Send Me a Pic of U
His demands always came at night — after school, after dinner, after homework. In the quiet hours before 14-year-old Nicole* went to sleep in a pastel bedroom decorated with Katy Perry posters and a peace-sign mural, the boy prodded her.
“Can I see a full pic of u?” her iPhone buzzed.
Nicole knew what Cody* wanted, but it made her nervous. “I look so bad rn,” she replied.
Nicole wasn’t about to reject the hottest guy at their Portland, Oregon, middle school. He was the preppy soccer player — the guy who wore khakis and Vans, his hair long on top and short on the sides. “I was afraid he would stop talking to me,” she says. So Nicole deflected. “I would say, ‘Not right now’ or ‘I’m busy’ or ‘I don’t look good.’ ”
“U always look pretty,” he’d say.
The first time boys had asked Nicole to text them naked photos of herself was in seventh grade, when she was 13 years old, but it wasn’t until eighth grade that the requests became more incessant.
Every night for months, Nicole’s phone would buzz. She knew girls her age were sending nude photos over Snapchat — quick flashes of skin that were there one second, gone the next. But she also knew pictures could be captured as screenshots, then passed from phone to phone.
When Nicole didn’t tell Cody no, more requests came — from him, but also from his friends.
“Cody tells me ur so pretty.”
“U should send pics to Cody.”
“It was such an intense situation,” Nicole says. “I had people say, ‘Just send them, and he’ll stop.’ ”
When she finally told Cody no, “he called me an attention whore, the c-word. He said I was flat, that I looked like a wall, that I didn’t have a butt,” she remembers. “Later he’d say, ‘I’m sorry I said that. I was just mad.’ ”
At home, Nicole wasn’t allowed to sleep with her phone in her bedroom. One night after she handed her iPhone over to her mother, Alexis, the phone continued to buzz. Finally, her mother picked it up and saw a message: “Are u going to send anything?”
Alexis kept reading as the messages came in.
Then the phone started ringing. Alexis picked up. The caller hung up.
“My parents came in and were like, ‘What is this?’ ” Nicole says. “I didn’t understand why it was such a big situation.”
Alexis was horrified. She started making phone calls — to the school, to other parents. They had meetings at the middle school with administrators and counselors. “There were no repercussions. It was very much accepted as ‘boys this day and age,’ ” Alexis says. “The nude pics become like a trading card.”
Alexis also realized kids didn’t see the requests for scandalous photos as anything but normal.
“While it was happening,” Nicole says, “I was playing it off and telling my friends, ‘He asked again!’ Like it was a chill thing, but it wasn’t.” Soon after, someone sent her a photo of a girl Nicole had been in school with since kindergarten.
“It was a photograph from the knees to the top of the head of a 14-year-old girl in thong underwear and a demi lace bra,” Alexis recalls.
Suddenly things clicked for Nicole. That could be her. She started writing in a journal about how Cody’s nagging made her feel, about the boys’ demands, about the girls around her struggling to understand how to make boys like them but not make themselves vulnerable. She also learned that Cody was asking every girl she knew for photos. “I know about 15 girls he had asked,” Nicole says. She uploaded her journal entries to a blog and called it Don’t Ask, Don’t Send. It was black and white and had the cut-and-paste look of a 1990s riot grrrl zine. In her first entry, dated February 1, 2017, Nicole made a bullet-pointed list of how these requests made her feel:
• “If I say no will they stop liking me?”
• “I really like this person.… It’s probably ok to send one.”
• “I don’t wanna but I really like them.”
Her words were shared and reshared on Facebook. Messages came in from other girls wanting to tell their stories: girls in high school, girls in college. Boys, too. People praised her for being bold, for speaking out.
She made stickers — black-and-white squares that say Don’t Ask, Don’t Send — and slapped one on her phone case. She handed out stacks at school. Girls she didn’t consider close friends helped her distribute piles of them. One day, Nicole walked up to Cody and gave him a sticker. He laughed, peeled off the backing, and stuck it on his shirt. “And then I saw him throw it in the trash,” she says.
Last summer, Nicole’s family moved across the country to North Carolina. Nicole was excited to start high school somewhere new — somewhere without Cody. In her second week of school, Nicole started texting and snapping with new friends. A varsity football player texted her one night: “are u still a virgin?”
Nicole had never been asked that before.
“I’m not a screenshotter,” he wrote.
Nicole unfriended him.
Another boy messaged her: “Would u want to send pics?”
She unfriended him, too.
In mid-October, Nicole was using a new app on her phone called Sarahah, which gives users a page where people can leave anonymous comments. “Let your friends be honest with you,” the app’s homepage reads.
She scrolled through a long feed of messages:
“I master bate to u evry nite.”
“I wanna beat your cakes.”
“I want to titty bang you.”
She frowned as she scrolled through them.
“Tryna pipe u. Too bad you moved,” read another message. It ended with a shrug emoji.