Leaked nude celebrity photos: When a cybercrime becomes a sex crime

September 2, 2014

Best Actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence arrives on the red carpet for the 85th Annual Academy Awards on Feb. 24, 2013 in Hollywood, Calif. (AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMARJOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s not the tech jargon of online privacy breaches. And it’s not the hand-wringing associated with Wikileaks.

The public commentary provoked by the cyber-theft and public posting of those intimate female celebrity photos Sunday is something else entirely. It’s the language you hear when people are discussing rape.

The people that stole these photos aren’t “hackers,” Lena Dunham tweeted. They are “sex offenders.” “Remember, she wrote, “when you look at these pictures you are violating these women again and again. It’s not okay.”

In the immediate aftermath, there was a rush among some to blame victims (Jennifer Lawrence, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and apparently scores of others) for taking nude photos of themselves in the first place — nevermind that they were intended to be private.

For example: “Celebrities, make it harder for people to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer,” comedian Ricky Gervais reportedly Tweeted (and then deleted).

Writing for CNN, Peggy Drexler reacted. “Certainly, the surest way to avoid ever having your most private photos shared publicly is to not take them in the first place. … While we’re at it: Don’t leave the house. After all, you could get mugged, or raped. … It’s ridiculous logic.”

“In the aftermath of this theft and the subsequent online leak,” wrote Samantha Allen in The Daily Beast, “Jennifer Lawrence is receiving conflicting messages on social media about how she should respond to the widespread distribution of the photos. Predictably, several people are blaming the leak on Lawrence herself for taking the photos in the first place—instead of blaming the hacker who stole the photos and the 4Chan user who leaked them to the world….Blaming the female victim of a sex crime instead of the perpetrator is unfortunately par for the course and nude photo thefts are no exception.”

Even celebrity gossip blogger, Perez Hilton, got the point, eventually, that this was something different than a paparazzi photo. He posted the uncensored images before later taking them down and reposting censored versions and then removing those as well. Finally, the inevitable apology: “At work,” he tweeted, “we often have to make quick decisions. I made a really bad one today and then made it worse. I feel awful and am truly sorry.”

Critical of the media’s response, Forbes’ Scott Mendelson wrote this is “not a ‘scandal’ to be mocked and teased about as if it were a public wardrobe malfunction or a gaffe. It should not be treated with quippy sub-headlines like ‘What Would Katniss do?’ … This is clearly a violation. It is a crime of theft with the intent to exploit its victims as punishment for the unpardonable sin of being female.”

There’s a misconception, the Independent’s Lucy Hunter Johnson noted, that “because these images are of famous women, women who pose on red carpets and even (gasp!) appear naked on screen, they are somehow ripe for us to view. That because these women use their image for work, they have no ownership over it… A topless scene from a tightly controlled film set is not the same as a grainy image taken by a lover in a hotel room…Celebrities do not exist purely for our entertainment and titillation. There is a difference between their life as they allow the public access to it, through interviews and shoots, and their real, personal, life. The way in which we share our bodies must be a choice. Pictures of naked women must not become the latest meme to be shared and joked over. Do not be part of this abuse. Do not click on these pictures.”

“Sadly,” wrote Sarah Miller in Time, “whether Lawrence or the rest of them are blasé or passionate about this, it will have absolutely no impact on the person who did it. Or on all the people who think that he’s awesome, instead of a sad loser, someone closer to a rapist than a grossly misguided web fiend.”

 

 

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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