A personal trainer who sneaks a topless photo of her sunbathing on the beach without her permission will “haunt her forever.”
Lily Cook was secretly caught on a beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs with her sister on Nov. 12 and only found out hours later.
When she tried to file a complaint with the police, no charges were filed because it is not a crime to photograph people in public.
Ms Cook said discovering the photo shared in group chats had “a very detrimental effect on her mental health”.
“It’s a moment in my life that will haunt me forever,” she said, vowing to speak out after other women told her the same thing happened to them.
Sydney’s Lily Cook (pictured) was secretly photographed sunbathing topless on a Sydney beach earlier this month
‘Capturing and distributing [an] explicit portrayal of a woman without her knowledge or consent is both abhorrent and illegal. I stand up for this issue.’
Ms Cook said she saw three men, two of whom she knew socially and had many mutual friends with, on the beach when she arrived and they later joined their girlfriends.
She always tanned topless, but wasn’t comfortable with them around, so she waited for them to leave.
The fitness instructor received a message from a friend later that night asking if she had been topless on the beach, followed by a “close-up” shot of her lying on the sand.
“The person who sent me the photo confirmed who sent him the photo,” she wrote on Instagram about her horrific experience.
“Then I realized that a picture of me had been taken without my permission and spread.”
Ms Cook reached out to the men and their girlfriends in a group message and they claimed she was accidentally caught in a wider landscape photo posted by one of their friends on an Instagram story.
She claimed that this turned out to be a lie as in that photo both she and her sister were lying down, and in the shared photo her sister was sitting up
“Because of the quality of the image and the angle, it was clear that one of the males had crept closer to get a close-up of me topless,” she wrote.
The photos secretly taken of Ms Cook, who has given Daily Mail Australia permission to publish them. The differences between the two images unraveled a fake story told to her claiming she was accidentally caught in a wider landscape photo
Ms Cook said a man eventually admitted that he sent the picture of the man taking his phone to two friends, who circulated it but refused to make a statement to police.
“I can’t help thinking how different this whole process would be if they had the strength and dignity to acknowledge their actions and how it can affect a woman,” she wrote.
No one involved in the incident ever apologized to her for the “disgusting, perverted and juvenile” act, she said.
Chantelle Otten, sexologist and girlfriend of tennis star and Australian of the year 2022 Dylan Alcott, supported her on Instagram.
“This is so violating and disgusting, I can’t imagine your feelings during the days this unfolded,” she wrote.
“We are all behind you, they are the problem, you are so brave by writing this post. I hope that this is not swept under the carpet, but that it is dealt with adequately.’
Mrs Cook told the Daily telegram she reported the incident to the police, but no charges were brought against the men allegedly involved.
“I’m disappointed because I trusted that something would happen,” she said.
While there are laws to protect victims of “revenge porn” — the distribution of sexually explicit images of a person, usually by an ex-partner, without their consent — that doesn’t apply to her case.
Police said it is ‘generally not a criminal offence’ to take a picture of a person in a public place, and only a crime if taken privately.
“Of course people should be able to express themselves however they want, but unfortunately in this age of social media others get a kick out of daring to take pictures when people are unsuspecting, or for the thrill of uploading,” a senior officer told the Telegraph.
Another officer, who works in the sex crimes field, said the outcome depended on the circumstances of each individual case, with instances of children being photographed by strangers warranting further investigation.
Ms Cook said she hoped sharing her story would empower other women who have had similar experiences
Criminal defense attorney Matt Ward said the law must respond to changes in how people use technology as the line between public and private became blurred with increased content sharing on social media platforms.
RMIT professor Nicola Henry, an expert on image-based sexual abuse, agreed, saying the nuances of consent had yet to be reflected in law.
She cited the incident in March this year when the OnlyFans photos of Married At First Sight contestant Domenica Calarco were shared among the cast without her consent.
Professor Henry said posting intimate images on a website does not necessarily equate to giving permission to share them elsewhere.
Ms Cook said she struggled to understand the motive behind the taking and sharing of the photo, but believed those involved could gain some sense of power.
She now felt empowered by sharing her story and advocating for other women who had similar experiences.
“I share my experience because I know there are women and girls who have experienced the same violation and, like me, feel overwhelmed by pain and the burden of societal stigma,” she wrote.
“I want them to know that we have a connection and can draw from each other for strength.”
NSW Police said: ‘Distributing images, particularly of an intimate nature, to others without consent can have serious consequences for an individual’s health and mental well-being and could lead to criminal charges.
“These kinds of images are increasingly easy to distribute and view and can go viral in minutes, with long-term damaging consequences for victims.
“Even in a public setting, the privacy of others must be respected and if someone feels unsafe because of others, they must report it to the police.”