My Sexts Were Leaked in High School. I Learned the Hard Way How Sexuality Is Weaponized to Silence Women.

Every twisted narrative, every sexualized attack on high-profile women—and ordinary people like myself—serves as a stark warning to all women: Speak out, and your sexuality will be weaponized against you.

According to a study by the Data & Society Research Institute, 41 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 29 self-censor to avoid online harassment. (Tanawit Sabprasan / Getty Images)

I went to high school in a small town in Japan, where tradition hung in the air like the morning mist. Each day began with a 75-minute train ride past the unchanging blue of the Tokyo Bay and the relentless green of rice fields. The scenery was almost a comfort, a constant amidst the cramped confines of my school.

The people there were as traditional as the town itself. I was the only girl with a skirt cut inches above my knees, the only girl who posted pictures of herself at the beach. Had the boys in my class ever seen boobs?
I wasn’t sure.

Anytime I posted a picture of myself at the beach, it was promptly screenshotted and circulated in boys’ group chats.

It was at this very school that my sexts were leaked.

A few weeks before graduation, my classmates began receiving videos from a burner account on Instagram. They were seemingly sent at random; some of my closest friends received these videos, as did people I had barely exchanged two words with. 

The messages contained three five-minute-long screen recordings of private messages between me and a classmate I was sexually involved with. Intimate details of what he and I had done, what we liked and didn’t like, overt sexts—the kind of messages that made you want to hurl your phone the moment you hit send, your cheeks burning as you buried your face in your hands. I couldn’t stomach reading them again, let alone sharing them publicly. 

I can’t quite put into words the dread that overwhelmed me when I received that first text from my friend.

“Hey, I just got this message from a random account. Is this you? Are these actually your texts?”

Each buzz of my phone sent a fresh wave of fear through me.

A searing flush crept up my neck and spread across my face, while cold sweat slicked my heated skin. My vision turned spotty. The room seemed to sway around me, and I had to grip at my bedsheets for support. Everything felt distant, muffled, as if I were underwater.

I immediately turned my phone on and off, as if that simple act could alter the nightmare unfolding before me. It was laughably naive, thinking a mere reboot could undo what had been done.

Each buzz of my phone sent a fresh wave of fear through me. I clung to the hope that maybe, just maybe, it was a mistake—a wrong number, a prank gone too far. But deep down, I knew. The meticulously gathered screenshots, the deliberate exposure—it was too precise to be random.

I took the day off school the next day. A stomachache, I told my mom. It wasn’t a complete lie—my stomach did ache with a visceral fear that gnawed at my insides.

As expected, the covert whispers and side glances began. Conversations would hush ever so slightly as I passed, and I could feel the weight of my classmates’ stares, laden with curiosity and malice. The hallways of my high school felt like a gauntlet of judgment. The train rides grew longer, the once comforting scenery now a blur through the haze of my shame. The blue of the bay and the green of the fields no longer seemed vibrant but instead a muted backdrop to the isolation that had settled around me. I found myself biting my tongue in situations where I would have spoken out just days before. My reputation was no longer mine to control; it was in the hands of everyone who had seen those messages—and I didn’t even know who they were, much less who had sent them.

I had a strong suspicion who was behind it: A male classmate I’d never spoken to seemed to harbor a personal vendetta against me. A stalker, if you will. I didn’t fully understand why … but maybe I did. As president of a few political and activism clubs, I was very vocal about Japanese politics and activism—at least, in the superficial, naive way a high schooler can be. Clearly, that didn’t sit well with him. Maybe he felt threatened. Maybe he wanted to shut me up. 

Despite our complete lack of interaction, he went out of his way to dig up every one of my dating app profiles. His meticulousness would have been almost admirable if it weren’t so disturbingly obsessive. He didn’t stop there. With a kind of malicious glee, he plastered my profiles in group chats across the entire grade, ensuring that no one was left out of the loop. He took to X (formerly Twitter), posting them for everyone to see. Whore. Slut. He captioned the photos. It was a digital witch hunt, and he was the self-appointed inquisitor.

I recently discovered that the burner account hadn’t just vanished after graduation. I met with an old friend of mine from high school just a week ago, and she revealed something chilling: For over a year after graduation, she had continued to receive texts from that same burner account. It had been stalking me, keeping tabs on my life far longer and deeper than I ever imagined.

Online harassment has a silencing effect on women, particularly those who dare to have a public presence or voice.

The summer after graduation, I worked at a cabaret club. A cabaret club is a venue similar to a nightclub where pretty girls are paid to drink and converse with their clients—no sex involved, although it is classified as sex work. It was a deliberate choice, both for the experience and to gather material for an article, and I saw it as an adventure, not a source of shame. The friends I made there were genuine, and the stories I collected did great at parties. As part of the job, we were required to post near-daily blogs on a website specifically for cabaret girls. The entries were harmless; what I was wearing that day, what I had for lunch. Occasionally, I’d post something entirely outlandish as a joke.

What I didn’t account for was the obsessive attention of the burner account. My friend informed me that this account had meticulously documented every single diary entry that I posted over the course of five months. Every time I updated my blog, the account would send her a screenshot without fail. 

The screenshots were also plastered on X, I found out, alongside the articles I was working on at the time. The implication was clear: How could a sex worker have anything important to say? How could a sex worker’s reporting hold any merit?

I had told my friends about working at the cabaret club, but I had never disclosed exactly which club I was at. The thought of someone tracking my every move, every word, every innocuous post was unsettling. The fear was immediate and overwhelming, but beneath it simmered a deeper, more potent emotion: rage.

How dare they wield my sexuality as a weapon against me? How dare they twist it to undermine my words? Every message, every screenshot, every whisper in the hallway was a calculated attempt to shame and discredit me, to shut me up and keep me from engaging in public discourse.

I started to see a pattern; this wasn’t just about me. It was about power. It was about control. It was about exposing the weaponization of female sexuality for what it is—a desperate attempt to maintain power. My story was a microcosm of a broader, brutal reality faced by women everywhere.

The message is clear: Speak out, and your sexuality will be weaponized against you.

Online harassment has a silencing effect on women, particularly those who dare to have a public presence or voice. According to a study by the Data & Society Research Institute, 41 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 29 self-censor to avoid online harassment. 

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) highlights this issue in a report on the widespread online violence faced by young politically active women in Kenya, Colombia and Indonesia. The findings are alarming, showing a consistent pattern of harassment aimed at deterring women from engaging in public discourse. This harassment isn’t just about targeting individual women; it’s about upholding a societal structure that excludes women from the public sphere.

Case in point: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has been relentlessly targeted by online harassment. False rumors about her filming a sex tape have circulated, accompanied by photoshopped images presented as supposed evidence. This isn’t outright disinformation but part of a wider trend of sexualizing and fetishizing young female politicians to undermine their credibility. According to a report from the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program, there were over 1,200 recorded discussions about Ocasio-Cortez involving “feet pics” or an alleged OnlyFans account during the collection period. These conversations spanned from calls for sexual fantasies to explicit, violent roleplays.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is regularly subjected to online abuse and death threats. (Andrew Harnik / Getty Images)

This content not only demeans Ocasio-Cortez’s credibility as a politician but also serves as a chilling warning to other women considering public life. The message is clear: Speak out, and your sexuality will be weaponized against you.

Even women who achieve historic milestones in American society are not immune to gendered and sexualized attacks or widespread disinformation campaigns driven by malicious intent. They persevere and succeed despite the toxic, demeaning, and silencing environment. Yet, many women admit that online misogyny has led them to lock down their accounts, rethink what they write or share, or delete content that has attracted abuse.

The impact of these campaigns extend far beyond their immediate targets. Each instance of gendered and sexualized narratives against high-profile women—and even ordinary people, including students like myself—serves as a warning to thousands of other women and those close to us. Witnessing these attacks often leads them to reconsider their own participation in public discourse.

The weaponization of female sexuality is not just the personal vendetta of a pathetic high school boy, but a systemic strategy to keep women from speaking up. It’s a desperate attempt by those in power to maintain their grip by any means necessary. But knowing this empowers us to fight back. By exposing these tactics, refusing to be silenced, and holding perpetrators accountable, we can dismantle this oppressive tool and pave the way for a society where every woman’s voice can be heard without fear of retribution.

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Wakaba Oto is an editorial intern at Ms. and is completing her undergraduate degree in English and journalism at Fordham University. She is passionate about investigative journalism, with a focus on uncovering misconduct in government and corporate sectors. She has roots in Amsterdam and Tokyo.