#ImNotLooking: Sexual Assault in the Form of Exploited Nudity

Link to "The Sexual Violence of Non-Consensual Nudity"
Link to “The Sexual Violence of Non-Consensual Nudity”

Sexual violence meets the camera. “Leaked nudes”, also known as a crime called revenge porn – the non-consensual distribution of a sexually explicit or nude photograph of an individual – occurred long before anyone was tweeting tweets or sharing their lunches on Instagram. What belongs to one person suddenly becomes common property. Bodies, meant to be shared with only those whom they choose, are dissected into soulless parts to be enjoyed by strangers who cannot discern between sexual beings and sexual objects. It’s not a phenomenon limited to the women who choose – and excel at – careers which lead them into the limelight. Whether the “leaked” [stolen] image came from the privacy of a celebrity or a nonentity, the crime is just as heinous.

If the common woman’s body is free for the conquering how much more the body of a woman who dares to make a name for herself? You’ve likely read it dozens of times this week alone…the classic “She deserved it”. Victim blaming at its finest.

Until all women are treated as fully human, deserving absolute respect and privacy regardless of who they are and possessing autonomy over their own person, there will always be stolen nude images floating across iPhone screens.

In their piece entitled ‘Yes’ Is Better Than ‘No’, a NY Times article written in response to the recent passing of the “yes means yes” law ( Senate Bill 967 ) in California, Michael Kimmel and Gloria Steinem write:

Invading bodies has been taken less seriously by the law than invading private property, even though body-invasion is far more traumatic. This has remained an unspoken bias of patriarchal law. After all, women were property until very recently. In some countries, they still are.

Regarding the latest theft of private, intimate celebrity images, Jenny Trout writes:

Victim blaming runs thick in situations such as these. “If she didn’t want those pictures on the Internet, she shouldn’t have taken them.” In other words, the price of these women’s private expressions of sexuality and joyous celebration of their bodies is public humiliation. Very little is said about the people stealing and releasing these photos, beyond the occasional words of gratitude to them for serving up what we are presumably owed.

“Don’t send nudes,” we tell our daughters, rather than telling our sons, “Don’t violate the privacy of a woman who trusted you enough to share herself with you in a playfully sexual context.” We don’t teach our children not to revel in revenge porn, we teach them to put boundaries on their sexual expression, to hide their bodies away, because that’s where the real shame is. Baring another human on a public stage for ridicule and critique is an excusable, even understandable, action.

We don’t tell our sons, “Don’t send people photos of your penis to someone if they haven’t told you they’re OK with it.” It has become commonplace for men to send photos of their genitals in misguided attempts to woo potential partners, or to retaliate against some perceived wrong a woman has inflicted upon them. Why these men see romance and spite as two scenarios deserving of the same response is never examined. In fact, many men seem utterly baffled when their advances aren’t welcomed. “What do you mean you don’t want to see my penis? What are you, some kind of uptight feminist? Some kind of lesbian?”

Perhaps the most offensive aspect of our conflicting attitudes toward nudity and the importance of consent is that while women are derided for their own exploitation, the actions of a man forcing images of his genitals upon his victims are utterly erased when the tables are turned and his behavior is exposed.

Link to "The Celebrity Photo Hacker's Message to All Women"
Link to “The Celebrity Photo Hacker’s Message to All Women”

One woman named Jo bravely shared the story of her own assault by stolen images from nearly ten years ago on Human Parts, a collection of essays from Medium:

I didn’t know it was possible to feel so naked until that moment. I didn’t know that being objectified feels a lot like pins and needles, like chilblains. The dawning of my vulnerability left me feeling dizzy, shaky, not fully real; definitely not respected or dignified or beautiful. I felt like a snail with a crushed shell—a fleshy smear on the pavement, exposed and homeless (by Jo Harrison).

Despite the thousands of articles, blog posts (this one included), and rightly irate tweets which have surfaced this week, those photographs can be neither un-seen nor un-stolen. It is a disturbing truth for celebrities and non-celebrities alike who have been victims of stolen nude images.

I wish it were that easy. I wish everyone, from Jennifer Lawrence to Jo, could settle into their beds tonight, resting peacefully in the knowledge that what has been stolen and exploited has been erased from the minds and computer hard drives of the public, as if the theft never occurred. As if their privacy had never been invaded.

But since that can’t happen, do those women a favor. It’s the least of what they deserve. Treat stolen images of naked bodies the way they ought to be treated: absolutely private.

And teach your sons to do the same.

None of us are entitled to see them, to scrutinize them, to compare yourself to them, or to (cringe) get off on them.

Because a woman’s body – and the authority to decide what happens to it – belongs to no one but herself.

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