became a dark blur by the time I had hung up the phone. I burst into tears.

I got up from the table and I rang the man who had betrayed me, hoping naively that this was a mix up, that she was lying. I was walking up and down the cobbled streets of Zante shouting at him “how could you do this to me?” locals and tourists were staring at me. It was the beginning of a long few years ahead of feeling embarrassment and shame.

He admitted his guilt straight away. He had filmed me without my consent. He said he shouldn’t have done it. It was wrong.

We fought and I hung up. My sister brought me back to our hotel room and I felt paralysed with shock and fear. How could this be real?

The next morning I woke up and for a brief second I had respite, it was just a nightmare I thought, but then a harsh wave of reality came over me and panic set in once again. I couldn’t stop crying.

I remember in the days that followed trying to enjoy the remainder of our holiday, trying to be normal, but I kept randomly bursting into tears, having panic attacks in the streets of Greece in the middle of the day, with tourists surrounding me looking concerned.

I texted the man and the woman and I begged them to keep this private. Like me, he didn’t want anyone to find out, he didn’t want anyone to see it…but she had other ideas.

Goss Media Founder and CEO Alexandra Ryan

I said I wouldn’t pursue legal action and that I wouldn’t go to the Gardaí if this was dropped and no one was told about it. For me the worst outcome would be someone seeing this video, someone sharing it around, groups of strangers staring at me having sex without me knowing anyone was watching.

But back then there were no laws against sharing images without someone’s consent, no laws against filming someone without their consent. I felt utterly helpless and alone.

Just hours later a tweet went up on the woman’s account saying she had found something. I had a moment of panic. Why is she teasing this online? Why does she want people to know? Why would she do this to me when she knows the man she was with did this without my consent?

And that’s when it all started…

First it was a work colleague and a very good friend of mine “Ali what’s going on,” a text popped up on my phone on my way home from Greece. “There’s all these rumours that you and X have a sex tape and that X has it”.

I rang the man again in the airport. I couldn’t breathe. My worst fears were coming true. I told him I was suicidal, I was crying breathlessly on the phone, I begged him to stop her, to get rid of the video or I was going to the Gardaí and to my lawyer. He told me to just lie and tell people it wasn’t true, that she had made it up.

Alexandra Ryan at The Gossies 2020
Pic: Brian McEvoy

Then he told me not to go to the police and suggested that having a group of men in a police station watching this video would be embarrassing for me.

Of course that wasn’t what I wanted, but I never wanted any of this. Why did I feel like I was to blame? Why were they both making out that this was all on me? I didn’t make the video, I didn’t steal the video and I didn’t post about the video online.

None of this was my doing. But still somehow, this was all on me, everyone was talking about me, I felt completely trapped.

I arrived back to Dublin shaking, anxious and paranoid. Did everybody know about it? Had people seen it? What do I do? I was so nervous to go back to attending events the next week. But this was my job, my life and I wanted to act normal so no one would believe the video existed.

But since the first tweet, more tweets had come from her account.  All hinting at the video. Once there was a suggested picture of me from the tape that was drawn in clip art on her account, and it was then used as her profile photo for weeks.

She was constantly berating me, trying to humiliate me, trying to antagonise me. Once she tweeted that she was watching the tape with her colleagues and that she was going to upload the video on YouTube.

I would contact the man and show him the tweets and beg him to get her to stop. That it was seriously affecting me.

(PS if you are reading this, I’m sure you are, not only do I have screenshots of all your tweets I also have text messages you sent and recordings of the times you called me and the times he called me too, speaking in detail about what happened and what you did.)

As I tried to return to normality I noticed my so called friends in the media industry had distanced themselves from me. They had all heard about the tape and were gossiping about it, not once did I get a text from any one of my journalist friends asking if I was okay, telling me they had heard the rumour. Instead I was greeted with smirks and stares when I entered a room.

I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I honestly wanted to die.

Every day was torture. I would go to sleep crying and wake up crying. Every morning the same thought would enter my head “what if it comes out today?”. I would check her twitter and see another veiled dig at me, another mention of the tape. I just wanted it to end. I hoped that it would be forgotten and I could bury my head in the sand, but she couldn’t let it go.

I received calls and messages all throughout the following 12 months, from friends I hadn’t heard from in years, people that didn’t even work in my industry, telling me they heard I had a sex tape. I would cry on my own in my bedroom, hitting myself, wishing I was dead, so this nightmare could just be over.

People laughed with him about the tape, he was “the man”, and people seemed to believe whatever version of events she was spreading around.

Unless you’ve been through this, you can’t possibly understand the immense emotions of shame and embarrassment revenge porn can create. I can never put into words what the shame feels like, the depression it caused, the panic attacks, the relentless anxiety. I thought everyone believed I was a slut, a whore, and that I deserved it.

What else was I meant to think? My industry friends deserted me, no one had checked on me. I was completely alone in this.

I always denied the video even existed because I was so scared I would never be believed. I was scared if people heard about it maybe brands wouldn’t want to work with Goss.

One night during the first year of this I bumped into a mutual friend of mine and the man’s. We were in a bar with a group of men when he brought up the sex tape and started laughing. I broke down. I told him I had never seen the video, that the man, one of his closest friends, had filmed me without my consent and explained what a nightmare my life had become.

He was so apologetic and said he had no idea. That he had heard the tape was consensual and it was just good fun.

Weeks would pass and I would continuously hear more things. Once a newspaper editor actually tried to run a story on it.

I turned to alcohol in an attempt to numb all the painful things I was feeling physically and mentally. I couldn’t be in a group of people at an event without a few drinks in me. I had to drink to cope with the overwhelming shame and depression I was battling every day. Then, within the industry, jokes were made that I was an alcoholic, it was laughed about. So suddenly I had become this alcoholic slut who made a sex tape and was lying about it.

I had already worked so hard to make a good name for myself, I was the youngest person ever to have been awarded Showbiz Journalist of the Year at the NNI Awards, I started my own business from scratch with no help or funding at the age of 24. But this sex tape was all that people were talking about.

For the first year Alexandra turned to alcohol to cope

Over a year later I declined an invite to an awards ceremony, because I knew the woman was going to be there and I couldn’t face her. I was scared what she would do or say. To my absolute horror a journalist contacted me the next day saying that she had come over to a group of press and declared that the video was real and started going into specific details about how I looked, what I said, everything.

I remember getting the messages and my hands were shaking. Two of my staff members had been in that group. How was I going to explain this? Again I felt ashamed and embarrassed.

A few weeks later I bumped into the man.

I could see by the look in his eyes that he didn’t realise how much damage he had caused. I was completely broken. He seemed genuinely shocked by the look in my eyes as he tried to greet me. I explained to him that the woman had spoken about the video once again and that she was continuously bringing it up in front of my peers. And that this felt like a never ending, relentless attack.

Once again he promised me this would go away.

The next night I got a call from a blocked number. It was her. Over a year later, calling me in the same way.

She said that I should be sensitive to the fact that she found a video on her partner’s device that upset her. And that I should really feel sorry for her. She wanted me to feel sorry for HER. Because a man, she was not seeing at the time, slept with me, a woman she disliked.

She then told me that the video would never come to light and that she didn’t even have it anymore. I didn’t know what to believe, and I still don’t.

Irregardless it didn’t end there. There were more tweets, veiled digs, but the worst part? The rumour was still alive and well. She had put it out there so many times that it stuck. Over the years people have mentioned it to me like it’s something funny that happened. And my heart just sinks.

Over two years ago when an anonymous Instagram account began targeting me, as well as targeting influencers at large, I started getting blackmailed. A man I had never met said that he had the video and that he was going to send it to this account, which had now amassed over 100k followers, in the hopes of shaming me.

Years had passed since this horror had began and here I was again, my head in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably, praying to God this video wasn’t going to get out. I remember crying and having a panic attack at 1am in my apartment. I rang my mum who was in Limerick and woke her up. I cried down the phone: “I just want to come home mum”. I wanted to pack up my things and never come back.

I had been pretending for years that this hadn’t happened, that this wasn’t real but behind the denials was a girl completely smashed to pieces, alone, depressed, holding on to a horrible secret. I deleted my Instagram for weeks out of fear of being tagged online if the video surfaced.

And this time I knew I had to go to the Gardaí. The man messaging me was blackmailing me for money and threatened to show up at our offices. So for the first time I told my story. I spoke to Gardaí and a senior detective and I gave a full statement about what had happened all those years ago.

As I sat there in a cold room in the police station I felt a bit free from it all for the first time. This happened to me. I was wronged. This was not my fault. I was a victim.

Victim blaming is one of the most dangerous things in all of this. And I saw it with the massive photo leak this year. People suggesting women should “know better”. Trust me, women who are the victim of revenge porn will blame themselves forever more, we don’t need your blame too.

I bumped into the man who filmed me about a year ago in a bar. He apologised profusely, and begged for my forgiveness.  He said a day hadn’t gone by where he didn’t think about what he did and how it’s affected me and that he wished he could go back in time.

Me too.

I do believe he never intended for this video to be shared. But because there were no laws in Ireland to protect against this, that is what happened, and that woman will never be punished for what she did.

This video has been a constant dark cloud over my life. And I’m tired of hiding, what feels like, a filthy secret.

Anyone who may remember when this gossip was all over town does not understand the true affect this has had on me and how it has changed me forever. It’s five years later and I still think about it all the time, I still worry that it could be out there.

When I start seeing someone new I tell them the whole story, in case they have heard about it or in case the video comes out.

I had to tell my parents about this when I was being blackmailed.  Imagine having to tell your mum and dad this story…

The reason I am telling you this story now is because finally The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill (aka Coco’s Law) has been signed into law. If this were to happen to another woman now, they will now be protected by legislation.

About four years ago my legal team put together a civil suit against the woman who had stolen the video. The letters were drafted and we were ready to go.

She would have lost her job maybe, he would have lost his job possibly. It would have become public knowledge, finally people would know the truth.

But my legal and business advisors warned me that this would get into the press and asked me would I be able to handle the backlash (this was years before the Me Too movement).

And the reality is, there was going to be people back then, as there will be now, that don’t believe me.

A family member rang me the day before the lawsuit was set to be filed. And asked what I wanted to get from it, “justice,” I answered.

But they told me that I would never truly feel a sense of justice and that if that was the sole reason for suing her, then I shouldn’t do it.

If it had been in the press I would have been questioned, the video could have been sent around again, it could have made my life so much worse and I was already so bruised and broken by it all.

The hardest decision I ever made was not filing that lawsuit that day and swallowing my need for justice and exoneration. Only with the belief that it was the best way to protect myself.

I remember sitting on the window sill of my office during that phone call looking out on a sunny Dublin day, tears steaming down my face once again because of this video, because of what was done to me, because I felt completely helpless.

I knew in my heart that this wouldn’t be the last time I would cry about it or the last time I would feel a sense of injustice.

And I knew that out there were other women being abused in the same way. Women who’s partners have shared images without their consent, women or men who have been threatened or blackmailed with their images. Girls who wake up after a night out to find someone filmed them while they were having sex and now it’s being sent around.

My feelings of anger are still there but they have evolved into a strive for justice, not for me, but for every single person in this country.

I had been following the creation of this bill for years now, I even told the Minister for Justice my story, and explained that we needed harsh punishments to come with this legislation – and it has.

Culprits will now face jail time and massive fines. I can only hope that this will deter people from doing the things that were done to me.

While this law is too late for so many women, hopefully now others who go through what I did will have support, have help, and I truly hope, they will have justice.