On August 31, a series of nude photos of female celebrities were released, after having been allegedly hacked from the iCloud accounts of those celebrities. The incident has been referred to as a “hack,” a “leak,” a “nude photo scandal.” We’d prefer to call it what it really is: a form of sexual abuse, a gross violation of privacy, a reprehensible way to victimize an innocent person, and just one of the many forms of nonconsensual pornography.
As noted on our FAQs page, nonconsensual pornography is defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent. This term is applicable to images voluntarily shared with an intimate partner (e.g., as in cases of “revenge porn”) as well as images obtained through hacking. It applies to recordings of forced sexual activity, including those of sex trafficking victims and rape victims, that are distributed. Cases can include situations where innocuous photos of one person are posted next to explicit images of someone who resembles them, or cases where someone’s head is photoshopped onto someone else’s nude body and the photos are distributed. When intimate images are disclosed without consent, they become nonconsensual porn.
Product of our Culture
Nonconsensual porn seems to be a product of a misogynistic culture that tells men they are entitled to women’s bodies and that women who deny men access should be punished. This view is supported by some of the tweets that one celebrity victim received on Monday: “You deserved this because a girl like you would never date me in real life, no matter how nice and courteous I was. Karma!” or “Sorry but it’s not fair that only the guys of your choosing get to see the photos while the ugly, less fortunate guys do not.”
For some readers, these quotes might bring back chilling memories of watching videos of, or reading portions of the memoir-manifesto by, the “Santa Barbara Killer” Elliot Rodger in which he described the motives behind his killing spree: “Women should not have the right to choose who to mate and breed with, that decision should be made for them by rational men of intelligence;” and “It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.” This tragedy showed us that this way of thinking can have deadly consequences.
The most recent celebrity case of nonconsensual porn seems also to be a product of the public’s overinflated sense of entitlement to gain access to celebrities’ lives. The common refrain is “you put yourself out there in the public eye by virtue of being a celebrity, so we (the public) have a right to gain access to your private life, and you have no right to be upset about it.”
No matter what category of nonconsensual porn a case falls into—whether the material was obtained lawfully or unlawfully, whether it depicts a celebrity or a private individual—we continue to see the same victim-blaming that we see with all other forms of sexual abuse and assault.
Internet trolls hiding behind pseudonyms as well as public figures using their own names are telling victims that if they don’t want the material to be shared with the world, they shouldn’t have it in the first place. Take Ricky Gervais, for example, who tweeted “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” CCRI board member, Mary Anne Franks responded applying that logic to other crimes:
— Mary Anne Franks (@ma_franks) September 1, 2014
— Mary Anne Franks (@ma_franks) September 1, 2014
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the age of the Internet: a space where you can not only cultivate friendships and farms as you do offline, but one where you can also be sexually assaulted, abused, and victim-blamed. Lena Dunham acknowledged this new form of victim-blaming in a tweet on Monday:
The “don’t take naked pics if you don’t want them online” argument is the “she was wearing a short skirt” of the web. Ugh.
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) September 1, 2014
It feels as though we’re repeating history in this new arena that was once promoted as the safe escape from the offline world full of discrimination, harassment, and abuse.
It is long past time to change our approach to sexual abuse. Instead of condemning and holding the victim responsible, we must shift the blame and punishment where it really belongs and can be most productive: onto the perpetrator. By blaming the victim, we are adding to the shame, despair, and anguish that a victim already feels, potentially driving them towards responses that could significantly damage or end their lives. We are making them feel more alienated and alone than they already feel in light of this violation. The perpetrator, on the other hand, runs free, unscathed and oftentimes more empowered, already lining up his next victim.
If we really want to solve this problem, shouldn’t we be shaming the perpetrator into inaction instead of the victim?
Private photos are private photos whether they’re consensually shared within the confines of an intimate relationship, captured on a phone and stored in iCloud, or snapped as polaroids and locked up in a fireproof safe bolted to the floor of a bulletproof room. Just because an individual consents to something in one context (such as sharing a nude photo with one person) does not mean that he/she consents to it in others (having the photo shared with the entire world via the Internet). By consenting to sex with one man, a woman isn’t consenting to have sex with all of his friends. Consent is limited to the context in which it is given.
Pain is pain, a victim is a victim, and they all deserve our support.
CCRI is seeking research that examines revenge porn, online harassment, or the occurrence of either of these within cases of domestic violence or sexual assault. We are also in pursuit of a large (500 people or more) representative sample that can be surveyed. If you or your organization has access to any of these, please contact Dr. Holly Jacobs (Holly@cybercivilrights.org) or Professor Mary Anne Franks (email@example.com).
Voices of Victims is a series of anonymous submissions by victims of revenge porn. The post below has been lightly copy-edited but otherwise reads exactly as submitted. Remember: You are not alone.
Almost seven years ago, I left my abusive fiancé. He’d been taking explicit photos and videos of me, and sharing them without my permission already, using them as blackmail to force various sex acts from me that I was not comfortable with, while pretending to be a “hacker.” He was attending West Point at the time, and he said he could get expelled if they were revealed, so I did everything, despite my discomfort. Until one day I said no, and he raped me instead, claiming to not remember it after the fact.
But when I got up the courage and left, he released all of my photos and videos to porn sites and several classmates’ emails, despite the fact that I’d been under eighteen at the time of their taking (and below the age of consent in NY for some of them, at sixteen). As well as that, he released my phone number and address and email, pretending to be me, and I received phone calls and emails from strange men who wanted to visit me. I had to ask several websites to take down nude pictures of me, and received no response from many of them. And on top of everything else, he continued to contact me for years through his various girlfriends who claimed he wanted to repent. It’s been three years since he last contacted me, but I never know if he’ll do it again someday.
My pictures have been lost to the ether, and I cannot find them via search, but who knows if they’re still out there, and I never know if there are people in the world who think that I sent them photos while he was pretending to be me, who can track me down with my name and find me and my family like my ex has before. I’ve been humiliated; I’m scared to make contact online (which is important, as I’m an online-publishing author), I have relationship issues with my husband because of this. I still have nightmares about it. I’m still ashamed. I wish I could erase this from my past, and I wish there were a way to help others going through it. So if I can, I want to, and if that’s by speaking, then so be it.
If you’re a victim of revenge porn you can contact our victim advocates here.
Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) is currently seeking professionals who are qualified, willing, and able to help victims of revenge porn. Victims across the United States are in dire need of attorneys, certified counselors/therapists, and victims advocates/social workers
Only a few states in the US have criminal laws against revenge porn. However, all states have civil statutes (e.g., invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, public disclosure of private facts, etc.) that apply to revenge porn cases. This means that, with the help of a lawyer, revenge porn victims can use these statutes to bring their perpetrators to justice. We are therefore seeking lawyers who can write legal letters for victims and/or take their cases to civil court.
Revenge porn is a form of sexual assault that inflicts a great deal of trauma and stress upon its victims. We are looking for certified psychologists who are able to help victims work through this trauma and heal from the damage that it has caused.
There are a great deal of resources available to victims of sexual assault and related crimes that could also be helpful to victims of revenge porn. If you are a victim advocate or social worker who is familiar with these resources and would be willing to work directly with revenge porn victims, please contact us.
As most victims cannot afford to pay for these specialists at their standard cost, we are looking for professionals who are able to help victims pro bono or at a reduced cost. If you are interested, please fill out this form and one of our representatives will follow up with you as soon as possible.
End Revenge Porn Once and For All.