MEXICO CITY – Activist Olimpia Coral went through an inferno in 2013, when an ex-boyfriend posted sexual images that made the rounds in her conservative town in Mexico. Things got so bad — the shaming, the internet bullying — that she hid in the trunk of a taxi when going to her grandmother's house a few blocks away.
Seven years later, she has a proposed federal law named after her. Mexico's Senate has approved hefty prison time for the filming or distribution of sexually explicit images without a person’s consent or through deceit.
Supporters of “Olimpia’s Law” say it guarantees rights to personal privacy and sexual privacy and protects the integrity of women.
It was the product of many years of struggle by women's groups, who have already convinced about 29 of Mexico's 32 states to adapt existing laws or pass new ones against the practice.
But in 2013, Coral was alone in the town of Huauchinango, a socially conservative and heavily Indigenous area in central Puebla state. The local newspaper had even published screenshots of the video, showing Coral and the man having sex; only she was identifiable.
“There was my photo, naked, under a headline in red letters,” Coral recalls of the months-long ordeal. “I went to bed praying to God I would die.”
Now, under the new federal law — which still must be approved by the lower house of congress — her ex-boyfriend could get up to 6 years in prison for having posted the video without her consent. The law also covers media publications and allows for legal orders to delete such material.
But when she went to local prosecutors in 2013, they refused to act, despite the threatening and pornographic messages she was flooded with.
“Every ‘like’ (that the video got) was another blow, was like getting stabbed with a knife, as if you were being raped without being penetrated,” she recalls.
Key to her ability to fight back — and make her case a national cause — was the unwavering support of her mother and grandmother, who can neither read nor write. Sex, her mother told, was nothing shameful — everybody does it — but it can be stealing. Given that her ex had stolen everything from her — her peace of mind, her ability to walk around freely — Olimpia began acting.
She connected with other women who had gone through similar experiences. At that time, only one Mexican state, Sinaloa, had a law specifically against such crimes.
The National Statistics Institute estimates that 9.4 million women in Mexico have been affected by online harassment.
But having laws doesn't necessarily mean that crimes will be punished.
The activist group “Luchadoras” - or “Fighters”- said in a study this week that women make up 84% of the victims of online harassment. The report said of the more than 2,000 investigations opened in the last three years for unauthorized image sharing, only 17% have led to some legal consequences, only 24 cases have been brought to trial and there have been only four convictions.
Adina Barrera, a researcher and adviser on gender policy, said “we can applaud the fact that we almost have an 'Olimpia's Law,' but we still have a lot of work to do."
“We have to find out where this violence is happening, how to investigate it, and how to handle it,” said Barrera.
There are some indications the problem may have become worse during the pandemic. The U.N. women's agency says internet use has increased 50% to 70% during the pandemic, and with it online violence, like pornographic incursions in Zoom calls.
But according to Candy Rodríguez, a representative of the online platform Acoso.online, the surge in internet use helped "us to organize, to shed light in the silent violence, and has started conversations."
“It doesn't help to put people in jail if there is no prevention work,” she said.