real life

'I accidentally found my ex’s secret sex tape, and then realised I knew the girl in it.'

Content warning: This post details sexual assault/rape and may be triggering for some readers.

It was the summer of 2011 when I found the video. I had just completed my first year of university, and I was back home for the holidays. My family was a wreck during this time period — my parents were in the middle of a messy divorce, and the bank had just foreclosed on our house. With nowhere to stay, I crashed with my ex.

To be fair, I’m not sure I would have called him my “ex” at the time. We had dated seriously in high school and then were on-again-off-again through most of university.

It actually wasn’t until 2014, after I graduated, that I finally cut this abusive man out of my life. Despite everything he did to me and other women, I stayed wrapped up in his drama until he finally crossed the line and raped me one night. That time, it wasn’t the manipulative, pushy, grey-rape like I had been used to from him for years — but blatant, I said no and you did it anyway, rape.

I was a budding feminist, then. And that, at least, I knew was wrong.

I should have cut him out of my life years before it ever got to that point. There were so many red flags — nothing about the relationship was ever really right. He manipulated women (and girls) to get what he wanted: power, control, and sex.

His playbook was to sweep through a friend group, one-by-one turning the girls against each other while he promised each of them in secret that she was his one and only. A couple of years earlier, while we were all still in high school, he had done it to me and my friends. Rose* had been one of my friends.

By 2011 when I found the tape, Rose and I had a strained relationship. We were similar in a lot of ways — we had both “survived” the same man (though neither of us was really out, yet). We both loved to read, and would often share book recommendations and compete to finish them. I suppose today you might call us “frenemies”, though at the time I didn’t know that word. We were friendly rivals, our friendship status often at the whim of this one man. I think, in a way, we respected that the other was just trying to survive, too.

We stopped talking a few years ago, although I ran into her at a bar once not long ago. We pretended we hadn’t recognised each other.

I still haven’t told her what I saw. I’m still not sure if that was the right decision.

Our ex was a keeper of secrets. He led multiple secret lives, expertly manipulated to his satisfaction. By 2011 I was no longer moved by his fairy tales but was desperate to know the truth about his life.

At one point, the year before, he stopped talking to me for about eight months. I probably should have taken this opportunity to turn away and never look back, but the mystery of him was too fascinating and like a cat I was curious.

ADVERTISEMENT
abusive relationship signs long term partner
"I still haven’t told her what I saw. I’m still not sure if that was the right decision." Image: Getty.

I didn’t intend to snoop when I asked to stay with him during those holidays. When the opportunity presented itself, though, I couldn’t help myself. I stumbled upon a handful of flash drives.

Most of the files were innocuous, but one of them wasn’t.

I opened a single video file on one black thumb drive and was greeted with a view of the very room I was sitting in. He was positioning the camera on a bookshelf, placing things in front of it, stepping back to examine his handiwork, and then adjusting again.

I felt my stomach lurch a few minutes later when I watched him leave the room and returned with Rose.

He showed her to the bed and started undressing her. It was clear to me she didn’t know about the camera.

At one point in the video, he re-positions her to get a better angle on film. He looked towards the bookshelf and smirked.

The sex was rough, and he was clearly doing whatever he wanted with no care whatsoever about her needs. It was like he was acting out his favourite porno, and she was just there as a prop. Her face looked pale and clenched, like she could be sick at any moment. Or maybe that’s just how I felt.

In the end, she was bleeding. I’m grateful that I don’t remember how that happened.

When the video ended, I quickly put everything back in its place and left the apartment. I stayed with a friend that night, but I didn’t tell her about what I had seen. I was ashamed.

ADVERTISEMENT

I was ashamed because I had snooped and seen something I was never supposed to.

I was ashamed because I had seen him manipulate and use her, the way he’s probably abused dozens of girls, and I knew I was too afraid to do anything about it.

I was ashamed because I knew he probably had a video just like that of me.

I never told Rose what I saw and, like many other memories from that time in my life, I tried to just forget about it. I still don’t know if she ever found out about the video. Did he use it to manipulate and control her later like how he used “dirt” to manipulate and control me? Did she stumble upon it while curiously snooping one day? Or did she find a video of a different girl, horrified and sickened by what was happening to the girl on the screen but ultimately too afraid to do anything about it?

I think about Rose a lot, now.

I wish that when we were eighteen we had the wisdom to know that we could stick together and lean on each other for support rather become the rivals he wanted us to be. I wish all of the women and girls he abused had started a meeting, a club, a group text, or something to share our collective experiences and realise that we were not alone. We could have been stronger together than at each other’s throats.

Maybe, we could have taken him down as a pack. He was a lone wolf, and we were many.

But I guess that’s not how abuse works.

I guess each of us had to deal with him on our own, eventually, or maybe in another relationship, or in therapy.

Rose is happily married now — or, married, at least. I don’t really know if she’s happy, but I hope she is. I hope she never found out about the tape, and that it collected dust in a pile until eventually being thrown out in a Marie Kondo junk-drawer sweep. I hope our horrible, manipulative, rapist ex is a distant memory to her. I hope she found healing like I eventually did.

And I hope she forgives me.

*name changed

M. K. is a feminist writer with a background in grassroots activism and psychology. You can subscribe to her newsletter here.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

00:00 / ???