Why was Kate Middleton topless outdoors in France?

No, I am not blaming the victim. And I do think that the Duchess of Cambridge and her husband — better known as Prince William — are victims. That’s why they sued the French magazine Closer, which last week published photos of the couple sunbathing on holiday shortly before they embarked on a nine-day tour of the South Pacific as part of Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee celebrations. That’s why the royal couple’s lawyer noted that publication came “just six days after the 15th anniversary of the useless, cynical and morbid hunt which led to the death of William’s mother,” Princess Diana. That’s why the couple argued that the pictures captured “a highly intimate moment during a scene of married life” and that Kate is a “young woman, not an object.” The photos objectify Kate, who was on a private vacation with her husband at what the New York Times (using language similar to that of many media outlets) has called a “secluded villa in Provence.

But Kate is also one of the world’s most photographed women. During the many years she dated Prince William, paparazzi camped outside her London apartment and followed her and her siblings around town. The Post’s story on the media hoopla surrounding her 25th birthday — more than five years ago — was headlined “Attention That’s Fit for a Queen.” Remarking on the length of their courtship, William said in the interview he and Kate gave the day their engagement was announced: “I really want[ed] to make sure they have the best sort of guidance and chance to see what life has been like or what life is like in the family, and that’s kind of almost why I have been waiting this long, as I wanted to give her a chance to see in and to back out if she needed to before it all got too much.”

Media interest in the couple has only grown. That’s why it’s reasonable to ask what is a fair expectation of privacy — and why that’s not an easy question to answer. The Post’s Jen Chaney wrote: “I am sympathetic to the ‘don’t go outside undressed’ argument. Purely for common sense reasons, the Duchess probably should not have done that.

“But to me, there’s a difference between drunkenly taking off your clothes at a party with strangers and disrobing to sunbathe with your husband while someone is taking your picture without your knowledge. It’s putting yourself out there vs. having someone invade your space, uninvited, to take something that has not been even remotely offered.”

Even if Kate is not putting herself out there, she well knows that photographers follow her and William. They frequently follow her family. (Look at any number of photos and articles on the recent trip Kate’s sister, Pippa Middleton, made to New York.) Kate’s ability to spark a run on her clothes and accessories — dubbed the “Duchess Effect” — is merely more evidence of the widespread interest in her.

Yes, there is such a thing as a reasonable expectation of privacy. But Kate and William are not ordinary people. They are the future king and queen of England. They must know that as two of the world’s most-photographed people, their off-duty moments are of even greater interest to billions. Kate and William certainly didn’t deserve or ask to have their intimate getaway photographed. That’s why a French court correctly sided with them today, blocking further publication of their private moments. No one who isn’t posing for a topless photo should have such images published, let alone in multiple magazines and Web sites. But unless they are relaxing at a royal residence, where they know they control all the land they can see, why would they assume people around them are not looking at them or seeking to take their picture?

And why isn’t more attention focusing on the fact that if someone with a long-range lens could shoot Kate, someone holding something more dangerous than a camera could as well? When Prince Harry redeployed to Afghanistan this month — following well-reported recent hijinks in Las Vegas — Reuters reported that a Taliban spokesman had said: “We are using all our strength to get rid of him, either by killing or kidnapping.” One might think security would be increased for all senior members of Britain’s royal family, or at least those who are traveling.

Read more on Kate Middleton:

Kate Middleton: The commoner who saved the queen

The common dreams of a royal wedding

ComPost: Kate Middleton photos and the end of privacy