By Graig Graziosi
A group of local women who have given advice to Facebook, butted heads with Google and have helped thousands of victims of image abuse – more commonly known as revenge porn – are celebrating the first anniversary of their organization.
Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing – BADASS – began a year ago after founder Katelyn Bowden of Youngstown discovered intimate images of her had been posted to the internet without her consent after an ex-boyfriend’s phone was stolen.
With little protection in terms of state legislation, the police couldn’t offer Bowden much help. Frustrated, she and BeLinda Berry, a friend whose images also were stolen and shared on the internet, began the nonprofit BADASS to help victims of image abuse fight back.
By their first year, the group was responsible for having more than 9,000 images removed from the internet and identified more than 1,500 people who posed intimate images without the owner’s consent.
Since then, the board has grown, adding Kate Venable of Youngstown as the group’s treasurer and legal counsel and Rachel Lamp of East Liverpool as a technological liaison and chief strategist.
Bowden estimates that BADASS helps an average of 10 people daily. In its first year, the group helped more than 2,000 victims from 48 states and 19 countries.
“It’s been surreal,” Bowden said. “I keep waking up expecting it all to end, but our momentum just keeps growing.”
While BADASS has successfully raised awareness locally and online for the topic of revenge porn, the organization also has played a part in several material victories as well.
In March, Beaver Township police arrested Noah Ogan, 19, and Jeffery Bean, 22, both of Boardman, on a charge of telephone harassment; and Zachary Good, 23, of Columbiana on a charge of complicity in connection to the theft of a teenage girl’s intimate photos. The girl first became aware of the photos thanks to a message from Bowden, who found the photos on gaming chat app Discord.
From there, BADASS assisted Beaver police in building a case against Bean. Since that first assist, BADASS has helped provide evidence for dozens of other arrests nationwide.
In June, Bowden was flown to Seattle to speak at a technology conference and met with representatives from Facebook on the topic of how the site can better combat revenge porn shared on its platform. The representatives were so impressed by the appearance they flew her back in August.
Perhaps the most significant of the group’s accomplishments outside of direct care for victims is the support it has thrown behind both state and federal legislative efforts to make nonconsensual sharing of intimate photos a crime.
Bowden, Berry and Lamp, along with five other women, testified before the Ohio House in April in support of House Bill 497, which would criminalize engaging in revenge porn – the bill passed and is in the Senate. They also supported Senate Bill 251 – put forth by state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd – which aimed to close legal gaps that would allow loopholes in image-sharing laws. SB 251 is in the Judiciary Committee.
The group also is working alongside U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif, to establish federal legislation criminalizing revenge porn.
While BADASS has found expected allies among local politicians such as Schiavoni and state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, the women of the board were happy to find support among organizations that are traditionally more socially conservative.
“It kind of surprised us, but we’ve actually seen a lot of support from Catholic dioceses as well as the Jewish community,” Venable said. “We’ve also had Republican support, which we think has a lot to do with the fact that property rights are an aspect of image abuse.”
Support for the organization’s efforts is not universal, however.
In June, Google and the Internet Association – a tech lobbying group – successfully launched an 11th-hour campaign to defeat legislation in the New York State Senate that would criminalize revenge porn and force search engines and websites to remove the images.
The American Civil Liberties Union also has been a problem for BADASS’s efforts. The ACLU’s opposition to revenge-porn legislation stems from fears the laws are too broadly stated and could be misused to limit free-speech rights beyond their intended purpose.
“We understand their concerns, but when you strip the issue down, it really is black and white,” Lamp said.
Since its inception, BADASS and the work it does has been featured in Newsweek, Wired, VICE’s Motherboard and, most recently, Mashable.
Bowden even made an appearance on “Today with Megyn Kelly” in July.
“It was great to have that platform,” Bowden said. “However, [Megyn Kelly] started and ended the show by victim blaming, and I wish we would have had the time to address that on the air.”
In April, Anon-IB, a notorious image board that served as something of a central hub for revenge-porn images on the internet, was shut down by Dutch police. Shuttering the site was one of BADASS’s main goals, and after seeing its goal become a reality, the women had to answer a question for themselves: What’s next?
“There was huge excitement here, obviously, but afterward, there was this sense of, ‘Where do we go from here?’” Lamp said.
This year, BADASS hopes to continue finding new sources of funding and to continue pushing anti-revenge-porn legislation at the state and federal level. On Oct. 5, the group will host a “Witchy Night Out” fundraiser at the Youngstown Cinema – on the third floor of the Knox Building in downtown Youngstown – which will feature a screening of “The Craft,” tarot card readers, psychics and a magic-themed silent auction.