There have been a lot of reactions to the massive leak of nude photos of some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities, including actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton, after an anonymous user posted stolen images to image-sharing website 4chan. But one of the most mind-boggling reactions has come from the people who say, “If you don’t take nude photos, they can’t be stolen.”
This is not a fringe reaction. From Ricky Gervais to rapper RZA to many people across the internet, there seems to be a common idea that the horrible and humiliating invasion of these women’s privacy and the theft of their property is in some way their own fault. When Mary Elizabeth Winstead, one of the actresses who had naked images stolen, tweeted, “To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves,” this was one of the responses she received: “@M_E_Winstead Stop posing nude on camera, dummy. Your husband not know what you look like nude? #LessonLearned.”
Now, obviously, there is truth to this idea. A person can’t steal something that doesn’t exist. So if you don’t have nude photos, they can’t be stolen. Just like if you don’t have a car, it can’t be stolen. And if you don’t use a credit card, it can’t be compromised.
But that’s absurd, you might be saying. People need cars and they need to use credit cards, but no one needs to take nude photos of themselves. Despite the fact that neither cars, nor credit cards technically qualify as something we need, let’s parse this idea for a moment. In 2014, a huge part of our lives — working, shopping, socializing and dating — involves technology. From shopping history to credit card information to personal correspondence, digital devices store a stunning amount of personal and private information, making them an integral part of our culture. So it’s willfully naive to suggest that a person’s sex life should be kept wholly separate from that culture. Show me one person who can honestly say they’ve never taken or sent a suggestive photo, sext or email that they wouldn’t want splashed across the internet for millions to see, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t use or understand modern technology.
Yet taking nude photos — or having a car or using a credit card — isn’t the problem here. The problem is the hacking and the stealing, in this case of something immensely private. And it’s not only a problem, it’s a crime. It’s true that posting naked photos of people without their consent is still largely a gray area, legally speaking, which is why so many revenge porn sites have exploded across the internet in recent years. But hacking and stealing photos is definitely a crime; just ask Christopher Chaney, the man currently serving a 10-year sentence for stealing and posting nude images of Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis, among others.
So why are people so quick to point the fingers of blame at the women who are victims of the hack? It’s likely because it’s easy — far easier than blaming a culture that nurtures this kind of misogynist attack — and also because it makes people feel safe. After all, if you’re not the kind of person who would take nude photos then you’re not the kind of person who has to worry about this kind of invasive crime, right? Yet that kind of thinking doesn’t get at the root of the problem (i.e. the hacker and protecting our devices from similar attacks) and it certainly won’t help you when it’s not celebrities who are being targeted and it’s not nude photos that are being stolen. And until people cut out the victim-blaming and focus on the real culprits, we’re all just a little bit more vulnerable.