Let’s Call the Celebrity Nude Photo Hack What It Is: Nonconsensual Pornography

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.

Victim Blaming

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:

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:

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.

Different Approach

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.

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