In 2019, I was the target of an iCloud hack, which resulted in images and videos of my private life being leaked, across adult sites, WhatsApp Group Chats, Twitter and many more and even resulted in a national newspaper threatening to publish the story while I was going through hell. The videos that were leaked had been from 2014, when I was 18 years old.
The security breach occurred due to my email and password being compromised, which was the email attached to my iCloud. This email was my first email that I created when I was 12 just years old. I was young and naïve, I hadn’t thought about online security and no one had ever talked to me about it before.
Recently, I got the news that this wasn’t a personal attack (from an ex, friend or contact). I was extremely unfortunate to find myself being a ‘revenge porn’ victim, where this is was completely anonymous attack, as a result of me not taking more care with my password and email security. There was therefore no “revenge” element, just a horrible and cynical attack on my most private moments and sense of who I am. My situation was the result of data breach on websites that I had used in my younger years where hackers had broken into the websites’ records and stolen hundreds of thousands of individuals’ emails/passwords which were then leaked and put into the “Dark Web”.
Through my email, and without added security on my iCloud (which I was oblivious to back then), someone who had picked up my email details would have been able to go online, login to my iCloud and help themselves to my private images and videos. I will never know who it was or even when it happened.
As a human being, I would always be described as an infectious, positive, happy and kind person, someone who would never really do anything wrong from a young age. Always bubbly, always happy, no one had to worry about me.
That changed in an instant. I was made aware of this (by Direct Message on Instagram) and my life changed immediately. I lost control of my life and found myself sitting in my bedroom watching my privacy, personality and pride being torn away, twisted, shamed. I was humiliated. I felt empty and hopeless. I believed that I had lost absolutely everything.
I did lose my job (I was working in Education) and I made the decision to step away from my football career indefinitely due to the abuse, shame, guilt and my inability to focus on anything else in my life at that time due to the distress, depression, anxiety and humility caused.
When I found myself trending on the world's most popular adult site, in the 'top 3', it was the moment I found myself battling suicidal thoughts. This was then heightened when national newspapers, who had become aware that the images and videos were going viral, were threatening to print the story. The websites that share stolen images and videos like mine exist purely to victimise 'normal' people and public figures. They upload the photos and videos alongside details of your name, who you work for and any other facts which might come up when people Google you. They will then use social media to “promote” the images and videos and, sadly, many members of the public will share these posts without even thinking of the consequences.
When newspapers were threatening to “out” me it meant that, in my mind, everyone would know about it and so many more people would go out and look for the photos and videos.
The battle that I just couldn't accept in my head was the fact that my mother, brother and father would read those newspapers. This was the most horrifying experience - random people seeing your 'sex' life, or the people who brought you up, with respect, morals, manners and dignity - I couldn't handle the pain of letting my family down, or attaching my family name to 'dirt'.
Two years on, life is certainly on the up, and it seems to be in the past for many. I have spoken openly about my ordeal and I now work for a company that works with football clubs, sports organisations, schools and businesses to educate, empower and support people on safe behaviours online. However, it still isn’t easy: the daily social media abuse, trolling and images/videos which I receive in my inbox is a battle which doesn't go away.
So, what would I recommend? Please, be prepared to support individuals that may experience similar situations, the worst thing you can do is place judgement on the individual, and the best thing you can do is support them in what will be a long journey.
Those of you who are unfamiliar on this subject, the journey and the emotions attached, it is extremely similar to when you are grieving over a loved one. The support is there initially, but when the funeral has been held, people around you tend to move on and forget that grief is a journey not an immediate recovery.
From looking at pictures that remind you of them, songs, conversations, revisiting memories – for me, this is what I’ve been subject to with the online trolling daily, I can never forget and you never want to be a ‘burden’ on someone by telling them how much you are still struggling. The phrase that was most commonly used to me was ‘Today’s newspaper, is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper!’. For them yes, but not for me.