Mary Cassidy, from north Dublin, was only 13 when she had her “innocence shattered” after she received unsolicited graphic photos on Snapchat.
When she confided in an adult about these unwanted sexual advances, she was made to believe that she was at fault.
Now 17 years old, Mary wants other victims to know that they are not alone and wishes to tell her story in the hopes that it might help someone else.
Speaking to sundayworld.com, she said: “It first started when I was probably around 13 and it was my first time on Snapchat. I’d just gotten it and I was added by loads of people, so I added them all back.
“I got explicit pictures - that I had of course not requested - just out of nowhere.
“And it was like a switch went off in my brain where I thought, ‘Oh, this is what happens’ which is horrible.
“I brought it to somebody I trusted, an adult who I trusted, after it had happened a good few times. And I was like, ‘Look, this is happening and I don’t know why it’s happening’ and then I was asked, ‘Well, why did you add that person?’
“It sort of made me think that it was my fault and that I shouldn’t have added this person.
“Those words had such a massive impact because I thought, ‘That was my fault. If I had just not added this person, then this wouldn’t have happened.’
“But of course this isn’t true – I should feel free to add whoever I want without the imminent threat of being sexually harassed online.
“Their actions are their own and it was never ever my fault.”
Mary explained that as she got older and started going out with friends, she noticed that she would be harassed in public and felt “intimidated” when she was “shouted at for no reason” or “followed” by strangers.
“As I got older, it started happening in public where cars would slow down, or I would be rubbed up against in shops and just things that would make me feel unsafe,” she shared.
“It wouldn’t happen every single time but it would be quite a common occurrence.
“I’m 17 and it’s been going on for years. I am a child, was a child, and it’s always been unwanted advances.”
The teenager added that she wants other girls who have experienced similar harassment to know that they are not alone.
“That’s not okay. We shouldn’t feel like objects. We shouldn’t be treated this way merely for existing and we should be allowed to go out and have fun without having to walk home with our keys in between our fingers in case something might happen.
“You’re not alone. People are willing to listen and people are willing to help. It is not our fault; it has never ever been our fault.
“You should never be sent explicit photos or be called names because you refused to send explicit pictures of yourself.
“There’s a community of people who want to talk to you and are willing to have this conversation,” she added.
Mary first told her story as part of SpunOut.ie’s ‘Better Than Before’ Sexual Violence Campaign, which aims to help young people identify signs of sexual harassment and gives them the tools to learn about issues of consent.
Rebekah Connolly, Editor of the Gender, Sexuality & Relationships section of SpunOut, said that the campaign’s objective is to raise awareness about sexual violence and provide young people with the resources needed to combat it and “make a change.”
She said: “The idea of the campaign when we started to work on it was around bystander intervention, which is when you see something such as someone being harassed or being sent a text message that’s inappropriate, that you do something.
“It’s giving young people those tools to say, ‘I know that there are small ways that I can act to make a change.’ It’s giving them, as they go back to socialising again, these practical tips around the things that they can do to help.
“From Mary’s story, you can see how important it is to be believed when something happens to you.
“It’s about the importance of believing someone and then taking an action, being there to support them and making sure that you know how to do so in a way that keeps you safe and your friends safe also.
“There should always be a conversation. There should always be consent given, and the earlier people learn about these things, the more that we can all practice it.”