The machine of patriarchy has many parts and YWCA’s Distinguished Young Woman Katelyn Bowden has her sights on dismantling the impunity of those who post explicit images of people without their consent. These crimes affect not just personal lives of the victims who currently do not have a particular state law in their defense, but their educational and professional careers, too.
Three women who inspire her are “Tarana Burke, founder of the Metoo movement,” “Brianna Wu, for handling the worst kind of cyber bullying, then running to be a U.S. Representative to help protect others,” and “Catherine Bosley, for providing an example of how to handle cybershame with grace and poise.”
Katelyn is so inspired, she chose to miss the April 12th YWCA Distiguished Young Women reception because she was driving the train to bring Ohio’s laws into the digital age to protect victims of abuse. The same day as the reception, she was testifying with others on a bipartisan bill at Ohio’s House of Representatives. (Representatives John Rogers [District 60-Mentor-on-the-Lake] and Nathan H. Manning [District 55-North Ridgeville] introduced the bill as HB 497 with the abbreviated title, “Prohibit disseminating private sexual images.”)
To help other targets of this new kind of abuse, which disproportionately affects women and girls, Ms. Bowden has assembled a BADASS Army. This moniker is an acronym for Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing and the organization is composed of victims from around the world, and many from Ohio.
BADASS’s blog quoted her on the day of testimony: “Thanks to the very moving testimonies of some very brave BADASSes, it’s a good bet that Ohio HB497 will be past the session quickly. Every testimonial was given with a ferocity, strength, and resiliency that carried more stories than just her own- we woke a lot of people up to the horrific reality that is image abuse. And we are making some long overdue changes to the world.”
She also worked with Ohio State Senator Joesph Schiavoni (District 33-Columbiana and Mahoning) to introduce legislation (SB 251) to close some of those legal gaps, including the jurisdictional issues posed by posters abusing people’s images from counties the victims don’t live in, which is often the case in situations involving students. Although the Senate bill has been stuck in the Judiciary Committee since February, the House bill she testified on passed unanimously on June 27th. It is now introduced in the Ohio Senate as “HB497.”
Bowden’s personal experiences propelled her to the political, as second wave feminists encouraged women to do almost 60 years ago; “the personal is the political.” Her victimization by an acquaintance (who stole her ex’s phone and posted private images online) caused the trauma of very public embarrassment and feelings of shame, despite her having taken the photos for a trust-worthy partner inside of a long relationship. Some victims lose employment and scholarships do to the public nature of image abuse.
She told NBC’s Megyn Kelly that she was told by law enforcement that the only crime that was committed was the theft of the phone. The police explained that without the owner filing a police report of the theft, she had no recourse.
“Women are not objects,” Bowden told GateHouse Media’s Times-Gazette. “They deserve more rights than a cellphone.”
“Women are not objects. They deserve more rights than a cellphone.”
“Education and criminalization” is how Bowden explains the organizing movement she founded in August 2017. Katelyn Bowden charges ahead in legislative and public awareness strategies to expose and close loopholes in current laws with her BADASS Army. They also use a peer support strategy to help victims respond to invasion of privacy and trauma. She and the other administrators of BADASS can work a combined 80 hours a week unpaid in pursuit of justice and solidarity.
She said, “I love the attitude in northeast Ohio- we are the underdogs, and so we all want to see one another succeed.” However, strangers have harassed and shamed her and other women who speak out and act against the “revenge porn” culture.
Often victims are not only forced to do the work themselves to remove their images from sites around the world that host the images, their personal contact information has been published on these sites, too. Victims are further burdened with digitally unprepared and sometimes uninterested law enforcement, who themselves are further constrained by jurisdictional hurdles for online crimes and gaps in the law to protect victims of nonconsensual image sharing. Even traveling to distant locations to work with law enforcement in the perpetrator’s district is a professional, educational, and emotional burden.
“In the short time since BADASS’s inception, I’ve helped get thousands of photos removed from the internet, and brought over 1,100 victims of revenge porn and image abuse together to support one another and work as one to stop the practice. We’ve helped victims connect to legal and mental health resources, as well as helping law enforcement learn how to investigate and prosecute these crimes.”
Earlier this month, Katelyn Bowden was interviewed by Megyn Kelly on NBC’s “Today” about her experience and her movement, which is now a registered nonprofit. Telling Kelly of how she tracked down and got a confession from her abuser, she explained that when her images were shared, “there was a part of me that felt ashamed and I shouldn’t be ashamed for that… Mostly I felt helpless.” After working to take down her images multiple times she “had enough.” “I was done having this happen to me anymore.”
Wired covered her work as part of the BADASS Army when the foreign website that was hosting her and other Army members’ images was taken down by law enforcement in the Netherlands in April 2018. Wired further reported that a study estimates nearly 1 in 25 Americans has been a victim of image abuse.
(Image abuse can take place by strangers uploading images that they steal or surreptitiously take of women… or by scorned ex-lovers. According to Newsweek’s article about BADASS, the common term of “revenge porn” does not include all facets of nonconsensual image sharing that BADASS is trying to criminalize more effectively.)
The BADASS website states, “Our goal is to arm victims with the tools they need to become their own advocates for justice, and provide the resources they need to regain control of their images, empower themselves, and get justice.” Two of the tools she shares is how to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and restraining orders.
“I’m also a member of Mahoning County SART (sexual assault response team) and help educate other professionals about this type of abuse.” She even helped get 3 men arrested in Ohio’s Columbiana County in March who were posting images of girls online after she initially identified that area as an area where girls were being victimized. Unfortunately, despite the child pornography the men created, they were only convicted of telephone harassment and complicity, according to Wired.
WYTV reported on the situation in Beaver Local schools and reported on her group being “in the early stages of developing a program to implement in schools across the Valley that would reinforce the conversation around consent in a relationship, setting boundaries, respect and how to have those conversations with your significant other in the event of a break-up.”
“My personal story of victimization has reached many, and helped empower victims to no longer be shamed into silence.”
When asked about her greatest professional accomplishment she said, “It’s hard to choose- either being able to bring revenge porn laws to Ohio, or every time I get pictures down for someone, because I know I am making their life better.”
Katelyn embodies the concept of post-traumatic growth that the YWCA nurtures in the victims of trauma that YWCA accompanies in so many programs. Katelyn is empowering women through her growth. The YWCA is very proud of her success and inclusion in our first class of Distinguished Young Women.
As BADASS is only kept alive through donations from allies, Katelyn requests supporters donate online through their PayPal site: www.paypal.me/thebadassarmy