Woman's response to 'cyber bully' who threatened to release naked video

Taruna Aswani Image copyright Taruna Aswani

The first email came at nine o'clock on a Friday morning. And when 26-year-old Taruna Aswani received a message from a man she didn't know, who called himself "Kevin John," she was shocked to read his message.

John claimed to have nude pictures and videos of Aswani, accessed through her Cloud. Aswani had intended the images to be seen only by her boyfriend of five years.

"All I am saying," read the threat from John, "is if you want me to keep quiet on this and let the world (social media, work place, family and friends) know, then you have to excite me." He went on demand Aswani send him further intimate videos.

Image copyright Taruna Aswani

Aswani, an Indian citizen who is currently working as a physical therapist in the US state of Maryland, immediately filed an online complaint with the FBI's cybercrime department.

But before they responded, she received a second unwelcome email from John. The message contained further threats, plus a detailed list of all the contacts that would receive the naked images were she not to comply with John's demand. It landed in her inbox at 9pm that evening. Aswani says she then knew what needed to be done.

"I couldn't just sit quiet and wait for someone to take action," Aswani told BBC Trending, "I had to do something myself! And soon. This guy was serious, and I had a deadline. With support from my boyfriend, I decided to go public with it."

She turned to social media and in a public Facebook post that has been shared more than 4,000 times, with more than 18,000 reactions, Aswani made clear that she would not give in to John's request. She also screen shot and uploaded his messages to her, and shared his email address.

"As embarrassing as the videos may be (they were sent to my boyfriend at the time) I choose to stand up to this man," Aswani wrote in the post, "Instead of cowering down to his requests. I do this so that other women may take a lesson to stand up to bullies and low life's like this."

Image copyright Taruna Aswani

"In the beginning I was just standing up for myself and against cybercrime and extortion," Aswani says.

"But receiving so many messages from girls who've been in similar situations and just kept quiet about it, who are now drawing inspiration from my story, has made me realise I'm not just standing up for myself but for all the women who have been victimised by sick men like this and have been too scared to stand up for the fear of being judged by society."

Although the majority of the comments on Aswani's post were positive, she said she did receive some negative ones.

Some, she says, have called her "a slut and some have gone to say I'm doing this for fame and publicity... For those who think I'm a slut for keeping pictures like that, I just want to say that it's completely normal.

"Especially if you're in a long-distance relationship, you do tend to share such material with your partner. It's neither unnatural nor uncommon. These people are the reason why most women keep quiet when shamed."

Image copyright Taruna Aswani

Aswani says that she received the full support of her boyfriend, her friends and her Mumbai-based family who, she says, didn't question why she took the intimate images in the first place.

"My parents were obviously panicking at first and felt helpless that they weren't physically with me to support and protect me, but they've been nothing but supportive throughout," she says. "They realise how normal it is to take and share such pictures with your boyfriend."

Aswani adds that her parents' reaction is indicative of a more open India.

"My parents have always known me for being a fighter," she says. "I fight for my rights, even at home... And I believe, by sharing my story I did the exact same thing with the people of India.

"I hope people in India stop saying 'what will people think?' before doing anything. It does not matter what people think. If you think you're right, stand up and speak up."

But would she have taken the same course of action if she still lived in India?

"Yes, definitely. Probably even before going to the police," she tells us, "Because, honestly, they would have shamed me too for my actions. I'm glad the people of India have supported me and all the buzz has put pressure on the Mumbai Police Department to take action.

Both the Mumbai Police Department and the FBI cyber crime unit have been opened investigations into the identity of "Kevin John".

Aswani says that since her Facebook post went viral, John has not been in touch.

Blog by Megha Mohan

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