Post #MeToo, Teenagers Continue to Fear Telling Their Sexual Harassment Stories
NB: All non-celebrity names have been changed or omitted.
Sponges freak me out.
Well, okay. Unused, plastic-wrapped sponges are fine. Dry sponges that have been around the block are okay, not great — they’re far better if I’ve been with them since the sterile beginning. The worst, bar none, is a used, damp sponge, resting near the faucet on the edge of a sink with absolutely no sign of how long it’s been sitting there. That sponge has seen things that can’t be unseen and been places it just can’t come back from. Theoretically, it could be reused, but, really; after that first time out of the package, can a sponge ever truly be clean again?
Valentina Barilli would probably consider that question irrelevant. As my first-grade teacher at the Melrose Montessori School, her job, in addition to teaching academics like spelling, Italian, and long division, was to instill in me practical, foundational skills — skills like proper posture, braiding, and, yes, the correct way to wring out a sponge for later use.
To demonstrate, she herded me and a couple of other kids around the classroom kitchenette. I remember feeling a level of low-grade confusion, but that wasn’t unusual: as a kid with undiagnosed ADHD, I probably hadn’t paid attention to her introduction, leaving me unsure why I was suddenly standing in front of the sink. Apparently deciding I’d pick up the lesson as she went along, I watched in silence as Ms. Barilli held a rag under running water. After a moment, she turned off the faucet and handed the rag to me, instructing me to squeeze it dry. I had just barely clenched my fist, water seeping between my fingers, when she wormed her hand over mine and snatched it from my grip. “You tweest it,” she corrected in her thick Italian accent, staring back into my startled eyes as she wrung it herself over the sink. This method, she advised, could be used on sponges, too.
But Ms. Barilli demonstrated with tap water, and water evaporates. I shudder to think of the sponge that’s sitting by my sink right now, fifteen years after that Home Ec trial by fire. Even if my roommates wrung out that sponge until their hands were sore, I’d bet anything that it’d still be rife with residue from last night’s dinner — remnants of Spaghetti-O’s and charred bits of lemon chicken snug in the cellulose.
Here’s the thing: our brains are kind of like a sponge. From the moment we’re born, we’re absorbing information, making neural connections that develop into memory and executive function skills.
For a long time, the age window that dominated studies in developmental psychology was the moment of birth to three years old. It’s true: studying babies’ reactions to various stimuli can be used to accurately predict their patterns of behavior as adults. The way we’re raised, then, is a big deal — In other words, there’s science behind why Heidi Murkoff still makes a killing.
Yet the laser focus on “zero to three” ignores the importance of other stages of our lives — more specifically, our adolescent years.
Basically, if the brain is like a sponge, the pubescent brain is still pretty much fresh out of the package. It’s fresh, it’s elastic, and it’s unquestionably more absorbent than one that’s been scrubbing pans for decades. During puberty, the prefrontal cortex of our brains — the part that’s involved in complexities like planning, decision making, impulse control, and expressing our personalities — is especially impressionable. It’s not until our mid-twenties that our prefrontal cortex absorption-level starts to plateau.
Looking at my own life, this makes sense. Who I was at thirteen certainly influences who I am today — At thirteen, I was a big, embarrassing nerd, and now, at twenty, I’m pretty much that same nerd, except taller.
Since I was about thirteen, I’ve been a part of active, earnest online fan communities, also known as “fandoms.” Recognizing that this could alienate me socially, yet unwilling to stop talking about Harry Potter online, my thirteen-year-old self began constructing a double life: at school, I lived my Real Life, and at home, I lived my Online Life. Throughout high school, I’d harbored the naive hope that eventually some internal switch would flip and I’d stop caring about television and start caring about cooler stuff.
That never happened.
Now, at twenty, I could probably try to wring all the nerd out of my brain, but, not unlike Spaghetti-O’s or lemon chicken, traces of my proclivities would remain, tucked somewhere in the myelin of my prefrontal cortex, so what would be the point of that, really?
This line of reasoning — the line that allowed me to maintain a geeky double life — led me to Instagram around February of this year, where I made an account to follow filming updates for the upcoming season of Stranger Things. This was new territory for me; before February, I lived my Online Life almost exclusively on an app called Tumblr. Tumblr’s been nothing but good to me, but, not counting that time in 2012 when Cole Sprouse conducted his so-called “social experiment,” people in the mainstream entertainment industry don’t really use it. On Instagram, Stranger Things cast members and paparazzi post to their accounts regularly, and Instagram has a handier post notification feature. During filming, and especially during the filming of a show as secretive as Stranger Things, all information is time-sensitive. Set secrets inevitably slip out, only to be promptly deleted. On Instagram, their notification feature means I’m more likely to catch and screenshot anything that looks like a potential spoiler (Yes, I love Stranger Things that much, okay, please get off my case).
There’s a lot of differences between Tumblr and Instagram, but the starkest, by far, is the difference in demographics. On Tumblr, it was easy to find people my age who wanted to dig into character analysis and speculate on show lore. Instagram’s younger; almost all of the 265 people I follow are between 12–17 years old. Every day I’ll encounter posts that give me a weird combination of whiplash and deja-vu — There’s nothing quite like reading a post with the caption “bye im getting my phone taken for a while” and remembering that, oh yeah, there used to be a time in my life where my mom could straight-up take my phone away.
As one of the fifteen or so adults in the fandom, I’ve made up some fairly rigid, self-explanatory rules on how to interact with these kids. I rarely, if ever, direct-message them one-on-one. I don’t talk about drugs or alcohol, or say anything sexually explicit — Basically, I don’t post anything that I wouldn’t want my own sixteen-year-old sister to see.
It might sound like a lonely existence, but it really isn’t; a few of my friends from Tumblr migrated to Instagram along with me, so I have adult friends to talk to about my Instagram adventures — and, for a while, there was a lot to talk about.
Throughout the first quarter of 2018, most Instagram fans spent their days expressing their shock and outrage that 14-year-old Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven in Stranger Things) was dating notorious internet personality Jacob Sartorius, 15 (he’s now 16). Until 2016, Sartorius was reasonably popular from the lip-syncing videos he posted to the (now-defunct) app Musica.ly, as well as his ties to a (now-disbanded) group of internet-famous boys collectively known as MAGCON; but he went truly viral following the release of the music video for his song “Sweatshirt.” Teens on the internet (not to mention many, many adults) lost their minds over the inanity of the video, with its kitschy lyrics and heavy-handed use of autotune. Since then, his existence has generally been treated as a punchline.
Still, with a strong, dedicated fanbase of young girls and around nine million followers on Instagram, Jacob’s managed to remain relevant beyond “Sweatshirt.” His 2017 song “Hit Me Back” features rapper Blackbear, an artist with over eight million monthly listeners on Spotify worldwide. He was recently lauded as one of TigerBeat Magazine’s 19 Under 19.
His biggest claim to fame, however, was when rumors began to circulate about his alleged relationship with Millie Bobby Brown in January. Word traveled fast: In a since-deleted, widely-circulated tweet, user @noxortis remarked: “jacob sartorius dating millie bobby brown is like jake paul dating meryl streep” (If you don’t know who Jake Paul is, just understand that this is a devastating burn). Their relationship was covered in UsWeekly, People, E! Online, Cosmopolitan, Billboard, Teen Vogue, OK! Magazine, BuzzFeed, Vice, and MTV, to name a few.
The Stranger Things fandom, for its part, couldn’t believe it. The idea that two-time Emmy-nominated actress Millie Bobby Brown would choose to date Jacob Sartorius was, apparently, preposterous (And, to be fair, I was blown away myself).
People on Twitter continued to chime in with remarks like @mickyb273’s “I just found out Milly Bobbie Brown is dating Jacob Sartorius and this is great practice for not being angry but disappointed in my future children,” and @bborje1’s “If Jacob Sartorius can get Millie Bobby Brown, then you can get anyone.”
When Millie confirmed their relationship status on an Instagram Live in February, mass teenie-bopper hysteria ensued. (For those who don’t know, Instagram Live is a feature that resembles a one-sided FaceTime call. You tap a couple of buttons to broadcast your camera for the public to see, and people can react to what you say and do through comments. A star like Millie Bobby Brown could land upwards of 17,000 viewers on an unannounced Live on any given day.)
The Instagram hashtag #JillieIsReal exploded into existence (as of now, it contains over 11,000 posts), and at least once a week, either Millie or Jacob would publish a post, tweet, or Instagram story that would send the Stranger Things fandom into a fervor, and when it came out in April that Jacob cheated on Millie, it was pretty much the cherry on top of the insanity cake.
On April 12th, 2018, a series of video clips were published to Instagram, each documenting Snapchat user @JacobSartorius asking a teenage girl to send nude photographs of herself. The videos show a girl (I’ll call her Kiera) lying prone on her bed as she opens and responds to the appeals. While only one video shows Jacob’s face, he’s shown wearing an orange hat similar to the one he’s documented wearing on April 11th, the day Kiera claims the videos were delivered.
In one clip, Kiera opens a snap (i.e. snapchat message) from @JacobSartorius that reads “[…]full body nude in mirror and then i’ll send u one. then we’ll trust each other.” She closes it and taps on his name. “Look,” she says to the girl filming her, flashing her his profile, “Can we just?”
On the same day the video dropped, a series of tweets written by a girl with the handle @rafaruls went viral. The first three tweets read: “so @jacobsartorius was in London today, he saw my bestie and started hitting her up. He told her to message her at night. When she did he asking for full nudes and said that he would talk to her everyday in return. Bc my bestie isn’t that stupid she didn’t. Now he airing #NOTOKAY. They met in Westfield London, where he obviously was trying to find some girl to do this to. He asked her for the pictures and when she said no he stopped talking to her. Not only is this not okay morally but it is also illegal. DO SOMETHING ABOUT JACOB PLEASE. @milliebbrown soz. Jacob shouldn’t be treating and disrespecting girls like this and shouldn’t be cheating on his girlfriend like this. @jacobsartorius @milliebbrown @TMZLive (@HRVY was there too). @DailyMailCeleb shame on you jacob.”
While she didn’t say it explicitly in the tweets, it appeared @rafaruls was the girl recording Kiera. The two stories aligned; @rafaruls writes that she spotted Jacob at the Westfield shopping center in London, and Kiera was photographed with Jacob at a retail store earlier on the afternoon of April 11th. Each story informed and reinforced the other.
Kiera’s story seemed to fall apart, then, when less than twelve hours after publishing the tweets, @rafaruls tweeted “Guys, it was all fake I just wanted some media attention and more followers. Sorry.” Almost immediately after posting the tweet, she deleted her account.
Despite @rafaruls’ best efforts, the clips and tweets refused to go gentle into that long good night. In the hysteria that followed, one fan went so far as to break into the Instagram and iCloud accounts of a girl (I’ll call her Sage) who appeared in one of Jacob’s music videos, posting clips they had obtained from Sage’s iCloud to her own compromised account. The videos were almost identical to Kiera’s: a fifteen-year-old girl, now American and blonde, laughing nervously with her hand over her mouth, thumb hovering over a Snapchat notification from @JacobSartorius. “I’m afraid to open it,” she says.
After Michael Jackson died, people used to ask, “Where were you when you found out?” Everyone had a story: they were blowing bubbles on their front lawn, they were packing after their final year of college, they were on the couch, watching CNN. It was a way to insert ourselves in his story, a way to collectively heal and make sense of the sudden, tragic death of an international icon.
Let me tell you this: I have literally no idea where I was when Michael Jackson died, but I can tell you exactly what where I was when the Jacob Sartorius news broke.
At first, the whole situation felt absurd, like something out of a fever dream. I kept waiting for someone to pop out, to laugh and say, “just kidding!” In fairness, people did; Jacob’s fans — girls the same age as the ones in my Instagram fan community — took on several roles in an effort to defend him against the scrutiny. Some took up the role of public defender, questioning the validity of the videos — wasn’t that snap part of an old story? Why is his snap score so low in the video? He’s supposed to be abroad, so why does it look like he’s sitting in a house?
I really, really didn’t want to believe that Jacob Sartorius was soliciting his fans for nude photos, so I took it upon myself to follow up on each question for any information that might prove the videos were faked. To my dread, the videos checked out. First, no one could provide me with the “old story” one of the clips allegedly came from (if it was around, I’d have seen it — Instagram fans capture and repost literally every move their celebrity of choice makes). Second, he’d changed his Snapchat from @Jacobsvine to @JacobSartorius in the last year, causing his snap score — or the numerical indicator of how often you send snaps to your friends, found on your Snapchat profile next to your name) — to hover somewhere around 54,000 where it should have more realistically been around 125,000. Finally, if it looked like he was in a house, it was probably because he was with his friend Harvey Cantwell (aka @HRVY), who lives in the London area.
Others tried a different angle, arguing that Kiera and her friend @rafaruls were clearly just looking for what’s called clout, which basically means attention or online notoriety. In response to @rafaruls’ claims on Twitter, one girl wrote, “awww lookin for clout :)) sorry love your a bullshitter Jacob would never do this so yaaa.” Another: “uh dis prolly fake. receipts? tagging every source u can think of cuz u know u want clout??? i don’t even like jacob but…”
The third (and arguably most upsetting) method Jacob’s fans used was to blame Millie Bobby Brown for his actions. One fan on Instagram commented, “EVEN IF HE DID CHEAT ON MILLIE , THANK GOD , BECAUSE SHES FUCKING TRASH , SO YEAH MICHAEL CAN TAKE J’S LEFTOVERS , I DON’T BLAME HIM HONESTLY , I MEAN WE TALKING ABOUT MILLIE HERE 😂😂” (The “Michael” they refer to is Mike Wheeler, the character played by Finn Wolfhard on Stranger Things who has a budding relationship with Millie Bobby Brown’s character. While they aren’t dating in real life, there’s a small community of teens and adults who are really hoping they end up together, much to the chagrin of both actors).
In the immediate wake of the #TimesUp and #MeToo, I found the last two types of responses especially troubling. I’m well aware that neither movement managed to end sexual harassment or stop our culture of victim-blaming, but I’d hoped to see an improvement in how the younger generation received claims like Kiera’s.
As unsettled as I felt, it seemed the best course of action was to wait — wait for a statement from Jacob’s publicity team, wait for the tabloids to get a hold of the story, wait for anyone to investigate the story. It was a gold mine, after all — I could already see it on the cover of TigerBeat magazine, crammed in that weird side-panel they use to delineate lesser storylines.
Days flew by in radio silence, not just from Jacob, but from the world. No one was saying anything. The Daily Mail, the U.K. tabloid which recently “reported” that Millie Bobby Brown has text conversations with rapper Drake, remained silent. TMZ, an outlet with a storied history of shoving cameras in the faces of the Stranger Things kids and asking them embarrassing, invasive questions as they wait for their taxi on the arrivals curb at the airport, followed suit.
I spent the next few weeks constantly second-guessing myself. I mean, no one else seemed to care, so was I blowing this out of proportion? When came down to it, it was just relationship drama between two kids, and maybe the videos were faked. Even if they’re real, they didn’t show Jacob sending anything especially obscene.
But the whole situation just felt wrong. Both girls were clearly uncomfortable. Neither were alone; each had a friend supporting them, filming them. Yes, Sage’s videos were leaked, but Kiera actively reached out to the public and not even The Daily Mail thought she was worth a couple of sentences below the fold.
As I agonized over my own interest in the story, I thought a lot about the young girls I got to know through my Instagram account. I thought about Lily, the thirteen-year-old who asked me the best way to ask her mom if she could shave her head just like Eleven. I thought about Maddy, who told me she’d recently been diagnosed with ADHD and asked how I thought medication might help her with school. I thought about myself in high school — closeted, unmedicated, looking for the meaning of life in sci-fi shows similar to Stranger Things, trying to find communities of people who understood me online.
The message this non-response was sending girls like them was awful — Every bland, generic tweet from Jacob (“You’re a ⭐,” “I ❤️you”) was a slap in the face, every Sartoriusless tabloid seemed to scream, No one cares about you!
I got impatient. I got angry. I took it upon myself to personally e-mail every tabloid and particularly trashy media company I could think of, offering them my tip. I reached out to Jacob’s management, both through email and through direct-message from a fake Jacob Sartorius fan account. I even filled out a form which offered the UK CrimeStoppers an anonymous tip; Still, nothing. I felt small, and stupid, and silly.
Finally, something came, but not because of me — a website called Girlfriend.com (which, to my understanding, is basically just TigerBeat for Australians) posted a little blurb reporting that Millie deleted all of her pictures of Jacob from her Instagram amid cheating rumors. There was no mention of Sage or Kiera.
Meanwhile, in the eyes of the Stranger Things Instagram fandom, only one thing was worse than the media’s silence: the fact that Millie Bobby Brown said nothing about it and continued to publicly date Jacob. Thousands of people unfollowed her, but not before leaving pointed, cutting comments under her pictures, driving Brown to turn her comments off altogether. Before she could, however, one woman commented, “You can advocate for charitable causes. You can advocate for gun violence. But you embrace and kiss a boy who has hurt and objectified other girls. TimesUp is not just about a black red carpet dress. It’s about choosing not to romanticize a person who would tear your sisters down. But go ahead. Keep posting for romantic pictures to let the girls He objectified know just how little you stand by them.”
As a general rule, I don’t fight with people on the internet. It always felt pointless, like shouting into a bucket, but, looking back, I think I preferred bucket-shouting to sitting around, waiting for a story that would never come.
My first argument with the author of this comment lasted hours. I was particularly angry because she was an adult, complete with a husband, two children, a job, and a couple of degrees. I could excuse the misguided reactions from high schoolers, but I couldn’t believe a grown woman would focus her attention on Millie, of all people. Like me, she was from the Stranger Things fandom, but this was no longer about Millie Bobby Brown. Now, it was about holding Jacob accountable by someone other than a niche Instagram community and an Australian website called Girlfriend.com.
Ultimately, this woman (I’ll call her Jess) conceded that her analysis of the situation was ill-founded. Emboldened by this small victory, I began to post more about the situation. I was careful to call out what happened sexual harassment because, to me, it was cut-and-dry: both requests were unwelcome, and both recipients felt discomfort and embarrassment as a result.
Apparently, this categorization was the most crotchety, out-of-touch thing any Instagram teen had heard in all their lives. Countless people informed me, as if I were just now learning this information, that boys ask girls for nudes all the time, regardless of if the girl wants it or not. It’s not a big deal. Maybe a little demeaning and traumatizing, but not a big deal. Grow up. Get over it. Let it go.
As if to prove how much I would not let it go, I started saving any and all available evidence that indicated Kiera and Sage were telling the truth to a Google Drive. By this time, my semester had drawn to a close. It was summer, and I had a full-time job working at my college’s library. Still, every day at 4:45, I would sit, sweltering, at my kitchen table, and look up anything that could corroborate the videos. I began to assemble a timeline, one which confirmed my theory that Jacob Sartorius has exhibited a pattern of sexual harassment for almost two years.
It was clear from the start that I needed to contact Jess, the author of the #TimesUp comment. Her account is public where mine is protected, meaning her posts reach more people than mine. In other words, she had a leg up on me in collecting this type of information. Thankfully, she was more than happy to help any effort to hold Jacob Sartorius accountable to the powers that be. When I reached out, she immediately directed me to a YouNow video made by Musica.ly star Karlee Steel in December 2016 YouNow is basically just a desktop version of the Instagram Live program, though YouNow is not affiliated with Instagram. Steel states that Jacob sent her an unsolicited “dick pic” that year; she was eighteen, he was fourteen. I direct-messaged Karlee asking her to talk about what she said, but she never replied to my messages.
Jess insists that at least three women came to her friend Tori claiming harassment the following year, and at least four more girls claimed they were harassed in 2018. I followed up with Tori, asking if I could talk to these girls firsthand, but she refuses to give me their names, claiming to be adamant about protecting their privacy.
The numbers “three in 2017, four in 2018” give me pause. Jess and Tori want me to trust them based on their word, but when I pressed them individually, they both admitted their math could be off. Even if a number of girls did come to Tori, there’s no way of knowing how many, when their encounter with Jacob took place, or the exact nature of the interaction.
April 12th, 2018 remains the most incriminating date, with video and tweets surfacing of Jacob asking Kiera and Sage for nudes over Snapchat. I reached out to Sage, but, like Karlee, she never replied to my messages. Finding Kiera proved difficult, as the Instagram username watermarked on the picture of her and Jacob at Westfield in London is now defunct. However, I found a screenshot of communication between a Stranger Things Instagram and Kiera’s videographer friend (I’ll call her Hannah). Thankfully, her username was unchanged, and I was able to reach out to her via direct message.
She responded with surprising speed. She told me that she was happy to talk to me but asked that I keep her identity anonymous to protect against further hate from Jacob’s fans.
First, I asked her to confirm that she wrote a message to the Stranger Things account stating that she was in Westfield with Kiera on April 11th, the one I used to find her in the first place, which she did. Then I asked her if she or Kiera ran the @rafaruls account, and she responded, “No that was someone else.”
This was news to me. Until that moment, I’d assumed @rafaruls had to be linked to Kiera, and the girls wanted to cover their bases by spreading what happened on both Instagram and Twitter. Still, Hannah was clear: she wasn’t the person from Twitter, and neither was Kiera. She speculated that maybe @rafaruls started the Twitter thread to make Kiera look bad, or maybe they were someone with a similar story who chose to lie about their credibility to stop the flow of hate they were receiving from Jacob’s fans.
The intentions of the administrator of the @rafaruls account will most likely remain speculation, mainly because it’s impossible to know for sure which came first: the tweets or the video. The tweets are time-stamped 10:46 PM on April 11th, but I’m not sure who’s 10:46 PM — Twitter shows different time-stamps based on time-zone, and the screenshot of the tweet I’m working with isn’t my own. Moreover, Kiera and her friend distributed the videos by direct-messaging them to a popular Stranger Things fan account, who has since deleted the posts — In other words, there’s there’s no way of knowing when they were released. Hannah goes on to say that she found similar stories of girls being harassed by Jacob on YouTube, but couldn’t provide me with a link.
The most damning piece of evidence against Jacob is one I can talk about the least. In the initial conversation with Jess, she provided a video of a girl (I’ll call her Jaime) talking about Jacob using a live-stream app whose name I don’t know. The video is hard to watch, and most of what she says is equally hard to follow, as Jaime gets increasingly upset as she tries to articulate her story, but the message is clear: Something traumatizing happened between her and Jacob in January 2018. On April 12th, Jaime’s privacy was violated by a hacker not unlike the one who hit Sage, and she felt compelled to address what happened before the news leaked. The clips show around ninety seconds of a fifteen-minute video, and the entirety is literally impossible to find. Jaime cries throughout — the trapped, embarrassed sobs of a young girl feeling completely powerless to what she assumes awaits her. “I’m not one to let this stuff get to me,” she asserts in the video, “because… it shouldn’t.” She doesn’t discuss details, both in the video and in the private discussions I’ve had with her, so what happened remains unclear, yet her pain feels true and real.
After two months of gathering my small, precious handful of hard facts, I emailed the Tip Line at Buzzfeed News in the hopes that I could get someone else to write the story for me. Almost immediately after hitting send, I got a response, and I swear, I genuinely sagged with relief, the way people do in books. I opened the email. “Thank you for reaching out,” it began. “Due to the volume of messages, we can’t reply to every person who writes us. But rest assured, one of our staff will review your email within two business days, and if we decide to follow up on your tip, we’ll contact you. Thank you again.”
After spending the second quarter of my 2018 obsessed with bringing to light what I’d come to call Nudegate with little to no success, it became past due to reevaluate my long-term goals. What was my ideal outcome? What was I looking for?
I knew I wanted accountability, but that appeared farther and farther out of reach with each passing day. Beyond the media snub, one of the harsher blows to my little crusade for justice occurred in the form of screenshots of direct messages between Jacob’s fans and his manager, Tony Talamo.
After the tweets and videos came out, one fan messaged him, “Tony Is everything ok with Jacob? Can u guys explain?” Tony responded, “We can’t explain it at the moment later Jacob will come out and say what needs to be said but for rn people believe what they wanna believe.” Later, another fan wrote, “TONY JACOB IS LOSING US IS THE RUMORS TRUE???? TONY ANSWER ME PLEASE ❤️.” “Its fake,” Tony replied. “Jacob loves you guys ❤️.”
Instagram’s direct-message feature is, ostensibly, a way to communicate in private. Most people honor the feature by using it the way it was intended, but it’s possible to screenshot and post these conversations to one’s public account. Unlike Snapchat, Instagram doesn’t discourage this behavior by notifying the user you’re messaging if you’ve screenshotted parts of the conversation. I found the communication between those two fans and Tony Talamo because the fans had screenshotted and posted the conversation to their respective accounts, which set off a chain reaction of screenshotting-and-posting within the Jacob Sartorius fan community on Instagram. Like I said before, Instagram fans capture and repost literally every move their celebrity of choice makes.
Frankly, I believe Tony Talamo was counting on these reposts. Talamo isn’t a nefarious, mustache-twirling mastermind, but he’s based his entire career off of the way information travels on social media. After graduating from LaSalle University in 2013 with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing, he immediately co-founded the managerial group T-3 Music Group. Their mission statement READS: “T3MG is an independent record label that prides itself on taking their artists from the bottom, To x The x Top.” Essentially, around 2013, Talamo correctly identified that the right managerial talent could develop boys like Jacob —or, those who had decent followings on apps like Musica.ly — into full-blown singers and media personalities. Think about Justin Bieber, whose career took off in part through the covers he posted on YouTube, or One Direction, the now-defunct boy group who relied on the devotion of fans on Twitter to get the word out about their talent. Talamo’s been Jacob’s manager since 2013 and he how to work the fans — He must know, for example, that direct-messaging one fan “It’s fake, Jacob loves you guys ❤️” is enough to tide the entire fandom over after an a-bomb like Nudegate. The screenshots circulated; the fans acquiesced. Since the discovery of those messages, I knew not to count on accountability from Tony Talamo.
Stalled, I began to entertain ways Jacob could be held accountable. I thought of potential legal ramifications: The single substantial allegation is from Kiera, whose situation, at its core, amounts to sexual harassment, as no pictures were exchanged. In the United Kingdom, where Kiera was asked to send pictures of herself, sexual harassment is “unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which: violates your dignity, makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated, [and/or] creates a hostile or offensive environment.” In other words, it appears sexual harassment is considered unlawful discrimination in the United Kingdom only as it relates to employment.
The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission tells a similar story: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” Essentially, it would be impossible to prosecute Jacob under a sexual harassment claim, even if the case fell under U.S. jurisdiction.
I considered the potential for prosecuting him under a child pornography claim. As far as I can tell, there is no provision penalizing anyone for persuading or coercing a minor into explicit conduct under British law. According to the Citizen’s Guide To U.S. Federal Law On Child Pornography, Section 2251 of the federal law “makes it illegal to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for purposes of producing visual depictions of that conduct,” with no age-limit on who can be prosecuted for persuasion or coercion (To be clear, federal law comes into play because Kiera is from England, whereas Jacob is a U.S. citizen). Nowhere does it say that such coercion is illegal only when it produces a visual depiction of child pornography, and a particularly crafty lawyer might be able to capitalize on that fact to indict Jacob. In fact, the law states that “Any individual who violates, or attempts or conspires to violate, this section shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 15 years nor more than 30 years” — Yes, seriously.
And in some crazy alternate universe where Karlee Steel comes forward and tries to prosecute Jacob Sartorius for sending her a dick pic in 2016, Jacob would be prosecuted under federal law because Karlee lives in Canada. Again, a minor like Jacob would face fines and a statutory minimum of 15 years to 30 years maximum in prison. Under Canadian law, should Karlee be found in possession of the picture, she faces a minimum punishment of one year in prison, with a maximum of ten. In this hypothetical situation — and depending heavily on the way the prosecutor interprets the law — if Jacob were convicted, there’s a slim chance he’d have to register with The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.
To be fair, I have no idea how Tony Talamo reacted to Nudegate behind the scenes. I couldn’t tell you if he chastised Jacob, or informed his parents, who then grounded him (maybe even taking his phone away for a little while). What I know is that it’s been two hundred and sixty-six days since Kiera’s video dropped, and Jacob’s team still hasn’t made a public statement. What I know is that Kiera’s one of the countless young girls who’ve been harassed by a boy looking for a nude photo.
What I know is that our brains are kind of like a sponge.
The events of Nudegate were incredibly insular, but that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. For kids like me — ones who grew up in fan circles on the Internet — these communities are their life, and right now, in this little online world, kids are being encouraged to swallow their discomfort and accept sexual harassment as a part of life. The silence from the media (and, more broadly, the perpetual silence from Jacob’s team) on the events of April 12th gives credence to the comments I got from kids calling me out-of-touch for objecting to what happened to Kiera and Sage. It’s no wonder there may be seven or so girls who Tori won’t name; no wonder they’d feel ashamed, unimportant, and scared.
I cannot stress enough that even after everything he’s done, I believe Jacob Sartorius deserves another chance. He’s barely sixteen years old — on Twitter and Instagram, his bios begin “chocolate milk lover.” He recently retweeted himself, commenting “Realist shit I’ve ever said,” to the tweet “they say you are what you eat but it’s funny because i don’t remember eating a legend.” He is, ultimately, a child, and he’s a human being capable of learning from his mistakes. Without being held accountable for his actions, however, he’ll continue to hurt himself and the young girls who idolize him.