Photoshopped photos almost ruined her life
Women in our society are bound, as we are often reminded, by the metaphorical rope of ghairat – the reigns of which are held in the hands of society. Women are murdered over ghairat and izzat in acts of honor-killing. Therefore, it isn’t hard to imagine why Habiba* would take such a step.
Habiba is a 19-year-old girl from Karachi, almost killed herself to preserve hers when someone leaked fake photoshopped images of her
Habiba’s story is not an uncommon one. However, the way the narrative pans out leaves numerous others like Habiba with scars that do not heal easily.
“I was in a relationship with this guy I met at the tuition center I used to go to,” she recounts. “We were both about to give our O Levels. It was a stressful time and I was all too glad when we started talking. One thing led to another and he asked me out. I said yes. Things were fine, till he started asking me for my nudes. He would promise me that he wouldn’t show them to anyone. He’d keep talking about how attracted he was to me. When I kept refusing, he told me that he would have to ask other girls for their nudes if I couldn’t send him mine. It was really hard to deal with the situation, but I kept saying no. I wasn’t comfortable at all.”
After he tried to harass her, for a while, Habiba – out of discomfort and repulsion – tried to break off things with the guy. That’s when everything went downhill.
“He called me and cried on the phone. When I refused once more, he had his friends call me and abuse me. They called me a whore, among other things. Things died down for a while. I blocked him and his friends. Then, one day, I got a WhatsApp message from an unknown number. There were about five to six doctored images of me.”
“They’d taken pictures off my social media accounts, presumably before I’d blocked them, and had Photoshopped them onto nudes.”
“I clearly remember not being able to breathe after seeing those images. The doctored images were followed by a message saying these would be spread throughout my social circle pretty soon. No demands, no explanations. I was being punished for something I hadn’t even done.”
Habiba’s family, as she stated, is fairly open-minded. However, after seeing those photoshopped images, Habiba felt no one would understand her side of the situation.
“How do you even explain something like that to your parents? I couldn’t even talk to my friends. I thought that no one would believe me. My closest friend at the time didn’t. She told me very clearly how I had brought shame upon my family’s name. How? By refusing to send nudes? I felt cornered and I kept waiting for the ax to drop. Eventually, those closest to me started receiving the pictures. That’s when I decided that it was all too much to take.”
“That night, I had about 16 missed calls from various people I knew. There were texts I hadn’t answered. I don’t even know how I felt. I just kept thinking about how I had ruined my family’s reputation and my own izzat. I felt like those doctored images were my fault. I picked up my phone, grabbed an assortment of pills from the medicine cabinet and lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I decided to read the texts, because maybe they would give me the courage I needed to be pushed over the edge and end it all.”
Miraculously, the texts Habiba had received were all messages of support. Many offered to help her with the situation.
She returned some of the calls her friends had sent her and was relieved when her friends believed her.
With their support, she managed to track down her ex and his friends. The images were promptly deleted, but the damage had been done to a large extent.
“The pictures that had already been sent out were still circulating,” Habiba continued. “Even though many people knew they weren’t real, they weren’t too kind about the entire situation. I was worried about my parents finding out, but I also knew that it would be easier to explain things if I was upfront about it. I didn’t want them finding out from elsewhere. I told them what happened. They were horrified, but were also immensely understanding. Eventually, it got to the point where the dust settled. I still can’t believe I almost killed myself over doctored images. But it happened, and I will never forget it.”
Habiba, fortunately, did not ingest the pills that would have led to her demise. However, Habiba isn’t the only individual to have gone through something like this.
At times like these, one acts out of desperation, feeling cornered and alone. Habiba – had she not had her friends and family – would have probably been pushed far enough over the edge, leading to her premature demise. Therefore, it is imperative that we ask ourselves – what initiative or system does our society have in place for those who don’t have anyone to turn to? How does our society help those who are cornered and remain cornered?
At a time when everything is digital, there is, undoubtedly, a dire need for a system that combats online harassment. Stories like these highlight the importance of organizations such as the Digital Rights Foundation. However, they also serve as a catalyst in informing those who are going through something similar – you are not alone.
*the name has been changed to protect identity.
Cover image via: cnn.com