The anti-trafficking advocate's life story doesn't quite add up
Meet Eliza Bleu, née Morthland: the first fallen #girlboss of 2023. The internet personality/anti-trafficking advocate burst onto the Twitter scene around the time of Elon Musk’s takeover. She was obviously a big fan of the bird app’s new CEO, and he seemed to trust her. Bleu tweets about censorship (she’s opposed) and child sexual abuse material, which she suggested was rampant on Twitter under the previous regime.
On multiple occasions, she implied that she was working closely with Twitter’s new Trust and Safety team to ban popular hashtags used for trading this appalling content. The extent of her role, though, has recently been called into question, because her narrative as a survivor is completely falling apart.
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Bleu publicly shared her story for the first time on a podcast in September of 2020, where she recounted a sheltered upbringing on an Illinois farm, before a rebellious phase when she met a photographer who lured her to Los Angeles with promises of stardom. On the trip, the 17-year-old was drugged, assaulted, and groomed before being sold to a “much older gentleman” for $500. The strange tale that follows includes a stint in a band, an abusive marriage, and multiple escapes from, and then returns to, “the life,” when she’d fall in with “new crowds of traffickers”. According to the podcast, she finally got out in 2014, after watching survivors tell their stories online. The details of events are vague and circumspect, and Bleu is wholly unable to place them on a timeline, which she explains is the result of the effects of trauma on the brain.
The hazy nature of the story, and the existence of several different aliases, raised questions about Bleu’s past. Last week, a YouTuber named Brittany Venti apparently found a rap video featuring a scantily clad Bleu, and asked if she’d ever discussed the performance in the context of her story. She tweeted a photo still from the video, which had been publicly available on YouTube since 2016. For a trafficking survivor to perform in a sexualised video shortly after breaking away from their captors is confounding, but so is the path toward recovery, and perhaps Bleu didn’t want to be judged.
But when Venti’s account was suspended for sharing the image, fans called out the erstwhile free speech advocate’s hypocrisy as well as the apparent abuse of her connections to higher-ups at Twitter, who issued bizarre justifications for the suspensions. Later that day, Bleu announced that the video included private images that were taken without her consent, broadly implying that she had been coerced into performing in the video as a victim of sex trafficking.
The definition of “trafficking” has expanded as we learn more about the psychology of abuse. Many factors prevent victims from leaving abusive situations. Over time a person’s social ties are severed, and they lose their sense of autonomy and often develop an overwhelming fear of retaliation. But it’s hard to reconcile that with Eliza Morthland, the beloved daughter of a wealthy Illinois politician, or Eliza Cuts, the popular hairstylist in Chicago’s rock scene, or Eliza Knows, the rap video “vixen” who taped herself gloating to her mother about starring in one. The profile doesn’t even fit comfortably with Eliza Bleu, the anti-trafficking advocate who lashes out at podcast hosts with basic questions about the story that informs all her work.
Few people ask any questions at all, of course, because another thing we’ve learned about sexual trauma is that victims are often blamed, shamed, and denied their experience. We know how important it is to be believed. So we don’t question people who come forward with a harrowing tale of sexual abuse.
During a chilling exchange on TimCast a year ago, Bleu herself raises the possibility that her story is all a fabrication, and asks why it would even matter. She wasn’t abusing people, she wasn’t asking anyone for money, and she managed to raise national awareness about human trafficking, particularly on Big Tech.
In a sense, she’s right. Bleu has won awards for her activism; her brash personality and tireless promotion have certainly brought her cause to the fore. Does it matter if her work was driven by vanity, or built on lies? Unlike in cases of false rape allegations, which can destroy the lives of the accused, it is less obvious who the real victims would be in this story.
But there would be real victims: all the people who believed Eliza and believed in her — as well as all the real survivors who see their plight used so instrumentally to feed a narcissist. Ultimately it does us all a disservice when we blindly believe, especially in a culture where victimhood is a status symbol.