Interview with Ms. Darieth Chisolm: 50 Shades of Silence
Ms. Darieth Chisolm is an Emmy Award Winner, a Former TV Host, Former NBC News Anchor, Author, Visibility and Media Strategist. Ms. Chisolm has tirelessly worked towards creating awareness and building a social justice platform for combating revenge porn, cyber bullying, harassment and other serious issues women combat daily online and in the real world.
A survivor of such harassment herself, Ms. Chisolm did not just bounce back for herself, but displayed great fortitude and courage in creating a unified coalition of like-minded people on these issues.
Her latest venture- 50 Shades of Silence- is also a documentary on the issues of cyber harassment and bullying. Filming for the documentary is underway and it has gained significant traction across the world. Nisha Gupta conducted a telephonic interview where Ms. Chisolm answered questions from our team about her journey, and the way forward for women's groups.
Nisha: Thank you very much for agreeing to speak to us. I would like to begin by talking to you about your experience over the past one year. Your journey into advocacy on issues surrounding cyber bullying, revenge porn, cyber stalking etc. began after your former partner posted intimate photos of you on the internet. Since then, you have displayed extraordinary courage in coming forward with your story, and encouraging others to come forward also. Now as a celebrity with considerable support and resources, many would say coming forward was easier for you than it is for others. What would you say to them and also to women who find themselves in similar situations?
Darieth: Well I would agree with you that I clearly had resources to help me with this- not only financially because it has been very expensive to go to court. I certainly was able to use my platform to speak about this, for myself and other victims as well.
However, what I will say, in a sense contrary to what you said… When you have been victimised like this, it doesn’t matter what your status is, it’s the same amount of pain and shame and humiliation. It comes with no discrimination and no judgement. Unfortunately, I would say, it is a very common experience that most people feel when they have been victimised this way- this sense of violation and shame and humiliation, particularly with revenge porn… because revenge porn is a lot different, it usually stems out of a relationship with someone you may have loved and trusted. Then, this type of action not only embarrasses you online with content and images that you do not want out there, but it also comes at the hands of someone you were in a relationship with, so that’s a double layer of pain, as opposed to a complete stranger [being involved].
So, I think revenge porn in particular is what I call Digital Domestic Violence. It is an extension of a relationship gone bad, with a vengeful ex [partner], in most cases who cannot physically put their hands on you, but have found a way through the internet to continue to harass and harm you, with the intent to harm… And no matter what you come to the table with, it still hurts, it’s still wrong and shameful.
Nisha: It is indeed hard to imagine receiving this sort of a call, being in your position…
Darieth: Yeah, first thing in the morning to start your brand new year that way, and I hadn’t talked to him for several months and for him to say, and I still hear his voice,
“I am going to stab you in the heart and shoot you in the head”.
It is so hard to let those words… you know, they stay with me, and the words behind that were,
“and if I cannot do it myself, I will find someone to do it”.
Then all of a sudden you start looking behind your back, you’re always on edge feeling like you’re being stalked. Beyond this physical side, the videos, the text messages and the threats [which] started coming on my cell phone made this more real. Imagine every time you go online… and the thought that now everyone sees this and it is so hard to escape it online. For people who have never experienced it they go like, “oh, its some content that’s out there”. No, it is typically layered with a lot of other emotional pain and so it becomes very hard for you to detach yourself from it.
Nisha: Ture. Which brings me to the idea of victim shaming. Across the world, there is a considerable amount of victim-blaming in such cases, coupled with an attempt to police women’s daily behaviour. Through your interactions with women who have been through such experiences, how detrimental do you think the impact is on women being able to come forward? Do women have any reason to feel guilty at all in the first place?
Darieth: No, they should not feel guilty at all and yes, they do feel like locking themselves up out of their own doing in this prison of blame and shame and often time[s] you blame yourself. I am a huge believer in taking responsibility for one’s actions but when someone else is doing this to you, and is out of your control, the last thing you should do is to feel guilty about it. It is not your [the victim’s] fault… And more often than not, the shaming that goes [on], only makes a woman feel like it is her fault and it makes a person want to pull back with covers over their head and, not leave the house, because nobody wants to be ridiculed or shamed and have the finger pointed at them. That’s even more the reason… Even with 50 Shades of Silence, that [feeling of shame] is a shade of silence. In many instances you pull back because people are shaming you, especially because it is out of your control but the one thing that you need to do is move past it by speaking up. I realize that not everybody is at that place, not everybody will find their voice but those of us who can, need to use our voice to do something about it.
Nisha: In the same vein, often questions surrounding the origin of such content play a central role. In your case, the photos were taken when you were asleep, thus, without your consent and knowledge. However, in cases where two individuals willingly share such content, society tends to blame the victim even more. What can be done to change this mindset?
Darieth: The conversation needs to be this. Just because someone has shared their photos, even with consent… In most cases people share their photos because they believe they are in a trustworthy relationship or they wouldn’t have done it. They think they can trust this individual, and in some cases, particularly revenge porn, they probably live with the person and often times make love to the person, and, so they exchange these photos because they think it is safe. Just because somebody has shared [these images with someone] that does not give another person permission to now share it with the world, particularly with the intent to harm.
Our focus needs to be squarely on the person who disseminates that content with the intent to harm- whether it was given consensually or not. Because that, in my opinion, is where the crime occurs. It is when someone says,
“I know if I put these photos out or this damaging information out that this is going to do harm”
… I mean, who wants to have their naked body out there? So that was given to them in trust. That person [who disseminates the content] knowingly taking that action is in my opinion committing a crime. So that is where the focus needs to be [and] not on the person who took the selfie.
Nisha: Through your initiative, 50 Shades of Silence, you’ve come up with an interactive platform, not only to help women speak up and share their stories to help each other, but you’ve also been urging legislators to amend laws to support the cause. As you continue on this journey, do you see coming about of stringent laws, and a common international body as one of the ends of this campaign?
Darieth:It is an end destination but it is a very long way away and even saying that makes me shake. We can barely get laws passed in counties and cities or states passed, let alone a bill pending at the federal level to make it a criminal offence [in the United States]. On a larger scale, I don’t even know what it looks like to have an international body monitoring this, [although] that is where we need to be. And I think that the more we set a precedent… and I love what you guys are doing, this is a global problem. I mean, women all over the world are facing this, and we are all on the internet so this does require some form of legislation, enactment, law or rule. I don’t even know what it [possible law] is, my mind does not think that big, but we need that as a means of protecting people because it’s not in place, while exchanges of information exist on a global platform.
So, when you ask if that is my goal, [yes] it is one of my goals… If I have to go to the UN, I will, if I have to go to Congress, I will. I am committed that there should be some form of legal remedy to better prosecute the perpetrators, because if not, they will continue, and they have [continued]. And so what that looks like, I don’t know, but I am hoping to lock arms with other people who do know because that is their… I can only use my skill set, my skill set is to tell stories and to sound the alarm. And at that point I want to sound the alarm loud enough so that those people who can make policies, will make policies.
Nisha: There is often a concern expressed against extremely stringent laws on matters of sexual harassment. The argument being that such severity might lead to a situation where women become pariahs in the society as the threat of disrepute and punishment could lead to reduced interaction among men and women. What is your opinion?
Darieth: I disagree. If it leads to someone who intends to harm someone physically or sexually or emotionally then good. So be it. But, I don’t believe overall that [reduced interaction] would happen, I have found many men who support these issues, in my travels. I have met guys saying “We can’t tolerate this”, and “We know that we also need to have a voice” and “how can I help out?” I know many women who support but I also get support from men… We have to focus on the people who are hurting but we won’t be impacted by this situation dividing men and women. [In fact] this will bring those who care, closer, if those hurting are to be divided, so be it.
Nisha: Coming back to 50 Shades of Silence, do you intend to take the project beyond the US, and into countries like India, China and even the Middle East?
Darieth: We need to continue to Educate, Educate, Educate… Make people aware, and advocate for human rights involved in this. I am just one voice filming a documentary that atleast people everywhere can watch in New Delhi, China or Australia… And if they say this is happening here and we need to address it, maybe it will encourage them to call for action in their own countries. That’s why the tagline- ‘A Global Movement’. It is being done to not only impact the lives of other people, but to encourage those people who want to be advocates and activists in this space, to do so. If nothing more [then] let them at least view it…
We [also] have something called [the] ‘Angel Ambassadors’ to help people mesh their services across the globe. This will help us know, that there’s a group of people located in this particular place which can then be used to connect advocates [and spread awareness] (register here). I don’t pretend to be the ‘know it all’ in this [advocacy and legislation]. But the more of us who talk about it, would not let it go unnoticed… I am travelling, conversing, so that we can educate, advocate and most importantly, empower victims. It is one thing to talk about something that is happening to someone, it’s [entirely] another for those victims to figure out how to find courage, despite this having happened... That is what 50 Shades of Silence is about.
Nisha: I would like to turn now to a very recent case that made headlines. A woman residing in the US published a list of academics who she claimed had indulged in sexual misconduct of various degrees. These included academics from several countries. The woman releasing the list, claimed that she had received complaints from other women who had worked with these academics and refused to release any details about their identity or the precise nature of the allegation. This caused a considerable controversy and discussion around the threat of such anonymous reporting to reputations of people. How do you view these developments?
Darieth: Well, I am not familiar with that case in particular but it sounds familiar to so many other cases that we have seen that, ironically, parallel themselves to cases of sexual assault and abuse. We have seen that with the rise of the #MeToo and the #Time’sUp movement, more often than not, we are uncovering systemic abuse in academia, workplace and movie industry which is rampant. For many years people didn’t know about it [the abuse] and now those being accused are saying that we are being falsely accused… And in many cases, I would say that the person [accused] is just trying to push it away. But that is the reason why we have to continue to push the issue. Of course no one will take responsibility for this, people are going to say I am not to blame, she is to blame but that doesn’t mean that those who have been assaulted or abused shouldn’t speak out. I have not seen the case in particular, but more often than not I have seen than we have to keep pressing to deliver the truth and continue to push forward while being present on the movement.
Nisha: For my final question, what can you tell our readers about your book, Hustle?
Darieth: Hustle is aside from all of this. I wrote that book as a life and business coach, it’s my life’s work before this hard left turn (laughs). It’s a great compilation of success strategies that I like to refer to entrepreneurs starting a business particularly, female entrepreneurs, and I am a visibility and multimedia strategist. My greatest desire is to see a woman do well in business and be visible and I’ve done that for many years as a coach.
Ironically, this one area of my life I did not want to be visible because of the experience but I chose to [speak about it]. It was amazing to see many women come to say,
“Thank you”… “I was afraid and thank you for coming out and saying this”.
That is really the type of work that I did as a coach as well- to help people come out of the blocks and unleash their passions. So that is what hustle is about. I always try to find something positive in all of this. This is such a dark of topic, in addition to 50 Shades of Silence, this is my courage to do my everyday work. To be able to help people pick themselves up and live their life with a sense of zest, in-spite of what they are facing. I had to experience all of that [myself] to get my own sense of courage… To get back to that place where I could rise and shine and that is what I want to see in people as well. So while we educate people, I truly want to empower people facing [the] things I have faced. So thank you for asking me that- that’s where my heart is.
To connect with the Movement launched by Ms. Darieth Chisolm, visit the following links:
About The Interviewers
Prashant Khurana is a student of Law at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from Hansraj College, Delhi University. Prashant is an accomplished debater, and an active participant and organiser of Model United Nations Conferences and was recently invited as a Chairperson at the University of Kent, United Kingdom for their MUN conference. He has appeared as a guest panellist on Headlines Today (presently, India Today) News Channel and has also interviewed personalities such as Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, Dr. Sambit Patra, the Ambassador of Canada to India, among others.
Nisha Gupta is a budding lawyer, MUNer, and an avid Manchester United Football Club fan. Nisha graduated from DPS International School, and is currently pursuing B.B.A. LL.B. from National Law University, Jodhpur. With a flair for words, she takes a keen interest in expanding her horizons and outlook on life through reading, and for the lives of those around her, by writing (and talking a lot).
Palakh Dutta is a Doctoral Research student at the University of Westminster. An extremely enterprising student, Palakh has been responsible for the initiation and management of several social projects in the UK and outside. She has been vocal in espousing important social causes such as women's health and literacy and is an intern at the Democratic Education Network. Palakh also holds a graduate degree in History from Hansraj College, Delhi University.