It’s Wrong To Sexually Exploit People (Even Celebrities)

It’s Wrong To Sexually Exploit People (Even Celebrities) September 3, 2014

I have to say, I am remarkably proud of the online feminist community for getting such excellent messaging out in response to recent leaks of stolen nude photos of celebrities. It’s about time that the conversation about such sexually violative and exploitative thefts and exposures get talked about for what they are—an unconscionable use of another person’s body and sexual expression against their will. I was proud of Anne Hathaway a while back for pushing back against Matt Lauer when he paternalistically tried to slut shame her rather than denounce the photographer who publicized a partially nude photo of her against her will. Now I am proud to see a concerted effort by feminists online to point out that we are all responsible to not participate in the mass violation of these women and we are indeed being sexually exploitative of these women if we download their images against their will.

I wound up flabbergasted at the responses I got to this straightforward meme below on Facebook and decided I would reproduce the exchanges that went down between a number of Facebook users and me because I found it so illustrative. I have omitted names of all but me and changed my privacy settings to make the original thread invisible to everyone except me in order to protect the privacy of those in the conversation (even though the conversation originally took place under “public” settings). And for a more philosophically in-depth take on the issues, after (or even instead of) reading this post, see my follow up post on how my personal sexual evolution makes me viscerally oppose and loathe slut-shaming and victim blaming

Jennifer Lawrence

The meme came with this message from Adam Mordeci:

Here’s a juicy photo of Jennifer Lawrence, and Naked. Despite what you may have heard otherwise, ruthlessly violating someone else’s private information is not acceptable.

Various celebrities are responding appropriately. You can see their responses here:

Here were almost all the comments, omitting just a few superfluous ones for space:

Facebook User 1: Loved this article on it.

Facebook User 2: I would also point out that even if you’ve already seen someone naked, doesn’t mean you have consent to go through their leaked private photos. You don’t get to decide what they want to keep private. Maybe Jennifer Lawrence has a picture of herself in a lumberjack outfit that she doesn’t want us to see. That’s her choice.

Facebook User 3: I don’t understand why someone would have those pictures on the computer. I put mine on a flash drive…er…I mean, it seems like they would keep them on a flash drive, not connected connected to the computer. It’s hard to hack a flash drive that’s in the desk drawer.

Dan Fincke: Who cares where she kept them?

Facebook User 4: The larger the commotion they make and the more they flail their arms around, the more desperate they seem… It’s been a tough day for them, but they’ll survive.

Dan Fincke: What?

Facebook User 4: The celebrities, bro.

Facebook User 5:

Dan Fincke: I’m not your bro, Bro. The celebrities not only had their property stolen and their privacy invaded, they’re being sexually exploited against their will. You think that’s worth belittling as “desperate arm flailing” that they should just “survive”. Who cares if “they’ll survive”? Does that make it not worth having the conversation about how shitty it is to take advantage of this sexual exploitation? Do you care about opposing sexual exploitation?

Facebook User 6: I’m sorry, when your files are all uploaded by the NSA, then this is not funny.

Facebook User 7: [FU4], what are you trying to say? That they shouldn’t seem desperate? What does that have to do with what actually happened?

Facebook User 8: The fuck does desperate mean in reference to objecting to criminal violation of your privacy?

Facebook User 4: You just called me your bro. So I’m your bro but not the other way around? …Right. And calm your tits. Some nude photos were released, so what. Privacy is violated all the time. People are dying but you want to get all serious on me over some nudes? Give me a break. I think the whole thing will roll over and people will forget if we stop talking about it. Nudes were released because some guy did some illegal shit. So what.

I quote [random guy]:

“So an echo chamber of “boy those people are bad for what they did!” repeated ad nauseam “holding people accountable”? We all know that whoever did this is a dirtbag, I don’t need to see umpteen people reiterating what I already know.

Any suggestion that people take steps to protect themselves from the evils out in the world is immediately labeled “victim blaming”. Grow up.”

I think [FU5’s] link on Streisand Effect is interesting.

Dan Fincke:Some nude photos were released, so what.” It’s sexual exploitation, that’s what. Why are you trivializing sexual exploitation? Are you saying that it is just and right that because someone has nude photos of themselves those photos can be rightly stolen and used against their will? That’s other people’s rights to do that to them? They lose all moral and legal rights to complain? Everyone should just roll over and accept that? It’s not evil to sexually exploit people because it doesn’t involve starvation?

Facebook User 4: Can you read? Guess not. Save your artificial rage elsewhere. Seriously. It doesn’t make you a better person.

Dan Fincke: It’s not artificial rage, we are talking about people being sexually exploited against their will. You think anger about something like that is like totally made up?

Facebook User 4: Rage against whoever did this or rage against me? I didn’t leak any nudes. (Bro.)

Dan Fincke: I’m not “raging” at you. I’m pointing out your warped standards and attempt to trivialize sexual exploitation. What in anything I’m saying constitutes “rage”? 

Why don’t you place your criticism where it belongs, on people who both leaked and look at 
nude photos that don’t belong to them? Why are you so interested in changing the subject to some way you can find fault with the victims for the crime of–what? Possessing nude photos of themselves? As though that makes it justifiable they be stolen and used without their consent?

Facebook User 9: The Golden Rule covers this well: If it would not be okay for people to view pictures of you without your permission, then it is not okay for you to seek out pictures of another person that were made viewable without their permission. 

It’s also expressed in the Hindu and Buddhist injunction against stealing: “Do not take what is not given.” The pictures were not given by the owner for you to view, so to deliberately view them is to take what is not given. Ergo, stealing.

Facebook User 4: You act as if, by not criticizing the people/person who leaked them, I am implying that what they did was OK. That is a very faulty assumption. We already know the person who leaked them was wrong. Because it’s so obvious, I don’t see a point in saying it yet again. Yet you were so quick to jump on me. IE, self-righteousness. I go onto Facebook like this and I know I’m playing in a circlejerk. Message received, I’ll leave now. There’s nothing here for me.

Dan Fincke: No, that’s not what the conversation’s about. It’s about whether looking at the photos constitutes sexual exploitation. Will you admit as much? And it’s about not looking for ways to imply that the celebrities did anything whatsoever wrong. Do you agree the celebrities did nothing wrong? And, finally, it’s about not shitting on the victims of a crime by trivializing their anger as “desperate arm flailing” that “they’ll survive” as though being sexually exploited while “technically wrong” is trivial. Do you agree that what was done to them was non-trivial. Your admission that “stealing is wrong” is really not enough and proves this conversation actually, astoundingly, needs to be had.

Facebook User 4: I won’t repeat what I said. Bye.

Dan Fincke: Because you can’t bring yourself to say something as simple as using people’s nudes against their consent is a non-trivial form of sexual exploitation and the victims of such crimes are in no way responsible for what happened. 

Something that simple. 
And you won’t apologize for clearly trivializing their exploitation with your remark mocking them for their “desperate arm flailing”. 

Your silence speaks volumes, Bro.

Facebook User 4: If I weren’t invested in this at all, I’d be laughing at this out loud in real life. You have a need to demonize anybody who doesn’t come out and saw the same words you want them to say, verbatim… or you will hit them with your righteous rage. It’s fucking hilarious, considering I’ve already answered the question. Being more angry than other people doesn’t make you any more moral. I already mentioned what parts I wanted to discuss, yet you continue to take my silence regarding the aspects I already regarded as uninteresting (and despite that, responded) as some sort of admittance of guilt. And also, apparently leaving this conversation isn’t enough, I need to block you so my Facebook doesn’t light up with this incest.

And I hate it when people older than me try to take slang, turn it around, and try to use it as an insult. Just shows their lack of respect towards younger individuals. Had you all been people I respected from the start, maybe I would’ve been compelled to defend myself despite your bullshit. Ok, now you’re blocked.

[comment directed at Facebook User 10]: I see what you are saying. And I also find the Streisand Effect interesting (posted by another person). So I suppose I can take something out of this conversation after all. I never said hacking and scamming to obtain nudes to sell to other people is moral. I just think their response isn’t helping them. Obviously I dig your idea, or I would be posting nudes.

Dan Fincke: You still won’t say the celebrities did nothing wrong, that what happened is non-trivial, or that there’s anything sexually exploitative going on. You can use your own words, man. Go ahead! Phrase these acknowledgments however you want. But here’s the thing, nothing you’ve said in your own words acknowledges these things. It’s not like you’ve said the same things I have and I’m just a stickler for “the exact words”. You’ve done nothing of the sort. You mocked the victims, you claimed that accusations of victim blaming are bogus, and now you’re trying to say we should shut up about this because of the Streisand Effect. All you’ve come out against is stealing. 

So, by all means, use your own words, but yes, if you don’t use words that show you actually acknowledge the exact nature of the moral wrongs here and their seriousness, I’m not going to just give you the benefit of the doubt. Not when you are bending over backwards to not admit the celebrities are being sexually exploited in any clear words whatsoever.

Facebook User 9:  I’m sorry, but this isn’t newsworthy. And if your disagreement is that morally “people shouldn’t be looking at her nude image if she doesn’t want them to,” then I submit that making this news instantly increased the number of people who viewed her photo.

Dan Fincke: It’s absolutely appropriate that people are demanding other people take a cold hard look at what they’re doing when they pass these photos around. It’s shining a spotlight on an entitled and shamelessly sexually exploitative culture in which any number of millions of people will gladly take advantage of other people’s private sex tapes or nude photos against their will. Being silent about this instead of morally calling it out is not going to counteract the corruption within the culture.

Facebook User 11: This is not sexual exploitation. The participants in these videos apparently did them willingly. 

The one crime here is theft … by the original thief. The rest is just an unfortunate adjunct of the fact that the web exists — in the same way magazines exist 

It’s impossible to sexually exploit someone you’ve never met. Any other assertion is an extreme reach, in my opinion.

Dan Fincke: “The participants in these videos apparently did them willingly.” They didn’t show them to you willingly

“It’s impossible to sexually exploit someone you’ve never met. Any other assertion is an extreme reach, in my opinion.” Tell that to all those in jail for possession of child pornography.

Facebook User 11: I don’t like paparrazzi. Hate the magazines that buy their stuff. Don’t read the magazines … both because I don’t care about the “famous” and because I think they should have a certain amount of privacy. 

However … This is not sexual exploitation
. The participants in these videos apparently did them willingly. 

The one crime here is theft … by the original thief. The rest is just an unfortunate adjunct of the fact that the web exists — in the same way those magazines exist that buy and print pictures of celebrities in as many embarrassing, private situations as they can get. Celebrities willing and unwilling appear in those magazines, and there’s pretty much nothing the unwilling can do about it. Public whining only increase the market interest. 

The one fact that has everybody incensed is that these are SEXUAL photos. To me this is a special case of the larger issue, privacy, and probably has significance only because of our socio-cultural prudery about sex. 

It’s impossible to sexually exploit someone you’ve never met. Any other assertion is an extreme reach, in my opinion.

Dan Fincke: No, this is not an issue of “sexual prudery”. People have the right to autonomous control of their bodies and their sexual expression. If they have private nudes or other private materials of themselves having sex or otherwise sexually vulnerable, they have a right to control who has access to that. If they don’t make it public or want it public no one has any right to make it public against their consent. This transgresses their sexual autonomy. It’s not “prudery” that makes using people’s private naked pictures of other sexually charged material a special violation over and above theft. It’s respect for their ability to determine the terms on which they have sex. It’s not a liberated sexual attitude that says “strangers can download and gawk at or masturbate to your stolen nudes or sex tapes and you’re just a prude if you complain”. That’s using people sexually against their will. If you’re okay with being used like that that’s your business. If others knowingly decide to do nude or sexual art, knowing this risk, then that’s their business. But when people designate a particular expression of their nudity or sexual expression private (by not engaging in it publicly or willfully distributing it publicly), then they have a right to not have that expression used sexually against their will. They have a right not to have their private nude images or other private sexual expressions looked at against their will. And more than just “the original thief” are to blame. Everyone downloading the pictures for sexual titillation and gratification is responsible for violating the sexual will of the women in the photos. Those women have every moral right to feel violated by such use of their images.

The sexual exploitation, having their images taken advantage of as sex objects the world over, is a violation over and above the simple violations of privacy and thefts (bad as these things are).

Facebook User 12: “Nudes were released because some guy did some illegal shit. So what.” Tell us again why we don’t need to have this conversation. Clearly you’ve got some good insight on it. Sexual exploitation is not just about legality. You can sexually exploit somebody without it being a crime. And that’s what looking at the pictures is. It’s a moral issue. It’s morally wrong. Or ethically wrong maybe. It doesn’t have to be legally wrong to be ethically wrong.

Facebook User 13:Of course it’s possible to exploit someone you’ve never met; pedophiles do it online, slave labor (including children) mining for blood diamonds, child prostitution and sweat shops. They’re all cases of “exploiting someone you’ve never met”. Also, “funny” how all the photos are women; you want to tell me men celebs don’t take nudes of themselves? This wasn’t just some ‘accidental’ find.

Facebook User 14: “It’s impossible to sexually exploit someone you’ve never met.”

Only if you restrict the definition in funny ways. 
But I don’t see what you are going for, because my criticism of people looking for the photos isn’t primarily about legality. I also tell people its a bad idea to drink ten cans of beer a day, but that’s clearly legal.

Your Thoughts?

Follow Ups: How My Personal Sexual Evolution Makes Loathe Slut-Shaming and Victim Blaming and How To Create The Sexual Utopia.

Related: Vulnerability, Victim Blaming, and the Just World Fallacy

Browse Our Archives