“Creepshots and revenge porn: how paparazzi culture affects women”

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… Charlotte Laws first encountered these sites in January this year, after her daughter Kayla, who is in her mid-20s, had her computer hacked. In Kayla’s email account was one topless photo she had taken of herself – it hadn’t been shared with anyone – which was then posted on a notorious revenge porn site, Is Anyone Up. She was distraught, and Charlotte, an author and former private investigator, spent 11 days, non-stop, working to get the picture taken down. One of the nastiest aspects of the site, which has since closed, was that humiliating photographs would be posted alongside details of the person’s social media accounts, so they were immediately identifiable.

Laws wanted to find out more about the experiences of those whose images ended up on the site, so began an informal study. She called 40 people – a few men, but mainly women, reflecting the site’s make-up – and says that 40% had had accounts hacked, while others were victims of vengeful exes. She spoke to three teachers, one of whom had lost her job due to the site, and another whose job hung in the balance. One woman was terrified the photos would be used against her in a custody battle. Another had seen her business ruined – even though the nude images the site ran alongside her social media profiles weren’t actually of her. There was a woman who had taken pictures for her doctor, of her breasts bandaged after surgery, and those had been hacked from her computer and posted. All the pictures were open to biting discussion of looks and desirability.

Laws has been researching possible legal routes for victims of such sites, which has brought her into contact with Mary Anne Franks, associate professor of law at the University of Miami. “What unites creepshots, the Middleton photographs, the revenge porn websites,” says Franks, “is that they all feature the same fetishisation of non-consensual sexual activity with women who either you don’t have any access to, or have been denied future access to. And it’s really this product of rage and entitlement.”

Franks finds it interesting that the response to these situations is so often to blame the woman involved. Ali Sargent, a 19-year-old student and activist, says in her school years there were a few incidents of girls being filmed in sexual situations, without their knowledge or consent, and the attitude of other girls was dismissive at best – displaying that dearth of sympathy that distances people from the thought that it could ever happen to them. “It was mostly just, ‘well, she was pretty stupid,'” says Sargent.

Franks echoes this. She says the argument goes: “‘You shouldn’t have given those pictures to that person’, or ‘You shouldn’t have been sunbathing in a private residence’, or ‘You should never, as a woman, take off your clothes in any context where anybody could possibly ever have a camera’. That’s been shocking to me, that people aren’t just outraged and furious about this, but they’re actually making excuses for this behaviour, and blaming women for ever being sexual any time, at all.

“Even in a completely private setting, within a marriage – it couldn’t be any more innocuous than the Middleton situation – and yet people are still saying things like: what was she expecting, she’s famous and she’s got breasts, and therefore she’s got to keep them covered up all the time. I do think it’s a rage against women being sexual on their own terms. We’re perfectly fine with women being sexual, as long as they are objects and they’re passive, and we can turn them on, turn them off, download them, delete them, whatever it is. But as soon as it’s women who want to have any kind of exclusionary rights about their intimacy, we hate that. We say, ‘No, we’re going to make a whore out of you’.”

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