This is the true story of a dear friend of mine. The names have been changed to protect the privacy of its subjects. When I asked my friend if I could tell her story, she almost jumped at the chance of having her voice heard as long as she remains anonymous.
It was early in the evening on February 19, 2013 when Ria found a friend request from someone she didn't know in her inbox. He introduced himself as Marco Ramos. He didn’t look like anyone she had ever met, but they shared 16 mutual friends, most of whom she considered close to her. So she assumed he was perhaps a classmate or batchmate she hadn’t met.
Maybe he was. Maybe they had met before. Maybe it was someone she trusted. She never found out.
That same evening at 11:21 p.m, she found what was obviously a thinly veiled threat in her inbox from the account she had just confirmed as a Facebook friend. She decided to ignore the messages, believing them to be spam. After all, what else could they have been?
She awoke that morning and received an image of herself, nude from the waist up, lying on her side, in her own bed, and in her own room. This was a picture that she had never taken, but it didn’t take long for her to figure out who did: her ex-boyfriend Jose.
Ria was just 14 when she had met Jose, her first boyfriend. He was athletic, popular, and grew up in a family of doctors. He was on the way to becoming one himself.
Jose spoiled her with flowers, chocolates, and stuffed animals. But like many first loves and high school romances, their relationship didn’t last beyond high school. They were together for three years, and she was 17 when he decided to start taking photographs of her without her permission.
She and Jose had only been broken up a week before she was messaged by this Marco character, which she'd later realize was a false account using a fake name. He claimed to have more photos in his possession, and sent another one as proof. Ria was confused at first, but the anger in her soul began to swell as she immediately realized what Jose had done.
Despite Marco Ramos's repeated attempts at stirring panic in her, Ria kept her cool, stalling and making excuses when she could. It became clear to her that he wanted to extort money from her. On the day he had asked for them to meet, Ria managed to delay her blackmailer’s deadline to 8:30 p.m., buying herself enough time to think of a solution.
Realizing she could not handle this alone, Ria told her mother, who immediately called their family lawyer for advice. That same day, an investigation by the NBI began, and Ria mustered whatever bravery she could for the gathering storm.
Marco Ramos had grown impatient, and his demands grew to include her Facebook account login details as collateral. She knew she could delay him no longer, and at the behest of their family lawyer, Ria fought back, and told him what was going to happen.
After their visit to the NBI, Ria was advised by the law firm to prepare herself for the spread of her photos. Her mother agreed, and together, they drafted a public statement for Ria to post on her Facebook wall in anticipation. She could not have imagined how terribly the move would backfire.
It triggered a desperate search for her photos, and rather than help her find the source, her peers—the boys she had thought of as her friends—just wanted to see her naked. She became the target of gossip and slut-shaming, with Jose’s father even going so far as to tell her that this was all her fault. Nobody seemed to care that the photos were taken without her consent, that her agency had been stolen from her.
By this time, the Marco Ramos account had been deleted. Over the course of the investigation, Jose confessed to having secretly taken over 80 photos of Ria in various states of undress, but vehemently denied sharing them. He insisted that his computer could have been hacked, or that any of his classmates who had used his laptop for school-related chores could have been the culprit they were looking for.
Rumors of the investigation had spread, and perhaps it scared “Marco Ramos” into hiding. The pictures did not surface, and out of respect for the three years she spent with Jose, she withdrew the case that had been filed against him.
On April 4, 2014, a classmate of Ria's—one she was particularly close to—sent her a message, sounding concerned. He told her that he had seen the photos from a friend whose name he absolutely refused to disclose, no matter how much Ria begged. This anonymous friend claimed what she had long suspected: Jose showed him the photos, and likely showed others as well.
This was confirmed in 2015, when another false account, this one called “JC Madduma,” messaged her with the very same threat, only this time the photo was sent through a link.
Ria knew immediately that it was not Marco Ramos because he made no attempts to intimidate or frighten her. He even seemed to genuinely believe that his shoddy attempts at blackmail were some form of foreplay, as he tried desperately to invite Ria into a “sexchat.”
Ria, who was already a college freshman then, knew the drill—distract and delay. She gathered whatever information she could, took as many screenshots as she could, reported the account, and then blocked it.
By this time, Facebook had developed security failsafes. In the event of attempted extortion and various other crimes, the account reported would immediately be frozen. Records would be kept of every chat, of IP addresses, of every possible move the account could make, and upon request of verified government agencies—in this case, the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group—Facebook would submit its records as evidence.
The investigation was continued once again, and revealed a few startling facts.
The link JC Madduma sent was grabbed from a secret Facebook group, and it was quite possible that Ria’s photos were up in an album on this group. The police also noticed that majority of JC Madduma’s friends were just variations on his name—Jason Madduma, Maduma JC, Mad Duma, etc. The observation implied something immensely sinister. Somewhere out there, there was an entire group of men of unknown number who had developed a modus operandi of exploiting women for their own perverse reasons.
Ria knew that this would not be the last time someone would try, and realized it had to end where it began. She reopened the case against her ex-boyfriend, Jose. It might not stop all those other miscreants from trying to shake her down, but she wanted any bit of restitution she could get. With the mountain of evidence against him, he might serve up to seven years in prison. He will never be a doctor, and no woman will ever trust him again.
Ria is 22 years old now, and to this day, she still receives the occasional half-assed extortion attempt. Her photos have now spread to various anonymous chat websites, and she battles fake accounts—some of them pretending to be girls to lure her into a false sense of trust—trying to shake her down almost on a regular basis.
Without much evidence, however, many of the investigations led nowhere. Jose would get his due, but too many others will elude justice. There were too many names, too many accounts, too many layers of anonymity, and not enough people with decency to call out this kind of behavior.
Every failure and dead end just hurt her more and more, so she decided to just ignore any attempt made. I have suggested a few times that Ria tweak her privacy settings, make herself unsearchable both on Facebook and Google, and that maybe she should leave social media one day. She refused.
“Why should I be the one to adjust?” she replied. “Why do I have to stay silent whenever rumors come back to me for fear of attracting more attention towards photos I wish would just disappear? Why do I have to bear this pain while people like Jose, Marco, Carol, JC, all hiding behind fake names, get to do so without consequence?”
Certainly, one could argue that not all men are like this, but of the countless men who have received her photos, only two tried to help. One of them even valued the privacy of his friend over Ria’s. Maybe giving up the name could have stopped the photos from spreading. If we allow this kind of behavior to persist, are we also to blame?
Therein lies the truth for so many women. Society has developed an obsession with non-consensual nudity, ready to swarm like a horde of insects at the chance to steal the agency of women over their bodies, despite the internet having a limitless amount of nudity depicted with permission. What’s worse is, whether the photos were taken by the women themselves or not, the result remains. They are treated like objects, then are blamed and shamed, as the men who betrayed, objectified, and extorted them get away with little to no consequences simply for being men.