Episode 07: Nathaly and Jessica Morak, Sanctuary for Families
Nathaly, Cyber Sexual Exploitation Abuse Survivor, and Jessica Morak, attorney and advocate at Sanctuary for Families stop by the You Matter! studio to tell Nathaly's story and provide insight on the resources available at Sanctuary for Families, New York’s leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking and related forms of gender violence.
Jessica Morak is an attorney and advocate at Sanctuary for Families, where she works with survivors of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, sex trafficking, cyber sexual abuse, and other forms of gender-based violence. Jessica works closely to assist survivors in navigating the various legal systems activated by the occurrence of gender-based violence, including the Title IX system, Civil Justice System, and Criminal Justice System. She is a member of the Cyber Sexual Abuse Task Force and the Women’s Bar Association’s Criminal Law Committee. Prior to joining Sanctuary, Jessica worked as an Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office’s Child Abuse & Sex Crimes Bureau, where she investigated and prosecuted sexual assaults against children and adults. Jessica is a graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
Intro Voices [00:00:05] Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices [00:00:31] This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman [00:00:38] Hi everyone and welcome back to “You Matter”, a podcast intended to inspire or motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your co-host Karen Ortman, Assistant Vice President of Field Operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional.
Sabah Fatima [00:00:58] And I am Sabah Fatima, a pre med graduate student here at NYU’s College of Global Public Health. If any information presented today is triggering or disturbing please feel free to contact the wellness exchange at 212-443-9999.
Karen Ortman [00:01:14] Today we are talking to attorney Jessica Morak, from Sanctuary for Families, New York's leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence. Jessica and her guest Nathaly will talk to us today about electronic sexual exploitation, also known as cyber sexual assault. Jessica, thank you so much for joining us. And thank you as well, Nathaly. Jessica can you start by explaining what electronic sexual exploitation means for our listeners and how Sanctuary for Families serves as an advocate for these victims.
Jessica Morak [00:01:52] Absolutely, and thank you again for having me. So electronic sexual exploitation or cyber sexual abuse or assault also goes very commonly and colloquially by the name “revenge porn”, which really is a misnomer and honestly an offensive name at this point because it intimates that the survivor, the victim, has done something to warrant revenge or to be avenged when that's just blatantly not true. It's a form of gender based violence. And also oftentimes, this is not pornography, right. This is not consensual. This is not something that - there's no consent in this. So we really prefer the term cybersexual abuse or electronic sexual exploitation because at its core this is gender based violence that is incredibly exploitative and incredibly effective as a use of power and control.
Karen Ortman [00:02:46] Absolutely.
Jessica Morak [00:02:46] What it is is a form of technology abuse and technology abuse can take many different forms. It can look something like monitoring somebody’s movements or their messages or communications through their devices, their phones or their laptops, or any other form of social media.
Karen Ortman [00:03:03] Can I ask you how does that happen?
Jessica Morak [00:03:06] So unfortunately spyware, malware, things that can be uploaded into somebody’s devices or phones are actually really accessible and easy. They can be purchased online for a nominal amount of money. They can be sent through things called weaponized links which just kind of could look like a hyperlink or even be disguised and actually could install something on your device like spyware or malware or a key logger which is a program that actually watches your strokes or the keys on a laptop. And for anyone who thinks that they may be being monitored or there might be spyware or malware, which usually the first thing that you should look for - red flags - is your device running slowly or acting weird or does somebody know things about your daily life that you didn't tell them. These are - look for patterns. There is actually a wonderful company- they’re actually a clinic called the Cornell Tech company that is at the family justice centers and they are able to scan the devices of survivors of intimate partner violence for spyware or malware or you can take it to something like the Apple Genius Bar to make sure that that is removed. There's also - that's one form of technology abuse. Doxing is another one. Doxing is when someone posts your identifying information on the internet - your phone number, your address, your Social Security number. Right. These are really effective forms of control and abuse as well. We often see spoofing which can also lead to electronic sexual exploitation, which is when someone makes a fake account pretending to be you - a dating profile, an email account - or even makes fake pictures that are of an intimate nature and then put your or another survivor’s head on them and spread them around.
Karen Ortman [00:05:08] Or like creates a fraudulent Instagram account or Facebook account or something else on social media.
Jessica Morak [00:05:16] Absolutely. And then we get to cybersexual abuse or electronic sexual exploitation which can have many forms but the one we see most often is the disclosure or dissemination or posting or sharing of images or videos of an intimate nature - a sexual nature. Or even just the threat to do so. And just the threat alone can, I mean, think about how controlling and abusive that is, how many things you could get someone to do to be compliant if you threaten to share an image of them where they are naked or performing a sexual activity. “I'm going to send that to the judge,'' if you're in a custody case. “I'm going to make sure everyone in your family knows what a slut you are,” right.
It is a pervasive form of abuse and one that people and organizations like Sanctuary and others in this city started seeing as really prevalent especially in intimate partner relationships, which leads to the fact that up until very recently it actually wasn't a crime.
Karen Ortman [00:06:31] So tell us about that. Can you walk us through the criminal justice system or the laws as they pertain to New York City or New York state?
Jessica Morak [00:06:41] Absolutely. So the criminal justice system, like everything else, needs to evolve and evolves with time. And as technologies become more and more part of our lives, the criminal justice system has had to evolve with that. So up until recently, it actually wasn't a crime to, and I’m sure many people are familiar with this, but what's called “up-skirting”, right, using cameras or phones on the subway to take photos underneath someone's clothing - of their underwear. Right. And this became a crime known as unlawful surveillance. So it became a crime to surreptitiously or unknowingly video or photo someone partially nude or engaged in sexual activity. But what wasn't criminal up until very recently was when two people who might be in an intimate relationship take images together, take a video together, or send one another an intimate image, right, a naked image where you are nude in it, or take a video together -all consensually during a time of peace. But as soon as there is a time of non-peace or the relationship is ending - that's where the threats to then post these images, post these videos, share them with everyone come. And that was not illegal, there was no crime. And so survivors were left with very little legal recourse and there are organizations like Sanctuary and others throughout the city were really working hard to protect these survivors by going to family court and applying for orders of protection for these types and listing these types of cases or this type of conduct as violations and hopefully getting orders that specifically said ,do not disseminate, no longer do this. But it wasn't a crime. And recently because of incredible organizations like Sanctuary, like the cybersexual abuse task force, which is made up by organizations all over the city who combat this type of abuse and most importantly, thanks to survivors who are willing to share their stories to explain why there was such a need, we got a new law.
Jessica Morak [00:09:07] In fact we got a law that prohibits and criminalizes not only the posting and the sharing and the dissemination of this but the threat as well. And that's a city law. So that law only pertains to New York City at this point. And it's called unlawful disclosure of an intimate image. But the number system is administrative code 10-180. So if you're ever interested or have some free time, Google it and read all about it.
Karen Ortman [00:09:36] What are the penalties associated with a violation?
Jessica Morak [00:09:40] So it's technically an A-misdemeanor, which means that the maximum penalty is up to one year in jail. And that law specifically is a New York City law. However, again, there was a bill to make this a state law. It did pass and we're only waiting for the governor's signature for it to become a New York state law. And we expect that to happen quite soon, which will also make the non-disclosure or make the disclosure of or dissemination, sharing any of intimate images illegal. Also, that state law provides survivors with the opportunity and the availability of a civil action to be able to sue internet service providers. Well, to not so much sue, but to actually have a civil cause of action to get it taken down. So that instead of just going, I don't know, if anyone's ever tried to report something on Facebook before, going through like, “just report this,” and that button when a photo of you is up on a Web site or a video, that one little button of, “Thank you for reporting,”- that's not really enough. Right. So now there's a civil cause of action and I'm so proud to work with the advocates and the attorneys and the survivors who helped make this possible. it was truly a momentous moment in so many people's lives.
Karen Ortman [00:11:06] Oh yeah. Do you know how many people have been charged with that offense since the law has been introduced?
Jessica Morak [00:11:13] I don't. I do know it's on a steady incline as you know, people become more aware of it, but I think one of the problems is a lot of people don't know it's a crime. And you know, we're trying to do so much awareness and outreach and education to make sure that people know and-
Karen Ortman [00:11:30] Well hopefully this podcast will help.
Jessica Morak [00:11:32] I'm hoping so. It's, you know, it's a really great law. There are some, you know, components of it that people should be aware of. In order for it to be charged, the person disseminating it, sharing it, posting it needs to have received that image either from the person in the picture, the depicted individual, or have taken it themselves. So that's something just to consider if a friend of a friend of a friend got it and then posted it on a website, that actually isn't covered by this law.
Karen Ortman [00:12:06] So you think people aren't aware for reporting purposes? This is something that they can report and hopefully the podcast will get that information out there.
Jessica Morak [00:12:14] Yeah, I'm hoping so. I do think that a lot of people aren't aware. They might feel like it's bad or this is harmful or this doesn't feel right, but not necessarily know that it's actually a crime. And I think specifically, a lot of people don't know. If they know that there's a criminal aspect to it, don't know that the threat alone is enough for the crime.
Karen Ortman [00:12:34] Yeah I would agree. People don’t know.
Sabah Fatima [00:12:38] I'm looking forward to the bill to pass and I congratulate you on working with that to make it happen. If a student is a victim of electronic sexual exploitation, what are the first steps they should take in addressing that?
Karen Ortman [00:12:51] So definitely preserve the evidence, right. Taking screenshots, making sure that there is - if it's on a website, making sure that they screenshot on the computer so that they preserve that evidence. And then, you know, if you're a student, this is something that you can absolutely report to Title 9. This is also something that you can report to the police because it is a crime in New York City - the posting and the threatening alone, right. And I want to make sure that people understand that its currently actively a crime just to threaten that part. The other thing is we at the Campus Advocates Project at Sanctuary for Families, we can also help. We do work with survivors of cyber sexual abuse, and Sanctuary, in general, even if you're not a student, works with survivors of cyber sexual abuse.
Sabah Fatima [00:13:44] Okay awesome. So they could actually go directly to Sanctuary for Families and also go to local police department as well then.
Jessica Morak [00:13:52] If they want to report to the police, the only way to do that is to actually report to the police. Reporting - coming to Sanctuary does not trigger a law enforcement response. However, we can definitely assist in making that report to police. Also, we can assist with many other things related to cyber sexual abuse. So if someone needs a family court order protection as a result of this, we can assist with that. We can also, you know, assist in reporting to the police but you absolutely can report to the police and should. I encourage people to because again, this criminal law is new. But there's a reason it was created. It's because this is damaging. I'm so happy to be sitting next to Nathaly, a survivor leader at Sanctuary, a survivor of electronic sexual exploitation and an amazing advocate in this field. And I'm so honored to be sitting next to her and to introduce her.
Karen Ortman [00:14:51] Welcome Nathaly.
Nathaly 00:14:54] Thank you so much for having me today.
Sabah Fatima [00:14:57] Thanks for being here.
Nathaly [00:14:58] So hello everyone. I'm very happy to be here today. Such an honor.
Nathaly [00:15:02] So I'm just going to start off a little bit with my story and about cyber sexual abuse. So late 2016, I was selected to compete in the Miss New York USA Pageant. And it was a time where I was very excited.
Nathaly [00:15:22] It was a time to celebrate, a time to prepare. And I was letting everybody know about my great news. So I was posting, I was posting all my stuff on my Instagram. And again, I was excited so I wanted everybody to know, I wanted to share. I had a fundraiser, so you know, like I want that people to come to my fundraiser and things like that. And during that time, an ex-boyfriend of almost 10 years ago - who I have not dated within 10 years - was I would say, cyber stalking - looking at my Instagram, seeing the things that I'm doing.
Karen Ortman [00:16:10] How did you know that?
Nathaly [00:16:12] Because he contacted me.
Nathaly [00:16:16] And so he, shortly after, began to contact me - calling me and texting me and also emailing me - and I very firmly told him that I did not want to talk to him.
Nathaly [00:16:32] He was somebody in my life that treated me horribly. And I'd say we were in a domestic violence relationship. And so I wanted no part. And I didn't want him in my life, especially when I was about to compete for Miss New York. And so again, I told him, “Listen, I don't want to talk to you. I'm sorry. Like I'm not interested.” Of course he proceeded. He was very persistent and he would not stop texting me and calling me and emailing me. I mean, it was - it began kind of like for - let's say a week - he tried to contact me twice and then after that it was just everyday. So at this point it was harassment. He just continued to harass me. He wouldn't leave me alone. He'd say like really disturbing things and noises that got my attention.
Karen Ortman [00:17:32] Through text and email?
Nathaly [00:17:34] Yes. Through any way that he could contact me - like any way possible. He would leave me voicemails - I mean, it was just crazy. He would threaten to come to my neighborhood, threaten to come to my job. It was really really scary. And so at that time, because I just wanted to focus on preparing for the pageant, I didn't want any part of going to the police. So I told myself, you know, he has tried to contact me within 10 years. So there were a few times where I wouldn't hear from him in forever, and then out of nowhere he'd just pop up and try to start some type of friendship or relationship. And of course, I'd always deny it. And then just say, “ I don't want to talk to you. Leave me alone.”
Karen Ortman [00:18:33] Did you share this with anybody? I know you said you didn't want to go to the police but did you share with your family?
Nathaly [00:18:38] I did. I actually shared it with friends. And during that time, they were just like, “Listen Nat, I really think you should go to the police.” And at that time, I was just like, “I don't want to. I just really hope that he leaves me alone.” And in my mind. I was telling myself that it would blow off - he would just eventually give up and leave me alone like he always does. And of course he didn't. He proceeded to harass. And he proceeded to threaten me up until very close to the pageant. He began to threaten me with pictures and videos. And so I didn't believe him, especially because I never allowed him to record me in a naked state at all. I never allowed him to knowingly take pictures of me at all. So again in my mind I'm just saying he's bluffing. He's trying to find something to get my attention. He's trying to make me have a reaction so that I can talk to him. And so I left it alone in hopes that he would just go away somehow. And January of 2017, sure enough, I competed. I was super happy. It was a great experience and it was something I've always dreamed of and I was really proud of myself. And the entire time- even like preparing for my pageant on the day of the pageant - he was still texting me and reaching out to me. And after I competed, he was like, “Oh, you did a great job.” He was just - It was scary. It was definitely scary.
Karen Ortman [00:20:34] And when you competed, was there an audience?
Nathaly [00:20:37] Yeah.
Karen Ortman [00:20:38] So did you think that he was present at the time you were competing?
Nathaly [00:20:42] I don't think so. I mean I hope not. But I don't believe he was there, although I know for a fact that he watched because it was on the Internet. It was on the Internet and it was playing live on the Internet. So I know for a fact he was watching, especially because he gave me details. And again, he wouldn't stop threatening me and he wouldn’t stop bothering me. And it just became something where I really started to get nervous and scared and I started to tell myself, “okay, maybe I do need to go to the police.” Although, it was a little too late for that. Shortly after I competed in the pageants, he sends me an email and the email had a link and that link led to a porn site, in which he posted us having sex with my full name, my address, and my dad’s phone number. All in hopes to ruin any opportunities of me succeeding in anything, especially within Miss New York.
Karen Ortman [00:22:02] Wow.
Nathaly [00:22:08] When I opened the email, I kind of looked at it - I looked at the link and I was like, “This can't be real. I don't think this is what I'm thinking it is.”
Nathaly [00:22:22] And so when I click the link and I see that it's us having sex, I'm kind of just looking at it like - it didn’t process right away because I was in shock. And so I kind of just looked at it and I replayed it because I just couldn’t believe that he really recorded me.
Nathaly [00:22:50] He recorded me while we were having sex behind my back 10 years ago, didn't tell me, and kept it for 10 years and used it for an opportunity to try to ruin my life at a time when I was succeeding. I can't even tell you guys how much it - it really broke me. Yeah, it really—
Karen Ortman [00:23:18] It’s shocking. We know that this happens, but it is shocking to hear somebody who actually lived it and experienced it with somebody that they were intimate with and had no idea that the act was recorded 10 years prior.
Nathaly [00:23:42] Exactly.
Karen Ortman [00:23:42] You're so brave. Thank you for coming forward and talking about this. I know that there are people out there - and I will let you continue your story - but I know there are people out there that have experienced something similar. So thank you on behalf of them, who are listening.
Nathaly [00:24:03] Yes of course. I haven't shared my story for a long time. And I share my story because-
Nathaly [00:24:18] I want to be able to help others. I want to be able to let people who have gone through it, people who know other people who have gone through it, that they're not alone.
Karen Ortman [00:24:33] And thank you so much for that. So what steps did you take after you discovered that that was in fact you? You weren't aware of the recording and its existence. You did not give consent. So what did you do?
Nathaly [00:24:50] At first I didn't know what to do. Because again, I didn't know if it was illegal. I just didn't know if I should go to the police - I had no idea. So I kind of felt stuck and something within me clicked and I told myself, I said, ”Nathaly, like this is somebody you dated 10 years ago who once tried to control you and had power over you and there was no way that I was going to allow him to do that again.
Karen Ortman [00:25:32] Good for you.
Nathaly [00:25:34] Yes. So I got up - even though I was crazy scared. I went to the precinct the next day.
Karen Ortman [00:25:46] By yourself?
Nathaly [00:25:47] By myself. I went to the precinct the next day in my neighborhood by myself. And I was talking to these two police officers and I was telling them what's going on. And they're kind of looking at me like, with an eyebrow raised, like, “okay.”
Nathaly [00:26:06] And after I tell them, they're like, “Well, you know, there is nothing that we really can do. This isn't really a crime. If he didn't necessarily hurt you physically in any type of way, the only thing you can probably do is make a report.”
Nathaly [00:26:26] Some I’m like, “Okay, I would like to make a report.”
Karen Ortman [00:26:29] So Jessica, at this time, was this new law in place?
Jessica Morak [00:26:36] The law that we talked about, unlawful disclosure of an intimate image, was not in place. It was not illegal yet.
Karen Ortman [00:26:42] Okay. So the police were correct in that what you presented to them was not illegal.
Nathaly [00:26:48] It was not illegal, although, I definitely had to fight - I had to fight for somebody to do something.
Karen Ortman [00:27:00] So what happened?
Nathaly [00:27:02] I made a report and every time my abuser continued to harass and threaten me, I made more reports. And so at this point they're saying, “you know, furthermore there's really nothing that we can do.” And I'm like, “Okay, so what do you think I should do?” And they tell me to go to the Bronx Family Court. And so that's what I did.
Nathaly [00:27:33] I went to Bronx Family Court the same day and I was kind of clueless as to where to go. And of course, this had just happened to me so you can just imagine how scared I felt and embarrassed to tell strangers what is going on and what I should do. So I walk in to, I believe, it is a walk in center in the family court. So I walk in there and I go to the front desk and this little old guy and -
Nathaly [00:28:11] I'm kind of looking at this old guy and I'm like, “Hi, my name is Nathaly and this is what's happening.” And he’s kind of just looking at me like, “Oh my god.” So again, I'm still feeling so terrified and so embarrassed and he tells me, “I'm so sorry to hear that. Although I've never really heard of something like this happening and someone coming in for this. I'm not sure if we can do anything.” And so then he proceeds, “Actually, I think there is someone there that can help you, who is through an organization which is Sanctuary for Families.”
Nathaly [00:28:55] And he eventually leads me to Lindsay and I told Lindsay what was going on and-
Karen Ortman [00:29:01”] And who's Lindsay?
Nathaly [00:29:03] Oh I'm so sorry.
Karen Ortman [00:29:04] That's okay.
Nathaly [00:29:05] Lindsay is an attorney. She is so amazing. Who works for Sanctuary for Families.
Karen Ortman [00:29:14] So she was present when you went to-
Nathaly [00:29:19] Yes. So I’m telling the front desk what’s happening. And then he was like, “Okay, I think there's someone that can help you.” So he goes off to look for Lindsay, doesn't find her, but then when he's literally walking to me, he hears her voice and he's like “Oh my god, that's her right there. This is who you need to talk to.” So I'm like, “Okay, great, I feel like I'm going somewhere.” So I tell Lindsay what's going on. And of course, Lindsay with her amazing heart, she's like, “First off, I want to say I'm so sorry this is happening to you. I'm actually working on cases like this that pertains to cyber sexual abuse.” So thank God for Lindsay. Yes.
Jessica Morak [00:30:13] Lindsay is actually a co-chair of the cyber sexual abuse task force.
Karen Ortman [00:30:16] Well that makes total sense.
Jessica Morak [00:30:18] Yes. And a true advocate in this field alongside Nathaly, who is an advocate in her own right.
Nathaly [00:30:26] Lindsay helped me so much. I can't even thank her enough for helping me. And so Lindsay - I met Lindsay and Lindsay was able to get me these pro bono lawyers from an amazing law firm on Wall Street. And she helped me get a five year order protection. I mean, she really helped me to serve at least some type of justice. And because of Lindsay, I got an opportunity to speak on the steps of City Hall in front of literally every news channel in New York. Mind you, this is the first time I'm speaking in public.
Nathaly [00:31:10] I've always been scared to do any public speaking. I mean every time I thought of it, I was just like, “I'll just faint and die.”
Nathaly [00:31:27] And so I told my story in front of every news channel in New York - literally on the steps of City Hall - beside legislators and councilmen and the next day the cyber sexual abuse bill was passed within the city. It was an accomplishment that I was so so happy and grateful for.
Jessica Morak [00:31:48] And it really truly is because of people like Nathaly, survivors of cyber sexual abuse, and sharing their stories for people working tirelessly like Lindsay and other members of the cyber sexual abuse task force and other organizations around the city that made this law possible. And I just, you know, I really want to emphasize that, you know, in Natalee's case, she didn't know that this sexual activity was being videotaped. It was without her consent, it was unknowing. But this city law actually criminalizes the dissemination of intimate images even if at the time, those intimate images were taken consensually. So if someone took the picture themselves or made the video with their partner consensually, this law still says it's a crime for that to be shared, disseminated, posted, anything without the person depicted in that picture’s consent and that really was a huge momentous occasion for people in this city.
Jessica Morak [00:32:56] And I want to make sure that people understand that because I hear a lot from survivors coming to me, “Well I sent him or I sent her the picture. It was me, I took the picture or I let my partner take the picture. Does that mean that this is not a crime?” And the answer to that, in New York City, is no.
Karen Ortman [00:33:14] It is still very important information to share with our listeners.
Sabah Fatima [00:33:18] So if you meet someone in a similar situation to yours, what would you advise them to do?
Nathaly [00:33:25] Well first off, I would say that they are not alone, that there are people who will be there for him - for them - to support them. There are programs that are very supportive. And of course. I would say to go to the precinct and make a report and to stay strong.
Karen Ortman [00:33:45] You bring us joy.
Karen Ortman [00:33:48] Thank you so much for coming and sharing your story. I'm certain that listeners will benefit from your experience. And thank you for being an inspiration to our listeners.
Karen Ortman [00:34:04] And Jessica thank you for your expertise and for coming and speaking with us today.
Jessica Morak [00:34:10] It's my pleasure and I want to thank you for giving us a platform and Nathaly a space to share her story. Survivors don't owe us anything, but when they are strong enough to share their stories with us it is incredible to find places and spaces where that is possible because anybody can tell you it's not easy.
Karen Ortman [00:34:31] The pleasure is all ours.
Sabah Fatima [00:34:33] Thank you Jessica and Nathaly and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of you matter.
Karen Ortman [00:34:42] If any information presented today was triggering or disturbing please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212 443 9999. You can also get in touch with NYU’s Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit by calling 212 998 2222. For more podcasts like these, you could find us by searching for You Matter on Apple podcast or Google Play.