They were a handful of pictures of my breasts—all slightly out of focus but clear in their revealing nature—which I sent to my then-boyfriend. While I own up to the fact that I made that choice, it’s also a choice I’m not happy with having made: the context behind my choosing to hit send on a series of blurry Snapchats was convoluted, and left me feeling anxious as I watched that perky, bouncing ghost icon.
He never took screenshots as far as I know, but of course I’ll likely never know (since Snapchat is renowned for not being particularly dependable or safe). I regret what I did, and know that I could conceivably be punished for my choices; but particularly following the recent series of leaked celebrity photos, I wonder why we’re collectively punishing and shaming people for a violation of their bodies and privacy.
Technology’s pervasive presence in every nook and cranny means that the decision to share something privately has become a public matter. Well, the public has weighed in, and apparently the victims of the mass nude photo leak are to blame: these women created the content—although it was their personal property, created for personal-use or to share with trusted partners—and it’s their fault someone violated their property, privacy, and bodies.
I don’t think I—or any other person who takes nude photos—deserve punishment for trusting someone I thought I cared about. I don’t think I should be shamed for sending two-second Snapchats to my then-boyfriend. I wasn’t asking for anything.
As Luke O’Neil writes for Esquire.com, “[M]ost of the people who consume these [leaked photos] and trade them back and forth like young men might have done with prized baseball cards in a previous generation would scoff at the suggestion that there’s any analogy to be made here to rape. Much like we’ve seen in nearly every other realm, however, our ethics here have not caught up to the technology. Very few of us would hide in the bushes outside of a woman’s home in order to catch a glimpse of her getting changed, but how is that any different from this?”
Well, some of our ethics have caught up with the technology: as Farhad Manjoo tweeted, “I’ve never heard anyone respond to financial hacking by saying, Just don’t use online banking. That’s what you get for using credit cards.”
The more we dust off that old accusation that “You were asking for it,” the less apt it becomes. This victim-blaming is an outdated accusation, though we continue to apply it to different situations of violation: women who take nude photos, women who drink “too much,” women who wear short skirts, women who go out alone at night, and women who leave their door unlocked. As Lena Dunham tweeted, “Seriously, do not forget that the person who stole these pictures and leaked them is not a hacker: they’re a sex offender.”
We take these women’s leaked bodies for inspection, ogling, and ridicule. We belittle their forethought and intelligence when they get “caught” taking nude pictures (as if they’re the criminals), yet say astoundingly little of the people who hacked their property. We feel entitled to these women’s bodies, and to judge them unmercifully—however unfair that judgment.
The reason we say these women were asking for it is because we want to feel safe and complacent in the thought that we know better, that we’re immune. In reality, you don’t know when you’re vulnerable—that’s what makes you vulnerable. An unknown person could hack into your laptop camera without your knowing, and a peeping tom could spy on you through your window.
We persist in excusing criminals in the same ways—slut- and victim-shaming is astoundingly commonplace in our discussions of violation. Our world is changing, making the private public and facilitating judgment from the peanut gallery, but it doesn’t justify shrugging and laughing in the face of crimes.