Sex Crimes?: Let’s talk about the celebrity nudes scandal

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!”.

Could you imagine if the Daily Prophet had a Page 3?!
Could you imagine if the Daily Prophet had a Page 3?!

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?

I try to remind myself of that same thing any time I see stupid things on the internet.
Not featured: Dog enjoying a lovely cat-stew.

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.

Except perhaps if you live at the Playboy mansion – they probably have a lot of cameras.

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.

Except maybe Dumpsville…

Sex Crimes?: Let’s talk about the celebrity nudes scandal

Teen Killers: Life Without Parole – A continuation

I recently read a fantastic article by Anniseed, and I just wanted to quickly say something about it.

It was about the BBC Three documentary that featured a series of young men in American prisons, each of whom had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole prior to turning 18. Each of the men talked about their crimes – all of them had committed murder – and their experiences of prison and rehabilitation (which not all of them had achieved). Viewers were left to form their own opinions of the men, and whether it was just that they remained in prison forever for a crime committed before they are legally old enough to make independent decisions.

Scary, scary shit – I couldn’t even begin to imagine being judged on my actions as a teenager, or spending the rest of my long, long life in prison. It’s a fantastically chilling documentary and I’d recommend watching it, if you can.

Anniseed in mentioned a particular man in the documentary that struck them:

Sean Taylor was sentenced to life imprisonment for shooting dead an innocent bystander caught up in gang violence. In prison, he continued to live the life of a gang member, viewing the world through that narrow prism and getting into constant trouble with the authorities. But Sean was fortunate. An older inmate decided to look out for him, and every day would approach him and ask him a particular question. Here Sean leans forward and shares the question that was to save him:

“What have you read today?”

So Sean started reading. And it opened up his eyes to whole new worlds, made him delve into his own inner self, and make the tremendously brave decision to change his life. Through reading, he discovered Islam, and this showed him another path. He gathered his fellow inmates together and told them he was no longer going to be a gang member – he was going to live a better life, even though he was incarcerated, and he would help anyone else who wished to do the same. His transformation was to change not only his life, but the lives of many others. And the State Governor was moved to commute his sentence to parole.

Now Sean lives back in his home community, working with young people to try and stop them from getting involved with gangs, and to steer them away from lives of violence. It’s impossible to know how many lives his actions have actually saved, but his brave effort to pay back society for his own crimes were admirable. He spoke as an intelligent, committed and articulate man, and his story moved me greatly. I am inspired.

Proof, if any be needed, that reading can change lives.

That last sentence, that really grabbed me. It’s hard not to take away a message about the importance of books, and education in general, in the process of rehabilitation when faced with inspiring stories such as those of Sean Taylor.

Yet in the UK, a blanket ban has been introduced on the sending of books to prisoners. Sure, they still have access to books in the prison library, but the supply is somewhat limited. And sure, there are some prisoners that have used books to smuggle drugs and other items into prison in the past. Does that really mean that we should deny the entire prison population the opportunity of self-improvement, or the important moral lessons books often contain? I doubt it. When you see these case studies of  people who have turned their whole lives around on the basis of important influences in prison, like particular texts, can you really deny prisoners that opportunity?

Most of these people have not had access to the things we take for granted – a quality education, books, a stable home environment – and prison represents an ideal opportunity to introduce them to these things, in an effort toward their rehabilitation and their reintegration into society. We shouldn’t punish people for the sake of punishing them.

Teen Killers: Life Without Parole – A continuation

Tougher prison systems = more crime?

Before I begin on this, I’d like to make it clear where I’m approaching this from, because it seems relevant to the debate.

Most people when you talk about the justice system cry “but what about the victims?!” constantly. Totally justifiable; after all, they are the ones whose lives have changed, often drastically, as a result of the crime. Victims should get a say. I too have been a victim of crime in my lifetime; interestingly not once have I been asked what I’d like to see in the justice system in light of that fact, though I have been berated for my opinions as a general hater of all victims of crime. So let me make this clear – as a victim of crime, the thing I would most like to see in our justice system is rehabilitation and a reduction in offending. I don’t want to go through those things again, or see others go through them. This is the standpoint from which I am writing this piece.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s address the prison system in the UK right now.

Currently, there are 85,338 in offender institutions in England and Wales (Howard League, 2014). Most of those are male – 81,426 compared to 3,912 – which is pretty striking in itself. This isn’t the highest prison population in the world, granted, but it’s still pretty large, especially when you consider that in 2013 had a population of approximately 4,500 (The Guardian, 2013).

For years, the rhetoric around prisons has been that they simply aren’t tough enough – that they’re like holiday institutions, and all these fun and games make people want to re-offend to go back to prison. Prison, they argue, is just not a strong enough deterrent from crime. That much, I agree with, but we’ll get back to that later. More pressing is how utterly ridiculous the idea that prisons can be a “soft” option actually is. Going to prison doesn’t simply involve a loss of freedom, as people think; there’s the loss of autonomy, human connection, safety, privacy, even the very essence of who you are. Think about it – they strip you of all your personal belongs, issue you a standard bland room, a standard uniform, and to them you are just another statistic. You cease to be you. It’s a well documented phenomenon called deindividuation, and has been linked to not only increases in your own aggressive tendencies, but increases the chances of people being violent to you (I’d recommend a casual Google search on it!).

Can you say ‘prison riot’?

So, you’re living in fear, you’ve lost your identity and your freedom. Well, maybe you kind of deserved it? If you don’t want to do the crime, maybe you shouldn’t do the crime?! Oh, how terribly cute this idea is. It entirely overlooks the frankly incredibly complicated causes of crime. For example, did you know that an amazingly high number of offenders suffer from personality disorders and other mental health problems? People think the mentally ill are housed separately from other offenders, but this only happens in extreme causes – prisons are required to have mental health professionals on staff to take care of these lower-risk offenders while they’re in the mainstream population. It’s questionable, therefore, if they can even be held responsible for their actions. They go to prison nonetheless. Then there are those homeless offenders that have a choice between starving and going to prison, where they at least get meals. These are trapped in the cycle of hunger, poverty and crime.

These are just a few reasons why crime might happen, I’d absolutely encourage you to seek out the literature and see what you make of it.

Let’s say, however, you just committed a crime and you end up in prison. Why is it that the punishment – going to prison and losing all of this important stuff – doesn’t reduce crime? After all, the re-offending rate for short-stay prison sentences is 56%, reducing to 26% for longer sentences, which is pretty high (The Independent, 2013). Well, the idea of punishing people for bad behaviour is linked to the popular (and widely misunderstood) theory of conditioning. This is where punishment (not to be confused with negative reinforcement) is thought to reduce socially unacceptable behaviours like crime, and reinforcement increases socially acceptable behaviours like obeying the law. A lot of research into the effects of conditioning has been done by B. F Skinner – who was also largely against the use of punishment as a singular method of changing socially unacceptable behaviours. Yup. Skinner argued that punishment was not sufficient to create a lasting change in behaviour, merely creating a temporary change that was limited to the context in which punishment occurs – so in this case the effects of prison would be limited to… er… prison. When the threat of punishment is removed, Skinner said that people would return to their previous behaviours, because at no point during punishment did anyone teach them alternative, positive behaviours. In fact, he went as far as to say that punishment is only maintained as a mainstream method of dealing with poor behaviour because it reinforces the behaviours of those doing the punishing – but that’s where this all gets a bit complicated.

Therein lies one of the many secret of the success in Sweden’s prisons; far from being ‘holiday camps’, they attempt to integrate prisoners into a community and teach them how to go about daily life without falling into the trap of crime. They focus on what our prisons have long since forgotten – rehabilitation.

This is a complex debate, so for now I am going to leave it there but I will return to it later!

Tougher prison systems = more crime?