This article originally appeared on VICE France.
Eva started being cyberbullied when she was only 17. From unsolicited dick pics to outright sexual threats, hundreds of men hounded her on Instagram and Twitter. But things took a turn for the worse two years later, in 2021, when she got into streaming on Twitch.
Her harassers began “paying” her what’s known as a “cum tribute”. This basically means covering a photo or video of someone’s face with semen — then posting the result online. “Some guys had posted photos and videos of themselves masturbating and coming on me on Reddit and on a cum tribute site,” Eva tells VICE. “I felt really dirty.”
Today, she’s very cautious online. She agreed to share her experience in hopes of helping other victims, but didn’t want her full name to be public out of fear of retaliation.
Leo, whose name was changed for privacy reasons, is a cum tributer. He likes to post videos on Reddit showing only his hand, his dick and a photo of a woman. For a few seconds, you see him jerk off, then he ejaculates. “It feels good and everything, but the best part is getting to show off how great my dick and my cum look,” Leo says when contacted on Reddit. Other Redditors send him photos of girls of their choice, and he gets paid to make more cum tributes to them. “I get compliments and money,” he adds.
Reddit aside, there are tens of websites, forums and private online spaces entirely dedicated to cum tributes. Even Twitter has its share of cum tribute accounts.
You mostly see everyday women on these sites and accounts, but celebrities also feature: Personalities like Anita Sarkeesian and Emma Watson – both outspoken feminists – are some of the more famous targets. “I hate all these women,” reads a comment on a website dedicated to cum tributes. “I want to see them degraded into sperm-covered rags. They have no value. And the redhead [Emma Watson] is a feminist voter.”
According to the digital intelligence tool Similarweb, this website receives 4.8 million visits per month. Some Redditors told VICE it is the nerve centre of the cum tribute world.
Even though it is based in the US and primarily used there, many international users are active on the site, too. “Any French guy wants to cum tribute my girlfriend?” reads one comment in a French section of the website. Another reads: “French dudes, send me your sluts.” All are accompanied by photos of women, including teens and children – most of whom are likely unaware of the site (VICE have chosen not to publish the name of the site for this reason).
One of the first people to talk about cum tributing was Sarkeesian. The Canadian-American blogger posted about being harassed in this way back in 2012, after landing into the crosshairs of misogynistic online trolls for her feminist analysis of popular video games. She later became one of the main targets of Gamergate, a harassment campaign launched against female and queer gamers between 2014 and 2015.
But further back in 2006, Italian artist Sergio Messina – then working in amateur online porn – spoke in rather positive terms about consensual cum tributes. “A woman posts her picture, some guy downloads it, prints it, cums on it, takes a photo of the results — the tribute — and posts it back into the newsgroups. [...] The more tributes he or she gets, the greater the glory,” he said back then. “It’s a whole game, involving mostly two or more people, where the first post is only the opening move.”
Messina’s perspective goes to the heart of the paradox of non-consensual cum tributes. Their name implies a desire to pay homage to the women, “to compliment them,” as cum tributer Leo put it – and yet the point is clearly to degrade them.
Cum tributes are all about a desire to “defile the victims”, according Ketsia Mutombo, president of the French organisation Féministes Contre le Cyberharcèlement (“Feminists Against Cyberbullying”). “There’s this big, macho porn imaginary universe behind it, linked to the legend of bukkake.”
The sex act of multiple men ejaculating on a woman “is said to have been practiced as a punishment against adulterous women in medieval Japan”, Mutombo explains. (Historians dispute this claim, as the punishment for unfaithful women at the time was usually death.) Instead, bukkake probably has its origins in 80s pornography, where it was practiced as a way to circumvent Japan’s strict laws against showing genitals in porn.
According to Clare McGlynn, a law professor at the University of Durham, UK specialising in image-based sexual abuse, men who engage in cum tributes experience a real need to connect with other men. “It all goes back to male bonding — the desire to carve out a status for oneself as a man within a group of men,” she says.
When navigating these particular murky depths of the internet, you get the distinct sense that no one is safe from being posted on these sites. These women are the cum tributers’ colleagues, friends, parents, and they’re being unknowingly subjected to incredibly violent messages written by a bunch of total strangers.
The images chosen are almost always very casual and taken off social media – a teen at the beach, a mirror selfie, somebody at a restaurant. “The contrast between this really simple content – stuff that’s not particularly erotic – and the fact that it’s being used in such a sexual way is very violent,” Mutombo points out.
Eva, who had dozens of her photos turned up on Reddit and another cum tribute site, said it took her a while to understand the gravity of the situation. “At first you feel guilty,” she says. “You wonder if you were asking for it somehow.”
In a way, cum tributing can be understood as a strategy to stop victims from taking up space in public. And it’s a very effective one at that – Eva herself was told by the police all she could do to protect herself was get off the internet. By that point, her harassers had not only used her images without her consent, but had also found her address and threatened her with rape. Her complaints were dismissed by officers.
Clare McGlynn, who works with British MPs to establish new laws on online abuse, has heard this story countless times. “This advice to quit social media is so inappropriate and really underscores how little we understand this kind of abuse,” she says.
Worse still, it often falls to the victims to ask Google and other platforms to delete abusive content — or gather proof so they can file a complaint. The removal process is long, confusing and re-traumatising that most people simply give up, which is what happened to Eva. “I don’t want to spend my time cleaning up after these people,” she says. “Fixing this shouldn’t be my responsibility.”
Across the world, our laws regarding online pornography and harassment are out of touch with modern life. According to Feminists Against Cyberbullying, non-consensual cum tributes aren’t even illegal in France unless they’re sent repeatedly to victims or contain threats, in which case they could constitute harassment. The problem is, many victims don’t even know they’re being attacked.
The current legal status is extremely frustrating for victims, who have to live in fear and with the notion that their cum tributes will forever be on the internet. “Even though it’s been a year, when people search for my Twitch username, they’re going to see cum tributes of me,” Eva said. “Unless you erase yourself completely from social media, it can follow you for the rest of your life. But then again, I can’t just not exist. Hiding is no way to live.”