From mockery to law:
How a victim of a sex video turned shame into triumph in Mexico
Olimpia Coral was just 18 years old when a sex video filmed by her boyfriend circulated in her extremely conservative town in Mexico. She became the laughing stock of her neighbors. For months, she was too ashamed to leave her house, and she almost attempted suicide three times. But then she realized that she was not the only victim of cyberbullying – and turned the tables by going public.
There are hardly any regulations against cyberbullying.
Two years ago, a law named after her was enacted nationwide, qualifying the unauthorized spread of intimate videos as digital abuse and punishing it with a sentence up to nine years in prison. The so-called Olimpia Law was a milestone for Mexican women. Many women's collectives in Latin America, such as those in Argentina, are now following suit. According to a study by UN Women, there are currently hardly any government prevention programs or laws in place on the subcontinent that penalize cyberbullying and digital abuse. Statistics show that over two-thirds of women in Mexico have been victims of sexual assault or violence at least once in their lives – in the real world or in the virtual space.
The long crossroads began for Olimpia in 2012. Her boyfriend, with whom she had been together for six years, filmed the sexual intercourse with his cellphone and with her consent. Olimpia was seen naked in action, while her boyfriend could not be recognized. Some time later, the video spread rapidly through WhatsApp in her small town of Huauchinango in the state of Puebla. "People started pointing fingers at me, calling me a whore and a sexy fatty," the 27-year-old woman recounts in a detailed interview with the UN. She tried to hide the scandal from her family. "But then my 14-year-old brother burst into a family party, threw his cellphone on the table, and said that what they were saying in the village was true and that I could be seen in the video. My mother started crying. I wanted to sink into the ground out of shame. I threw myself at her feet and asked for forgiveness," she tells.
Her boyfriend denied having shared the video, but left her. Her social networks were overflowing with suggestive offers from strange men. Pornographic websites spread her video, and local politicians even gave it a "like" on Facebook, as she later discovered. The local newspaper dedicated a pictorial article on the front page, stating that the high school graduate was now branded for life.
Her social networks were overflowing with suggestive offers from strange men.
Fighting a legal loophole
The sexy chubby one
That's when she discovered that she was not alone. Many women had experienced even worse than her.
For eight months, she hid in her room. If it weren't for her mother - a simple indigenous woman from the countryside - Olimpia probably wouldn't be alive anymore. "My mother embraced me and said that the whole world has sex and there is nothing wrong with it," she recalls.
That's when she started to fight. "It was very difficult because everything was happening in the digital space and the video was filmed with my consent," she describes. It was her "second ordeal." "The police officer, whom I had to show the video to when filing a report, just laughed in a filthy way and said that since I obviously hadn't been raped, there was no crime."
Suffering women, incomprehensible politicians
Coral, now of legal age, went public and sought support from women's organizations in demonstrations.
One year after the incident, she wrote a draft for a new law herself and presented it at a citizen's forum in her state. There, she discovered that she was not alone. Many women had experienced even worse situations than hers. Some had been forced by their partners to pose naked, while others discovered their nude photos online after breaking up with a boyfriend. In a society influenced by prudish sexual morality, many of these girls had been disowned by their families after similar videos became known. A representative in Puebla told Olimpia that he would vote against the law because it encouraged "whoring." "Most people have no idea how a video like that can destroy your life," Coral describes.
Most people have no idea how a video can destroy your life."
According to the statistical agency Inegi,17.7 million or one-fifth of Mexican women and men became victims of cyberbullying in 2021. The new law imposes fines or prison sentences for the violation of sexual intimacy and the unauthorized distribution of images and videos with pornographic content.
"International recognition, national obstacles“
Coral's struggle has paid off. There are now laws against digital abuse in 27 out of the 32 states, and since 2020, there are also national laws. Coral was the chief lobbyist for this cause. She received numerous awards, and her hometown declared her an honorary citizen in December 2020. The Time magazine included her in the list of the 100 most influential personalities of 2021. Coral is now traveling throughout Latin America to present her law in other countries and raise awareness about cyberbullying.
However, implementing the law at home in Mexico proves to be difficult. Investigative agencies influenced by machismo delay the cases, internet giants do not disclose data or help to expose the owners of anonymous accounts. "In the worst case, victims are retraumatized by such flawed investigations and macho authorities," says Coral critically. Since the law came into effect, processes have been initiated in 64 percent of reported cases, but only five percent have resulted in verdicts - one of which favored a man, sparking fierce criticism from feminists. The "Ley Olimpia" also suffers from Mexico's dysfunctional criminal justice system, which has led to an impunity rate of 97% for all crimes.
Yet, Coral does not give up and has analyzed the weak points: "We must now clearly define in the implementation laws how the evidence collection process should proceed and what material the prosecution needs for a trial," she says. She also emphasizes the need to consider the victim more in general - even in court. "Not every woman wants her attacker to go to prison," she has observed. For some, this is a necessity as they fear further attacks and retaliation, while for others, restitution is more important. "Our fight is far from over," she says.