A year ago, Leigh Nicol shared her story with sky sports. It was not an easy decision.
Warning: This article contains sensitive issues that some readers may find triggering.
Leigh had been the victim of intimate image abuse. An iCloud hack led to private videos appearing on adult websites. It was out of his control. Life changed in an instant.
“It was all over websites, it was all over WhatsApp chats and it even managed to make headlines in national newspapers around the world,” the Crystal Palace player said. sky sports. “Dealing with the aftermath has been difficult. You never expect to get through this. You think your life is over.
“You don’t know how you’re going to redeem yourself. You don’t know how you’re going to have this conversation with your family. You don’t know how people are going to look at you. You think you’re going to lose family and friends because of that.”
This experience in the spring of 2019 resulted in illness, sleep deprivation, depression, and dramatic weight loss. His football career was put on hold.
“It’s something no one can prepare you for. You walk into rooms where people laugh at you.”
A year later, she’s in a much better place. This time she sky sports the interview is in front of the cameras. Self-confidence returns. Talking helped.
“I don’t think I had any other option but to use my platform. For almost two years I wanted it to go away, I wanted to hide and I never wanted to discuss it. J I just thought it would go away naturally, but the thing is, it never goes away.
“It was the last part of my healing process that I had a say in. I wasn’t that object people said I was and I was finally able to hold my own a bit.
“As soon as I did, it really helped me.”
The answer too.
“There has been so much more support than negativity. The world of football has been the biggest part of my recovery and I have regained my confidence. Being able to look in the mirror without being ashamed of myself and being disgusted and feeling really dirty.”
The other female footballers from Crystal Palace and far beyond have rallied together.
“The world of women’s football is such an amazing community. It doesn’t matter what badge you wear on your outfit, everyone pulls together. I’m very lucky. That’s what the world of football does really well. . We come together. That’s the beauty of a team sport.”
With his colleagues in men’s football, it took longer.
“I have friends in men’s football, so I know what happened in their group chats, I know how people were talking about me. It wasn’t right.
“So I wouldn’t say I had the initial support from the world of men’s football, but I also know they meant no harm, they were just guys. These guys need to be educated to understand that I’m not a pornstar I didn’t want my videos to be shown.
“Since I spoke with sky sports a year ago, that attitude completely changed. From the world of men’s football in particular, when I walk into the halls now, I feel so much respect. It’s completely different now that I’ve spoken and told my side of the story.”
The realization took Leigh on a journey she could not have foreseen.
Media lawyer Matt Himsworth reached out after reading her story. “He has represented many female athletes and celebrities who have gone through the same thing. His job is basically to protect them on Google and have articles and images taken down.”
Leigh wanted more than that.
“I wanted to work with him. I changed careers off the pitch which was a tough decision as I was a coach away from being a footballer and I loved it, but I think your path changes sometimes in life.
“Matt was able to give me a platform with his consultancy firm B5 where I could go to clubs and share my story. What the support has given me is the confidence to decide what I want to do. more about it.
“I want to educate people.”
There have been Zoom calls with the New Zealand men’s and women’s cricket teams, conversations with the WSL academy teams, but much of the work involves in-person seminars within the Premier League academies and EFL.
“My daily job now is to educate young people.”
It was a huge step.
“Every time I walk into this room, I’m scared, I get nervous, because you never know if there will be giggles and comments. But, in the end, I have the same feeling every time. It fills my heart with so much love.
“At first they are embarrassed because we talk about sex and everyone laughs when the word is said, especially when we are younger. But after, the respect they have for me, I love it.”
“When an individual walks into the room, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, they exist, they’re a human being. They wanted to live.
“Putting a face to a name does that. When you stand in front of these young guys, they’re like, ‘Wow, I met her and she’s not the person I thought she was. She has a personality, she has family and friends, and she has the same problems in life as I do”.
“I have to be as vulnerable as possible with them. Being as honest as possible with them is really difficult, especially in front of young people as young as 13. For them, being respectful and just listening is all I could ever wish for.
“I’m living my dream in terms of an education. But when it comes to the internet, it’s way more important than my situation. My story is part of that. It’s about these guys being safe and to adapt their behavior online.
Emboldened, Leigh pushes for change.
“I’m fighting from a cultural standpoint and a legal standpoint. Everyone knows I’m part of the litigation against Pornhub in America. This is something that’s going to be for a long time. I don’t know when it won’t stop when we get justice.
“I’ve had comments saying I’m doing it for the money. I definitely wouldn’t do it for the money. It’s a matter of justice.
“I want justice for those who haven’t experienced this yet and I want businesses to be held accountable so that the world becomes a safer place online.
“I would like to see the big platforms pay interest and recognize that they need to make changes. This is not something I can solve on my own. It depends on who owns these platforms and if they have a heart and understand the pain they cause.
“Platforms need to do more, governments need to do more.
“I think it’s the absolute minimum that we as human beings deserve, that the big platforms act quickly and take responsibility for the crimes they let happen. The criminals they allowed to happen. act on their sites.
“I don’t profit from making them suffer, but I profit from making sure that the younger generations, who are completely innocent, don’t know that this is happening on a day-to-day basis.”
They include his niece, 10, and twin nephews, eight.
“They’re obviously so young at the minute, but even now we’re not too far from me to have that conversation with them.
“I’m really worried that they will be harassed because of this.
“They always thought of me as the fun aunt. I would never want them to be abused because of me and my actions. That was always a major concern. It’s a part that will never go away until we take care of that part.”
Meanwhile, the abuse continues.
“I’m abused online every day,” she says.
“You see it every day of your life. Every time I talk it brings me more abuse, but I’ve accepted that now. It took me a long time to come to terms with that.
“I hold myself accountable for what happened because I think it’s the only way forward. I can never be mad at anyone else because if I hadn’t taken this decision, it would not have happened, but I hold a lot of anger in me that this crime was authorized.
“It took me a long time to realize that I was actually the victim of the crime that was committed. Now I’m at the point where I know I didn’t deserve it, but what can I learn from it? How can I educate others to make sure they don’t have to go through this?
“I just need to use my experiences to help those who don’t have a voice or a platform. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated situation with me. There are thousands of others.
“When you get messages from people who are just starting to go through this, it’s heartbreaking. I feel their pain. All you can do is tell them to weather the storm. They’ll be fine.
“It’s not going to be okay right now. I can’t tell people to get over it. It’s going to be a long time. It might be years before you feel brave again, without pain, before you can trust people again, when you’re not looking over your shoulder. But it’ll be fine.
Soccer? It remains his passion. But there are other things now.
“It made me a lot more resilient,” says Leigh.
“If I get dumped or don’t play it’s not about me anymore because it’s a little problem for me in my world. If it had happened a few years ago it would have been that, my Life over, I was abandoned Everything would have sucked Now I can deal with it.
“I can handle anything.”
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