For Your Eyes Only

The Sex Crimes of Non-Consensual Sext Sharing

“I miss you.  I wanna see you.”

I missed him too.  He was already back at school on an island over five thousand miles away.  We weren’t dating.  In fact, I only met him about a month before, but I knew I was into him.

I turned on my bedside lamp for better lighting, snapped a shot, double-checked that I hadn’t accidentally clicked on any other Snapchat friends, and pressed send.

About a minute later, that dreaded notification came up with the stupid little snapchat ghost: “_____ has taken a screenshot of you.”  I immediately sent a text demanding he delete it.  It was my naked body.  There was no other intended audience but him.

I felt like such an idiot.

Looking back, I believe his promises that he deleted the photo from his phone, and that he didn’t take the screenshot with any intention of sharing it with others.

But perhaps he’s more trustworthy than some other receivers are.  Since this incident, I’ve learned of third party applications that allow people to take screenshots of snapchats without notifying senders.  Should there be legal action against sharers of nude photos and websites that allow people to post others’ private photos?  Last week, the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus held a panel discussion titled, “The Legal Underpinnings of Digitally Exposed Private Images and What Congress Needs to Know” discussing what (if anything) should be done about Internet sharing of sexually revealing photographs or information.

On August 31st of this year internet hackers released nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence after they hacked into iCloud accounts and stole hundreds of private photos of people.  The actress then gave an in-depth interview with Vanity Fair regarding this, as she termed it a “sex crime.”  She refused to apologize, and instead she stated: “Just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this.  It does not mean that it comes with the territory.  It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting.”  Almost a month later, Internet trolls threatened to leak nude photos of Emma Watson after she delivered a speech on gender equality at the United Nations headquarters.

These two actresses aren’t the only celebrities affected by these nude leak scandals; Kate Upton, Becca Tobin, Ariana Grande, Kirsten Dunst, Hope Solo, Vanessa Hudgens, and Hayden Panettiere (just to name a few…) also had their private photos released to the internet realm.

Many initial reactions to these celebrity photo leaks consisted of victim blaming: ‘Why would someone in the limelight take these photos of themselves?’  ‘It’s her fault for being stupid.’ ‘She’s a celebrity, obviously people want to see her naked.’  Celebrities, however, are not the only ones receiving and sending ‘sext’ messages.  In its study on college student sexting, Science Daily found that more than half of all college students have received text messages containing sexually suggestive images.  BitchMagazine writes on teen sexting and non-consensual photo sharing: “For years now, parents have been routinely perplexed how their kids decide to share salacious photographs of themselves, and, especially if those children are girls, how they pose provocatively for each other.”  Teens and women have been expelled from schools, lost jobs, and lost friends and respect for appearing in sexually explicit photos.

So why do women and teens share nude photos of themselves?

Studies show that 20% of American teens, 33% of 18-24 year olds, and about 16.5% of 30-somethings admit to sending nude pictures of themselves.  It appears that girls are sexting more than their male counterparts.  Soraya Chemaly of Bitch Magazine writes, “Girls appear to be sexting often because they are being pressured to share pictures and are socialized that it’s important to please men.”  But when internet trolls release these photos to the public, instead of blaming the societal norms that have brought about these nude images and the censuring the  perpetrators of the crime, we denounce, criticize, and slut-shame the women in the photos.  In Nick Simmons’ Huffington Post article, he explains that these judgments, “now come from within, as well.  Young girls reprimand, punish, and regulate themselves and their friends to make sure their choices are based not on what they want, but on what they ‘should’ want—who they ‘should’ have sex with.”  Both men and women are chastising women for being ‘too’ sexual.  There seems to be this view that women should arouse their partners, but simultaneously, and impossibly, they are deemed sluts for sending so-called promiscuous photos.

These events and the reactions to them follow our culture of heteronormativity: While men should be sexual beings who receive naked photos of women, women should only do so for the satisfaction of their long-term male partners.  In her statement on the internet hacking, Jennifer Lawrence said, “I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years.  It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”  Even though she was a victim, Lawrence still felt the need to justify her actions.  There’s an assumption that if Lawrence was a single girl sending out these nude photos to whomever she wanted, this would be more reprehensible.  If women send private, nude photos of themselves to someone other than a monogamous partner, the action is considered much more ‘slutty’ and condemnable.

Maybe we shouldn’t be blaming the senders; maybe I shouldn’t have felt irresponsible and foolish when that screenshot was taken.  Perhaps instead of asking why we’re sending these photos, we should be asking why kids—and adults—are forwarding these private pictures without consent?  Instead of questioning the morals of those in the photos, we should acknowledge that ‘sexting’ is often a tool used for sexual exploration.  Instead of shaming women for their sensualities, we should be more concerned about the bullies who are sharing these personal images.

When that ghost popped up telling me _____ took a screenshot, my stomach dropped.  Not only was I embarrassed, but I was also mortified by what consequences could exist for my actions.  I still blame myself for sending a photo that could jeopardize future opportunities and relationships.  But perhaps my self-criticism isn’t really justified.  Afterall, I was simply trying to please a guy I was interested in; satisfy his sexual needs.  Isn’t that what I’ve been taught to do?