My story: Tech abuse and autism

I did some low key fashion modelling for a while about 8 years ago, and for the most part it was an enjoyable experience. I always struggled socially, but I didn’t know I was autistic until much more recently. Modelling was a convenient way of using the only thing I thought I had to offer (my appearance) to engineer social situations where I could meet people. While I didn’t find much money or success, I did find people I still care about to this day. I always thought I could see through who the good guys and the bad guys were. Looking back, I was a bit too confident there.

I’d modelled with a photographer *Steve in London who was really talented. Out of the many people on the shoot, I felt like I really clicked with him. He was twice my age, and married. We kept in touch, and I was glad. It's really rare for me to connect with people. The messages initially started with him asking about my day to day life. He said I was really special and my personality was not like people in the industry at all. When I got a new boyfriend the questions got more personal, asking about our sexual relationship. When we broke up a few months later I really went off the rails mentally. I talked to Steve about how I felt. Again, the conversations started to take another turn. He kept saying he was going to write a book and there would be a chapter about me in it. When you’ve just been told you are unlovable, this kind of attention is really flattering.

Partly because of our conversations, and partly because so many other girls were doing it and I felt a need to keep up; I decided to start doing nude photoshoots. I told Steve this, because I wanted to see what he would think. He then asked me to send him private photos. So I sent them. He then started tasking me with things, some of which I did. He said I should buy a vibrator. He said something along the lines of feeling like the “architect of my sexual awakening”. He then asked me to send him more graphic pictures. I did and asked for some in return. At this point he was like “ummm… I can’t, my wife might catch me”. He then messaged me and told me I should go out without underwear and lightly flash people on my commute to work. He wanted to hear about the guys reactions. I just kind of laughed it off (and didn’t do it!). I was coming down to London in the summer and was supposed to be shooting with him. He asked to shoot some nudes at my friends flat, as his studio was at home. I didn’t feel comfortable, but I mentioned it to her anyway. She was appalled. I then backtracked and suggested we shoot in a public place and do something safe. I didn’t hear a response from him until he messaged a few days before I came down, saying “I need to spend time with my wife and family that day.”

I stopped modelling regularly after this, took down all the pictures and felt so much shame. Hiding the abuse deeply affected my relationship with my partner, and I always felt like it was going to come back at me somehow. I felt like a garbage human for doing that with a man with a family. It took me three years before I told anyone. I knew someone who worked in the Violence Against Women sector specialising in exploitation, and I went to her. She said I had been exploited and groomed. I then felt like it was OK to tell my partner, and he was very supportive.

Being autistic and having a very superficial mother, I learned from a young age that my appearance was a valuable asset in society. When I couldn’t hold a conversation, at least I had my appearance. When I couldn’t hold down a job, at least I had my appearance. This feeling left me particularly vulnerable to online abuse. My experience gives me a certain perspective in feminist circles, and its not always appreciated. My views don’t fit neatly into any of the boxes. I understand that some feminists would see the shame I felt as a symptom of a society that fears female sexuality. That is partly true in my case. Some disability rights activists might say that by attributing my actions to being autistic that I am downplaying free agency and sexuality of disabled people. I agree that infantilisation is a real problem that denies disabled people sex education and access to services. But looking back on an individual level, I wish this hadn’t happened to me. It’s only now years after the fact that I can have empathy for who I was at the time. My lack of boundaries, self awareness and my desperate need to feel a sense of belonging mean I do things without thinking about the consequences.

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