The Internet often lets people do whatever they want to whomever they want. What often happens is more than a violation of privacy; it's flat-out criminal invasion. Prosecution, however, may be something of a long shot. Although a Florida man responsible for breaking into the private email accounts of more than 50 celebs and posting many explicit photos online is serving 10 years in prison, the law is only just beginning to catch up to the problem of what is broadly referred to as "revenge porn," or the unauthorized posting of explicit content without the consent of the individual.
Most websites that host these photos are protected by a federal law that absolves them of responsibility for material posted by third parties. It's legal in most of the United States, and only a few states -- about 12 -- have laws that make posting on such sites a crime ... if you can even find out who the poster is. These unclear, largely ineffectual laws have in turn encouraged a culture of victim blaming.
Prosecuting depends on first determining who uploaded the photo and where the photo originated. A California law, for example, did not, until recently, protect victims who took the photos themselves.
These unclear, largely ineffectual laws have in turn encouraged a culture of victim-blaming. Certainly, the surest way to avoid ever having your most private photos shared publicly is to not take them in the first place. This is the philosophy behind the most common advice given to teens, among whom the rates of "sexting" continue to rise. Trust no one. Share nothing. Even better: Take nothing.
While we're at it: Don't leave the house. After all, you could get mugged, or raped. You'd better not fly on a jet, either, what with all the terrorism and overworked pilots. Swim in the ocean? No way: sharks!
It's ridiculous logic.
And yet much of the reaction to the most recent celebrity leak in the news has fallen prey to such logic, questioning why these celebrities would take such risqué—and risky—photos in the first place. For this reason, taking nude photos is most definitely a right to fight for, if only because ceasing to do so is a form of victim blaming, and far more harmful than protective.
The blame for a crime lies not with the victim but with the criminal. We've become accustomed to knowing everything about everyone. And often the message isn't that it's heinous to so publicly and maliciously invade someone's privacy but that these women who take nude photos of themselves brought their misfortune on themselves. After all, it wouldn't have happened to them if they didn't take the photos.
But the first step to protecting our privacy both online and off isn't to demand that Apple make a stronger iCloud or to start stripping our storage spaces of anything private. Nor is it to insist that women stop taking nude photos of themselves or, for that matter, stop engaging in any activity they wouldn't want to be made public. Instead, it's to take these crimes seriously and hold their executors accountable.
The problem isn't the picture. It's the perpetrator.
Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. is a research psychologist, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University and author of two books about modern families and the children they produce. Follow Peggy on Twitter and Facebook and learn more about Peggy at www.peggydrexler.com