Unsolicited sexual images cause trauma

Love Your Neighbor Project's Don’t Be Silenced programs supports harassment victims

Helping neighbors to heal


When Jaime Teich, founder of the local nonprofit Love Your Neighbor Project, began helping her community during the depths of the coronavirus pandemic by providing masks and other essentials to her neighbors, she always knew there would be challenges. What she didn’t expect was that one of them would be receiving a sexually graphic photo on her personal device.

“It’s disturbing and it’s traumatizing,” Teich said. “I went into a space of first having to just deal with what I experienced, and I realized that I’m not the only one who receives pictures like this. So, to make sure that, if anybody is victimized in this type of way and they don’t know what to do, they could come to us.”

Following the incident in 2020, Love Your Neighbor launched a relief project named “Don’t Be Silenced” with an aim to support individuals grappling with the emotional trauma inflicted by unsolicited sexual images.

Recognizing that she was not alone in this experience, Teich partnered with Dr. Holly Shaw, an experienced medical and mental health professional and educator, to provide professional support to victims.

Shaw, with an impressive background in nursing and public health, underscored the profound impact that receiving unsolicited sexual images can have on individuals. Shaw said that the intrusion into one’s personal digital space often feels like a violation of their personal safety and boundaries, exacerbating feelings of threat and unsettlement.

“To a sophisticated young adult, it might not seem like a very big deal, but to a child, adolescent, or even an elderly person, it can be very distressing,” she explained. “When it comes to a person individually receiving this type of image, especially through their device, which has become part of one’s personal space, then it’s really perceived as an intrusion. That’s threatening and upsetting.”

The Don’t Be Silenced project offers multiple avenues for individuals to seek help. According to Teich, victims of unsolicited sexual images can reach out to the organization via email, social media, or the contact form on Love Your Neighbor’s website. The organization ensures that support is always accessible, providing a lifeline for those in need.

Teich and Shaw highlighted the importance of talking through such experiences with professionals. For many, the immediate response to unsolicited sexual images is to internalize the trauma, leading to misplaced feelings of guilt or responsibility.

“I needed to talk to somebody, I needed to talk it through,” Teich recalled from her own experience. “I needed to know that I didn’t provoke anything, that it wasn’t my doing, that it was somebody else’s behavior.”

Shaw added that discussing these incidents can help victims process their emotions, avoid internalizing the behavior of the perpetrator, and regain a sense of control and self-worth.
Despite the project’s availability, Teich explained that since it started, no one has sought assistance through Don’t Be Silenced. While this may seem reassuring, there is a concern that potential victims might still feel silenced and unaware of the support available to them.

Shaw further explained the potential long-term effects of such trauma. Symptoms like persistent flashbacks, disrupted sleep, and a constant state of distress are indicators that professional help might be necessary. She pointed to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, which correlates early traumatic experiences with long-term health issues, emphasizing the importance of addressing these traumas promptly.

“Some people can dismiss it, but for other people, depending on their sensitivity or their sense of violation of personal boundaries, it can be very disturbing and not easily dismissed,” Shaw added. “What happens then is that the unpleasantness, the distress lingers and sometimes becomes exaggerated, or exacerbated, particularly if there aren’t other kinds of resources.”

Shaw explained that addressing the trauma varies from person to person, and advocated for various therapeutic modalities, including journal writing, physical exercise, and spiritual practices like yoga and tai chi. She also explained techniques like “havening,” which can help individuals self-soothe and manage their emotional responses more effectively.

While topics like this can be hard to discuss, particularly for those who have experienced it, getting support, and understanding how humans react to such trauma is essential to recovery, and awareness ensures that issues like this are fewer and far between.

To speak with someone at Love Your Neighbor, reach out through any of their social media pages or email at goodnessatlynp.org. For more general information visit LYNP.org.