As Georgia reels from a sex-tape scandal involving top female public figures, a journalist threatened with exposure has fought back by publicly reaffirming her right to continue enjoying her sex life.
Inga Grigolia came under target in a video uploaded on March 14 that showed prominent politicians from both the opposition and the ruling Georgian Dream coalition engaged in sex acts.
While the high-profile TV host was not in the video, it contained a threat that compromising footage of Grigolia, two coalition members, and an opposition politician would be released unless they resigned by the end of March and left the country.
While the other victims remained in the shadows, the 45-year-old journalist, well-known in Georgia for her firebrand manner, refused to be cowed.
"I am Inga Grigolia, a woman, daughter, mother, and friend," she declared on her TV program within hours of being blackmailed. "I have a wonderful boyfriend, I have sex, and I plan to continue to live the way I live."
In the days leading up to the threat, a separate video had emerged that purportedly depicted a prominent, married female politician in an adulterous encounter.
"This psychological terror is the worst way to destroy someone without bullets," Grigolia told RFE/RL. "The country is in panic, we are on standby waiting for these videos to be published. And no one knows when the next batch of videos will be released."
The leaked videos, and threats of more to come, have sparked an outcry in Georgia, where illicit footage featuring influential politicians and journalists regularly surfaces despite official pledges to stop it.
The use of sex espionage is a well-honed tactic dating back to the Soviet era, with covert footage having been used against a number of political figures in recent years in Russia and Azerbaijan.
In Georgia, the government of former President Mikheil Saakashvili stands accused of building up a massive collection of compromising videos featuring members of the opposition, 181 hours of which were publicly destroyed by the current government when it took power.
A mass protest is planned on March 19 in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to demand an end to illicit recordings and smear campaigns.
The latest scandal, which affects mostly female politicians, has also prompted a rare public debate about sex in the largely conservative Caucasus country.
Activists calling for tougher action against privacy breaches recently rallied outside government headquarters in Tbilisi with placards saying "Sex is not a crime!"
The Georgian president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, has himself weighed in, voicing solidarity with the victims and telling reporters that he "had, has, and will have a rich sex life."
Attack On Women
Some critics argue that Margvelashvili's comments detract from the real issue -- the government's failure to bring such shameful tactics to an end. But his comments have been widely praised in Georgia as both a brave show of support for the victims and an attempt to minimize the videos' damage.
Baia Pataraia, a lawyer who runs the Georgian women's rights organization Union Sapari, is among those praising the president, as well as Grigolia, for standing up against the sex tapes.
Like many other women's rights advocates, Pataraia views the footage release and threats as a brazen attack on women who have defied Georgia's macho culture and successfully pursued a career in a male-dominated profession.
"This is an open war against female politicians in Georgia," she charges.
Despite overwhelming public sympathy for those targeted in the videos, Pataraia believes the tapes will have a "very serious impact" on the female politicians, some of whom are running in the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for October.
Sex scandals are potentially much more damaging for women than for men in Georgia, where male public figures face little public backlash, if any, for their sexual relations.
"It's a post-Soviet, very patriarchal country where moralistic attitudes prevail, especially with regard to women's sexual freedom," says Pataraia. "The difference between men and women with regard to sexual freedom is huge in Georgia."
Damage Is Done
Asked by RFE/RL to comment on the recent leaks, several Tbilisi residents firmly sided with the victims and called on authorities to harshly punish those responsible for shooting and distributing the videos.
"The punishment they can incur under the law is not great enough to atone for the moral damage they have caused these politicians and their families," said Tamar, a middle-aged woman.
"These people must be tracked down and punished to the full extent of the law, so that no one is tempted to commit such offenses," said Lasha, 23.
Despite their unanimous outrage, however, about half of the interviewed Tbilisi residents admitted that the videos have tainted their perception of those affected by the scandal.
"Everyone's opinion about these politicians will change, even if people are denying it," said Georgii, 21.
So far, authorities have provided no indication as to who might be responsible for leaking the videos.
The United National Movement (UNM) that ruled Georgia under Saakashvili pins the blame squarely on government supporters, in particular former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the influential billionaire and founder of Georgian Dream.
Georgian Dream officials have rejected the accusations, claiming the videos were recorded during the UNM's time in power.
Despite Margvelashvili's pledge to track down and punish the "dark forces" who orchestrated the scandal, Georgians appear to have little public faith in the investigation so far.
"We still don't know who is playing these dirty tricks," laments Grigolia.
And despite anxiously bracing for the next video release, Grigolia is determined to battle back.
"I will openly fight for myself and for all those who are being threatened," she says. "I have no intention of living under threat all my life. If I submit to blackmail, these psychological terrorists will have reached their goal."