Unless you’ve been living under a very large rock for the past month or so, or trapped on a desert island like Tom Hanks in Castaway (WILSON, sob), then you have probably heard about the hackers who stole nudes of a whole bunch of celebrities. In case you haven’t seen it, this is where it all began, and I applaud you on having a life unlike the rest of us internet dwellers.
In the latest development, Jennifer Lawrence – who up until recently has been entirely silent on the issue – has given a statement about her experience, which is both heartbreaking and honest. In her view the hack is a violation and a sex crime, and not only the hackers and websites containing the pictures are at fault – people who viewed the images are also “perpetuating a sexual offence”. In response to those that might have suggested this comes with the territory of being a public figure, she also points out that her body is her own and not public property, and so the ultimate choice about sharing those photos was her own.
I honestly can’t say I disagree with a single word said there, but the whole hacking scandal has brought to light a whole bunch of issues that we have to talk about.
Consent and nudes
We all know about issues of consent when it comes to sex (or at least I hope so, but if you don’t then here’s a nice video for you!). What people might not be so clear on are issues of consent when it comes to nudity in videos or pictures, which I guess is understandable, since most pictures can’t exactly get up and say “OI! I never consented to this!”.
While the same principles apply in theory, (i.e. an excited, resounding yes is given), it’s often very difficult to work out as a viewer whether someone did actually consent not only to having their picture/video taken, but to this being published on the web. This is especially a concern since incidences of revenge porn seem to be increasing.
So how do we know if someone has consented to all of this? Well, you really should use a website with strict rules about who can post what, and avoid known revenge porn sites or sites with a distinct lack of rules like the plague. Commercial porn websites are *usually* pretty safe for example.
BUT, and this is a big but (pun intended), don’t assume it’s all safe because a place appears to have strict rules on the subject. Take Reddit for example, which has a whole bunch of sections devoted to amateur porn, and is widely considered to be a “safe-space” for exhibitionists. Now a lot of people think it’s pretty safe porn, because they ask users to verify their posts – usually by posting a picture or video with themselves in it, holding a plaque with their username and date on it. Except, you can post pictures on their without having to do any of that – the moderators pick who has to verify their photos. Maybe that’s how leaked celeb nudes ended up on Reddit. Safe.
When you know it’s safe, look all you want. When you know or suspect it isn’t (and in this case you knew it wasn’t), then don’t click on it. By looking at these personal images without the consent of those in them you are violating that person, and you are indeed perpetuating a sexual offence. It’s that simple.
Blaming the victim
Every time something like this happens, in the midst of all the anger and blame directed at the hackers, a (hopefully) small bunch of folks make some rather stupid comments about how no one should create these images in the first place, lest this should happen. Actions have consequences, right folks?
There’s one thing that everyone seems to forget when talking about the creation of personal images; that is, the reasonable expectation of privacy that goes with them. Let’s say I come home one day and spontaneously decide to get naked – maybe I’m having a bath or something. If no one is in the house (except people I would feel comfortable being naked with), and all the doors are shut, I expect that my nakedness is between me, the four walls, and anyone I allow to view it. You would therefore be violating my privacy if you secretly filmed me, or burst into my house to gawp, which are highly unusual situations.
That sort of situation is very similar to the one in which nudes are created – people are choosing to create these personal images for the benefit of a limited few, and can expect those images to remain between them. It’s up to them to share those images out after all – no one else gets to make that decision. For most people, it remains a safe thing, with no one breaking the ground rules of nudes. In highly irregular situations, jerkwads will steal those pictures or distribute them without consent in an attempt to generally fuck shit up for the person that made them. Again, that’s violating their reasonable expectation of privacy.
“Hold on a minute Laura,” you might protest, “you have to concede that a lot of hassle would be saved if you just didn’t create them in the first place!”. Sure, I get it. By the same token, I could avoid a lot of hassle by not getting naked in my own home, lest someone should secretly film it, or burst in to gawp. But maybe I like being naked; maybe I want to share some intimate part of myself with someone else. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to, just because some asshole feels entitled to look at everyone’s genitals ever?
People make nudes. People will probably always make nudes. Therefore, telling people not to make them is just not an effective solution. In fact, all it does it upset people, and detract attention away from the real villains – the people that distributed those images without consent in the first place.
Plus, on a slightly more obvious note, it already happened, so preaching about shit afterwards gets you nowhere.