An Open Letter to YACHT re: “Sex Tape” Publicity Stunt

May 11, 2016

We at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, who advocate on behalf of individuals who have suffered the devastating and irreversible harms caused by nonconsensual pornography, condemn your recent publicity stunt involving a false claim of a leaked sex tape, as well as the uninformed and self-serving statement you made in defense of your actions.

In that statement, you claimed, “We never make light of victims of any form of sexual abuse. Frankly, it’s disturbing to us that press outlets could make the incredibly irresponsible leap from ‘celebrity sex tape,’ which is the cultural trope this project explicitly references, to ‘revenge porn,’ which is unfunny, disgusting, morally repugnant, and completely unrelated. Even within the fictional narrative we created, there was no violence or exploitation. It was always about agency and proactive empowerment.”

Make no mistake: your actions did in fact make light of the experience of sexual abuse victims. You made a parody and a spectacle out of what is a real-life, inescapable nightmare for thousands of people for your own personal gain. You cynically exploited the sympathy and support of people who believed your story. You trivialized an issue that the general public has only just begun to understand and take seriously. You made it harder for future victims to be believed.

Your statement, which attempted to shift the blame for your reprehensible actions to the media, demonstrates a deeply flawed understanding of nonconsensual pornography. We hope that you will take this as an opportunity to educate yourselves about this conduct. “Revenge porn,” is the term popularly, though misleadingly, used to describe an entire genre of sexual privacy invasions. The more accurate term, nonconsensual pornography, does not refer only to conduct perpetrated by an embittered former intimate partner. It is any distribution of private, sexually explicit images or videos of people without their consent and for no lawful purpose. Perpetrators engage in this conduct for a variety of reasons: to torment a former partner, to engage in extortion, to make money, to provide “entertainment,” to broadcast a sexual assault, or for no real reason at all. Regardless of the motive, victims of this horrendous conduct suffer psychological, professional, reputational, and educational harm. They are frequently stalked, harassed, extorted, forced to remain in abusive relationships, fired from jobs, and expelled from schools. Some victims have committed suicide. Nonconsensual pornography happens to women, men, and children, and in contradiction to the false dichotomy you set up between “celebrity sex tapes” and “revenge porn” in your statement, it happens to famous people too. It is the violation of a right that belongs to everyone: the right to intimate privacy.

We invite you to truly reflect on the magnitude of the harm that your publicity stunt has caused to real victims of this conduct and to the understanding of this issue. We hope that you will make the time and effort to learn about this serious form of abuse and the advocacy efforts of organizations like ours to combat it.

Professor Mary Anne Franks
Vice President, Legislative & Tech Policy Director, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Inc.

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