'This Isn't Speech:' Attorney Carrie Goldberg On Revenge Porn

Nov 16, 2019

When Carrie Goldberg broke up with her boyfriend of a few months, frightening things started happening. He sent her hundreds of threatening messages. He contacted her friends, family and even work colleagues on Facebook to spread vicious lies about her — and that wasn't all. One night she opened her laptop to find email after email containing intimate pictures of her, including a graphic video filmed without her consent. Goldberg, a lawyer, went to the police and was told there was nothing that could be done.

Thousands of dollars in legal fees and a restraining order later, Carrie Goldberg has turned her traumatic experience into a career. She started her own firm to represent people who, like her, have been the targets of this kind of abuse — and she's written a new book: Nobody's Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls.

The book covers a range of situations, from a client who was impersonated on a gay dating site by an ex-boyfriend claiming he had rape fantasies, to a woman who was stalked by her ex, who ended up sending bomb threats to Jewish community centers all over the country. But Goldberg says most cases of nonconsensual porn involve women. "Almost every sextortion case I've ever heard about are women or girls," she says.


Interview Highlights

On what happens to people who are targets of revenge porn

So when it comes to images, I mean, we've had clients that have been fired from their job because of naked pictures being on the Internet. We just got contacted by a teacher who was forced out of her job because a student reported that they had found a picture of her on a porn Web site. And one of the other things that really is traumatic for victims is that there's a huge consumer base of non-consensual porn who share detailed personal information with one another. And so there's there's a lot of stalking by strangers of the victims.

On what would make the situation better

Well, I think that we need to be able to hold our platforms liable for the harms that they cause. Right now there's absolutely no pressure on Facebook, on Twitter, on these humongous companies that so profit from our communication and our data. They have no pressure from the marketplace to be creating products that are responsibly designed. I feel that our court systems are designed to be the great equalizer. You know, just for the cost of an index number, my client, who might not have a penny to her name, could sue Jeff Bezos. Or in one case, my 13-year-old client sued the New York City Department of Education, a multi-multi-billion dollar entity. And when we as individuals ... can't get justice against a company, what incentive do they have to be creating anything that's that safe?

On the free speech argument

This isn't about speech ... this [is] about conduct. And when activists and libertarians conflate everything as speech and think that, you know ... they used to make this argument with non-consensual porn, that if we criminalize that, then we would lose all speech on the Internet. And now, you know, we have 46 states that have criminal revenge porn laws. And I think speech is still pretty robust. But there has to be limits. You know, we're talking about criminal actions, terroristic threats, deepfakes, people being impersonated and their lives being completely overturned. This isn't speech.

On advice for people who are experiencing this kind of harassment

My first piece of advice is is very practical: Don't delete anything, screenshot everything, on your phone, online. And then just recognize that you're not alone. In the back of my book, I have pages of of resources for everybody from victims of revenge porn to child sexual assault to sextortion, resources for the LGBTQ community. And I think that it's so important that victims and survivors have somebody that's on their side, you know, that they can tell, that they can confide in, because the scariest part of the entire process is feeling like you're under attack all by yourself. And the isolation.

On telling her own story in this book

It's empowering to have told my story. But I have to admit that there are moments of confusion and fear, and "Oh my God, did I really put all of that in that book?" And now, you know, when people tell me that they've read it, you know, there are parts of the book that I hadn't really talked about with almost anybody. ... But, you know, there is still some some discomfort with the fact that I've put all of this and all of these personal stories into the book. But I'm proud of it. And I feel that it's important. And one of the reasons I did it, you know, that I put so much personal information in it is because my clients give me everything. They tell me the most personal details of their stories. And then I put it into legal complaints, and those become public documents. And so, if they're being so willing and so trusting to expose themselves in order to advance their case and advance the law, then what am I doing if I'm not following that same model?

This story was edited for radio by Janaya Williams and Natalie Winston Friedman, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Mija means my daughter in Spanish. And it's also the title of a podcast that tells the stories of one immigrant family with a home in Queens, N.Y., but with roots in Colombia. The stories are told by the daughter in the family.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "MIJA")

LORY MARTINEZ: I'm brutally honest. I love deeply and forgive, always. And I love to embellish things to tell a good story, but I'm real. I'm Mija.

MARTIN: That is Lory Martinez. She is the creator and host of the podcast. The stories she tells are personal and relatable, even if you didn't grow up in Queens or come from an immigrant background. Oh, and the stories are told in three different languages - English, Spanish and French, which helps explain how "Mija" reached No. 1 on Apple Podcast fiction charts in both Spain and France. And Lory Martinez is with us now from Paris, where she is now based. Lory Martinez, thank you so much for talking with us. Congratulations.

MARTINEZ: Hi. Thank you so much.

MARTIN: So what inspired you to create this podcast and make it accessible in three languages?

MARTINEZ: It's a bit of a long story. But to start off, I started doing these interviews with my family about a year ago. I was home for my brother's graduation ceremony. And my whole family was able to fly out from Colombia to see the ceremony. And I was just seeing these dynamics between my family members who hadn't seen each other in years for various reasons but mostly because my mother had immigrated from Colombia when she was very young.

And she created this new life here. And I realized that there were all these dynamics between these family members where the distance really - it didn't affect our relationship. We were still so close. And it was kind of beautiful to see how my grandmother, my mother and her sister were acting as they would have when they were younger in the house in Colombia.

So I kind of started taking notes that week. And I actually didn't realize that it was going to become a podcast. But then I had all these short, like, phone interviews with my family members in Spanish. So I knew from the get-go when I decided to create the podcast that it would have to be in English and Spanish. And then I happened to live in France. And so I was seeing that there were a lot of conversations happening around immigration here, too. And I thought what if, you know, I could share this with the French as well?

MARTIN: You know, you've talked about some of the pluses, the minuses of growing up as an immigrant, even in a place as diverse as Queens. But you also talk about how, in a way, it's like your superpower. Like, I love when you talk about el cacumen (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST "MIJA")

MARTINEZ: He had what we in the family call el cacumen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

MARTINEZ: I'm not really sure how to describe it, but it means something along the lines of the genes of a genius, the genes of success, of survival. They basically meant that no matter what obstacles came our way, we'd make it because of el cacumen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

MARTIN: You talk about how - you even say in this episode - you don't even know what some of the stories told about this relative are true. But, hey, sounds good, right? It's inspired.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. I think it's one of those things that actually resonated really well in France as well, I think in part because of the way that I created the sound design to have this kind of memory comeback. So even in later episodes, you'll hear cacumen come back, always with this kind of drum that becomes a salsa. And I think it was a really good way to encompass this kind of hope that a lot of immigrant families have and this very kind of relentless positivity that it's all going to work out in the end even though it's going really badly. But it ends up being like, no, it's going to be OK because you have el cacumen.

So I have this really nice moment when I shared it with a cousin of mine and her children. They're second generation now. And they listened to it. And they said, Mommy, do we el cacumen, too? And that's so beautiful to have that kind of hope instilled even in the next generation, to have that feeling that, you know, we belong there, too.

MARTIN: So talk about the role of music in these pieces. It is, you know - pardon the pun - instrumental to the way the podcast is put together and also the way you mix, like, the music and the sounds of the city to kind of - I don't know, just kind of make it an environment. I just want to play a little bit of some of the...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: How did you come up with that idea? Was that always what was sort of in your head? When you think about growing up where you grew up, that's the sound that you hear?

MARTINEZ: When I created the podcast, I thought the sounds of New York is the subway, street sounds, taxis, people talking in different languages. And you have this music, the salsa music that I've always had in my life. And I just kind of threw it in there. And I was like, that's the sound of "Mija." That is my universe.

MARTIN: You know, before we let you go, I wanted to mention - as you've mentioned, you've been living in France since 2015 now. I think. So now you're an immigrant - irony. I was wondering - do your relatives - your Colombian relatives, do they find that funny or strange or entirely normal that you - you know, they moved to change their lives, and now you've moved to do your thing? I mean, how do your relatives feel about the fact that you are now an immigrant in France?

MARTINEZ: (Laughter) That's a good question. I think they're still dealing with it. But I think they're very proud of the fact that I used the privileges that they gave me as an American citizen to use them and create things like this to be able to tell my story this way. For a long time, my mom - when I told her I was going to leave and just even being in France now for the first few years, she used to say, like, what are you doing over there, mija? Come back.

And when I made the show, she was like, I understand why you're there. You needed to be away to understand your story and tell it and create this beautiful object that tells our lives and our America. And it's - she's very proud of that. And so I'm happy that I could do it.

MARTIN: That was Lory Martinez. She's the host and the creator of the podcast "Mija," which, as we said, is available in English, Spanish and French. And the final episode in the eight-part series is out on Wednesday. Lory Martinez, thank you so much for talking with us.

MARTINEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.