Home / Fashion & Style / Revenge Porn Carrie Goldberg Confronts Her Demons in Her New Memoir ‘Nobody’s Victim’

Revenge Porn Carrie Goldberg Confronts Her Demons in Her New Memoir ‘Nobody’s Victim’

“Holy Shit.”

It’s been a week since Carrie Goldberg submitted a final draft of her book, but when I ask how she feels about it and she says “holy shit,” it’s not out of excitement. Nor is it that she’s feeling stunned, or proud, or relieved. At one point she’d felt all those things, but right now Goldberg is mostly experiencing dread—a nerve-racking, “holy shit” kind of dread.

“There’s gonna be, in August, all these people who know my shit,” she says. “The darkest moment in my life, it’s just gonna be out there. Which is super liberating, but it’s just fucking with me.”

Goldberg is a 42-year-old attorney based in Brooklyn. Her law firm specializes in representing victims of “psychos, stalkers, pervs, and trolls,” as she calls them. Each case is different, but usually this means Goldberg is working with women who’ve been hurt by men, often in ways facilitated by technology. (She also has male clients but, predictably, not as many.) After opening her firm in 2014, Goldberg began working on cases involving revenge porn, helping victims scrub the internet of nudes posted online without their consent. While her practice has since grown significantly, along with Goldberg’s national reputation as a tech-savvy, somewhat foul-mouthed legal avenger, one thing hasn’t changed: Her clients know all about having their darkest moments “out there.” Many of them didn’t have a choice. Goldberg, however, is willingly giving up her secrets.

That’s not all her new book is about. Nobody’s Victim weaves together stories of Goldberg’s major cases— like suing the dating app Grindr, and representing accusers of Harvey Weinstein—with her analysis of how the law interacts with harassment, porn, power, and privacy. The book’s tone is straightforward and compellingly combative. On page one, Goldberg describes herself as a “ruthless motherfucker,” writing as if she’s raising an “army of warriors.” Feminists who grew up alongside the internet—who don’t see a distinction between real life and what happens online—will find Nobody’s Victim instructive; those who identify as survivors will find it essential.

Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls

But the book also rewrites Goldberg’s own narrative. That’s where the dread comes in. Since reporters began paying attention to her work, Goldberg has told the same origin story, including to the New Yorker in 2016: She became a “revenge porn lawyer” because that was the kind of attorney she needed in her mid-thirties, when her initially adoring boyfriend turned obsessive, jealous, and then full-on “psycho,” threatening to put her intimate photos online when she left him.

In Nobody’s Victim, Goldberg expands on the story. The ex didn’t just threaten to publish photos; he messaged her family, friends, and coworkers on Facebook to tell them Goldberg was a drug addict with a sexually transmitted infection. She went to the police, reporting the ex for threatening her, stalking her, and trying to break into her apartment. But he filed a police report, too, accusing her of assault and alleging she’d slept with judges in exchange for favorable outcomes in her legal cases. His report landed Goldberg in jail for a night, she writes. Her charges weren’t dropped until a few months later, after she’d spent $30,000 in legal fees to clear her name.

In December 2013, at the end of that awful year, Goldberg replayed the drama over in her head, standing on a cliff in the middle of a storm in Ireland, where she’d gone on vacation. There, she writes, “I decided I was going to advocate for victims the way I wish somebody had fought for me. I would become the lawyer I’d needed when I was most desperate.” It’s a powerful, cinematic moment. It’s a nice story. It’s not the whole story.

Later in the book, Goldberg reveals she was in a much darker place by the time she climbed onto that cliff. In 2012, before she met the “psycho ex,” she went out for drinks with a man who said he was a doctor, whom she met on OKCupid. The night devolved into “a series of hazy snapshots,” Goldberg writes. One of them is this: bending over a bed while the doctor took a needle and thread to one of her bare ass cheeks, photographed his work, and then raped her. The next morning, she discovered he’d sutured a swastika onto her body.

In telling this tale—one that just a handful of people knew until now—Goldberg comes clean about what really happened on the Ireland cliff: She wanted to jump. “I was so overwhelmed by the doctor’s rape and the psycho’s stalking, I felt hopeless. Like, end-it-all hopeless,” she writes. Suicide felt “like a permanent solution to my unbearable pain.” At this thought, she panicked, climbed down, and made a pact with herself: If she didn’t turn her life around in 2014, she could come back to Ireland and kill herself.

So she started a business. Five years later, Goldberg’s firm has claimed victory in a variety of cases: securing six-figure settlements; helping send clients’ stalkers to prison; initiating investigations into schools’ handling of revenge porn cases. Goldberg has spoken about sexual assault in schools at the White House. She’s consulted on Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why; Paramount Television and Anonymous Content are now developing a fictionalized version of Goldberg’s story for TV. In the early days of Time’s Up, she was invited to talk about legal services and legislation at the Hollywood homes of Jessica Chastain and Julianne Moore. She works with a blazing energy. In her chic office—think pink sofas, acrylic chairs, and shiny gold accents—she double-fists Diet Coke and hot chocolate, pausing the conversation to reserve her treadmill at Equinox for the next day. There’s no word she uses more than “fight,” though “fuck” comes close. That doesn’t mean she wins every battle. This spring, Goldberg lost a case against Grindr. She was representing a man named Matthew Herrick, whose ex-boyfriend in 2016 allegedly created multiple fake Grindr accounts in Herrick’s name, seeking aggressive sex and sending hundreds of strangers to Herrick’s front door and workplace. This went on for months; Herrick begged the company to take the fake profiles down, but it took no action.

Grindr, best known as a hookup app for gay men, was legally covered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—the bane of Goldberg’s existence. Under Section 230, online platforms can’t be held liable for any content posted by their users. According to Goldberg, this law is “the single greatest enabler of every asshole, troll, psycho, and perv on the internet.” Herrick’s lawsuit was first dismissed on the grounds of Section 230 in January 2018; this March, an appeals court upheld that dismissal.

The bad news arrived on the morning of Goldberg’s “Bitch Day.” Once a month, she and her best friend, another lawyer, schedule beauty appointments, turn off their phones, and talk about their businesses. “It’s this sacrosanct day,” Goldberg says. When she received word of the Grindr decision, she was in transit and her phone was still on. She scrolled through the court filing, texted “Fuck Grindr” to a colleague, and put her phone away.

Goldberg’s loathing of Section 230 has pitted her against a somewhat unexpected enemy: free speech advocates. The digital civil rights nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called her lawsuit against Grindr “dangerous.” The EFF believes Section 230 is a crucial protector of free expression; if internet companies were to be held legally responsible for their users’ content—like a defamatory Facebook comment, Reddit post, or Instagram photo—the EFF fears they’d start censoring them. These platforms wouldn’t be “open forums for speech” anymore, the group said last year when it filed a legal brief in support of Grindr.

Even before the EFF weighed in on this case, Goldberg was no fan of the organization, castigating it on Twitter at various times for being big tech lobbyists” who are “sculpting the internet dystopia of today” and writing, “Nobody is more responsible for protecting hell on the internet (harassment, revenge porn, stalking) than u.”

“It’s easy to point the finger at one party or one law,” says EFF staff attorney Jamie Williams in response to the criticism. But blaming Section 230 is an “oversimplification of the very complicated problems that we’re facing online right now.”

“The internet we have today has been shaped from Section 230,” Williams continues. “Acting like we all haven’t enjoyed that or benefited from that is ridiculous and dangerous.”

Yet to Goldberg, that’s the problem. She believes the internet we have today is a bad place. “Almost every one of our clients’ stories starts with ‘I met him on the internet,’” she says. She recognizes that some people have great experiences with dating apps, even meeting their future spouses. But it’s how she met her abusers. She’ll never online-date again—not that she’ll need to. This past February, Goldberg became engaged to her co-counsel in Herrick’s case, Tor Ekeland, an attorney well known for defending hackers. In 2015, Wired called him “the troll’s lawyer.” Goldberg is more of a troll hunter. They make it work.

Recently, someone at an event turned to Goldberg and said, “You’re like the Gloria Allred of Brooklyn,” referring to the attorney famous for representing women in the highest of high-profile abuse cases. Goldberg was annoyed at the comparison.

“I see why, because I’m, like, a ‘lady lawyer,’” she says. “But I don’t agree with her methods”—namely, holding nationally televised press conferences as a matter of course. “I think it’s cruel to clients. She always does it really early on in a case, when she doesn’t really know the client and hasn’t established the trust.” Yet Goldberg has faced style-over-substance criticism herself. Scott H. Greenfield, a criminal defense attorney and prolific legal blogger, has been skeptical since she started her firm, calling Goldberg a “baby lawyer” in 2014 and sticking with that position, referring to her rhetoric in 2018 as “hyperbolic and disingenuous” and calling her notoriety “undeserved.”

Almost every one of our clients’ stories starts with ‘I met him on the internet.’

Last year, a similar argument was made to 32-year-old Michelle Hadley, who was firing her attorney—an older man—in order to hire Goldberg. He told Hadley that Goldberg “looks like a millennial and she’s good at marketing, but does she know how to handle a case like this?” Hadley wasn’t fazed. In 2016, she spent 88 days in jail after being framed for threatening her ex’s new wife. Before her exoneration, the media crowned her the “craziest of crazy ex-girlfriends.” Hadley knew what it was like to be discounted for being young and female; she could recognize when it was happening to other women. Goldberg is now representing Hadley in a lawsuit against the police who arrested her, her ex-boyfriend, and his then wife.

“I feel like I have a feminist guardian angel,” Hadley says. “She is unlike any attorney I have ever met.”

This is undeniably true. Goldberg is a spectacle; her signature look is huge glasses, voluminous hair, and high, high heels. She adopted the style while working as a non-profit attorney in housing court early in her career, trying to make herself memorable to judges and other lawyers while going up against more established (and drab) slumlords’ attorneys.

“Housing court was a very weird, sexist place,” says Goldberg’s friend and former coworker Rebecca Symes, standing in the kitchen of Goldberg’s downtown Brooklyn high-rise condo, where her bookcases are stuffed with art books and walls are lined with whiteboards keeping track of her and Ekeland’s schedules. “Carrie was the most glamorous person I’d ever met.”

Now, on an average day at work, Goldberg skips heels. But people still call her glamorous. This has less to do with her statement accessories and more to do with the provocative spirit underneath it all, a persona that peaks when Goldberg is tweeting or composing “spicy” cease-and-desist letters. Writing from behind a screen has always come easier to Goldberg than doing anything in public—a quality she incidentally shares with trolls. When she was growing up, Goldberg’s confidence was smothered by a speech impediment that prevented her from pronouncing her own name correctly. “I was so shy as a kid,” she says.

image

Attorney Carrie Goldberg speaks to the press as Harvey Weinstein leaves criminal court on October 11, 2018.

Getty Images

This, however, isn’t what her childhood friends remember—at all. Lindsay Lunnum, who bonded with Goldberg in junior high over their matching orthodontic headgear, remembers a Goldberg who was always inordinately bold. She wore jewelry and clothes she made herself, including a skirt made of neckties inspired by Blossom. In high school, after a classmate bragged about getting hand jobs from one of Goldberg’s friends, she and Lunnum glued a bunch of amputated dolls’ hands to a poster and wrote, “We’ll Give You a Hand,” presenting it to him on his birthday. The two girls would get kicked out of AOL chat rooms for making up characters and causing chaos. Goldberg’s family was one of the first to get internet in Aberdeen, Washington, a “sleepy little logging town,” as described by another friend, Sheri Bozic.

Goldberg wasn’t exactly the black sheep of her family, but she was a little weird, Bozic recalls, an enigma to her more traditional parents and three siblings. (Even today, Goldberg says her sister won’t tell her adolescent daughters what their aunt does for a living, as if “describing what I do is too traumatic for them or something.”)

The tight-knit Goldbergs were “really well loved” in Aberdeen, Bozic says; Goldberg’s father helped reopen a shuttered paper mill, restoring jobs to a town struggling after the government restricted logging to protect the endangered northern spotted owl. But Bozic loved Goldberg’s family for a more personal reason: They fiercely supported her when she put her father in jail for sexual abuse.

It was never Goldberg’s plan to work with sexual assault victims or even become a lawyer—she wanted to be a writer until college, when a bad workshop experience left her feeling disillusioned. But supporting Bozic through her ordeal was a harbinger. Goldberg says it was her “first real exposure to how fucked up people can be and what strength really looks like.”

Goldberg’s own first taste of sexual trauma came after her freshman year at Vassar College, when she was home for the summer and working at her father’s mill. There, some of her male coworkers routinely groped the 18-year-old. As she recalls in Nobody’s Victim, she didn’t tell her parents. Instead, she began fighting intensely with them. She went on a hunger strike that turned into a debilitating eating disorder: “By the end of the summer, my diet consisted primarily of Baskin-Robbins Rainbow Sherbet and these little white pills we called ‘mini-thins’ that truckers used to stay awake.” She was eventually hospitalized and took a semester off. (Even when she was back at Vassar and in recovery, Goldberg still had an eccentric palate. Her roommate, Sasha Erwitt, recalls her mixing dry oatmeal with Dr Pepper.)

Around this time, Goldberg inspired a pop-punk song that still lingers in her Google results. “Carrie Goldberg” by The Steinways tells the true story of a winter formal during which she got a nosebleed from doing too much cocaine and told a guy that she liked him but was already seeing her professor (whom Goldberg later married and amicably divorced). Goldberg didn’t find out about the song—which ends with that same guy bellowing, “I wanted to have sex with you!”—until a few years later, but she thought it was funny. She has a dark sense of humor about her life. When people ask her about her self-care routine, for example—and this happens a lot, usually at panels or talks with female audiences—she’s calibrated her answer to equal levels of honesty and flippancy: “450 milligrams of Wellbutrin a day, running marathons, and sex.”

Today, Goldberg’s unorthodoxy extends to her relationship with some of her clients; she doesn’t feel the need to draw strict professional boundaries with them. One 17-year-old client calls Goldberg in any crisis, day or night. Sometimes Goldberg acts as the girl’s therapist or social worker, or as a mediator between her and her mom.

“I’m always gonna send her shoes for her birthday and for Christmas, and no one can tell me it’s not appropriate because I don’t give a shit,” Goldberg says. “And because I own the business.” Some corporate lawyers might gift their clients box tickets to the Mets, she points out. Goldberg takes hers out for manicures.

This closeness can be helpful in her work, too. Goldberg’s job can involve extracting painful memories from clients, excavating their trauma in order to determine their legal options. In return, she helps them reclaim their stories. When Hadley read the 79-page civil complaint Goldberg filed on her behalf, “for the first time, it felt like someone truly listened to me, heard me, and put my experiences to paper,” she says. Yet when it came to her own story, Goldberg hesitated.

While writing Nobody’s Victim, Goldberg says she’d nibble on an eighth of an Adderall and send long emails to her cowriter, Jeannine Amber, working through her thoughts. In one email, she told Amber about her rape and the suturing, but she insisted, “It’s not gonna go in the book—you just need to know this thing.” Amber told her to put it in the book anyway.

“I felt really guilty,” Goldberg says. “I felt like it was really going to upset my family. ”They knew vaguely about the rape; the “psycho ex” (who’d threatened to find and kill the doctor) told all of Goldberg’s relatives about it during his post-breakup Facebook rampage. But Goldberg had never spoken directly to anyone in her family about it. She worried they’d think putting it in the book was “too exposing.” And, like so many others, Goldberg was afraid she wouldn’t be believed.

Then she became ashamed of her fear, judging herself for wrestling over the decision. She was supposed to be fearless. She writes in her book that in 2014, when she gave herself one more shot at living, she decided to “quit admonishing myself for making stupid choices and bad mistakes. I stopped seeing myself as a victim and reclaimed control.” But this was tripping her up.

Once Goldberg began experimenting with writing about her rape, her editor and agent urged her to keep going, she says. She expected they would. It’s a lurid story. It stops you, sickens you, and stays with you. Still, Goldberg had her dread—her “holy shit” feeling. It took time and therapy to come to terms with the decision and unpack her guilt over it. When she had her break- through moment, it came simply and bluntly. Goldberg was telling her fiancé́ and her best friend that she was considering including her experience in the book. They knew the story: Sharing it didn’t have to mean giving up her hard-fought control of it, nor diminish any of the professional hell-raising she’d done since. They said: “Duh, of course you should.”

Top image: Top, Doen. Earrings, Alighieri. Styled by Schanel Bakkouche. Hair by Yukiko Tajima for Kerastase; Makeup by Sandrine Van Slee for Chanel.

This article will appear in the September 2019 issue of ELLE.

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