Clem Ford's Facebook post in response to comments on Sunrise blaming victims of the nude photo leak. Photo: Facebook
On Thursday, news broke that a US-based website had succeeded in stealing the private nude photographs of hundreds of South Australian women. The criminal behind the hack is predictably unapologetic about the raid, claiming "you cannot do anything to stop us". It's believed that some of the photographs were stolen while others were submitted by ex partners to produce what has become known as 'revenge porn'.
You'd think that such an issue would be a no brainer. You'd think that we wouldn't have to fight for people to be on the side of victims of crime. You'd think that by the year 2015, we would have learned to be better than this. Alas, another day, another case of retrosexist media organisations victim blaming the female targets of sexual assault.
In a since deleted Facebook post, Channel Seven's Sunrise page introduced the topic by asking, "What's it going to take for women to get the message about taking and sending nude photos?" You know, just in case you'd forgotten that it's the responsibility of women to modify their behaviour to prevent other people from making the choice to exploit, harass and assault them. After an almost immediate backlash, the post was removed and replaced with the marginally less troubling, "A stern warning for people who share risque photos online..." Note how the the warnings and admonishments are still directed at the victims of crime and not the perpetrators of it.
I have spent a good chunk of my career fighting against the practice of victim blaming. I'm a passionate defender of women's rights to live free from sexual degradation, shame and assault. When I condemn victim blaming, I'm condemning a culture which sees men as base creatures unable to control themselves and not fully formed human beings capable of making healthy, respectful decisions. And yet, when I write about these issues and demand that we all try to be better than this, I'm accused of being a man hater who tars all men with the same brush.
No. I know that men can be good, respectful and kind people who treat women with the dignity that should be afforded to all human beings. I know this because I have seen evidence of it. I see the goodness in men. I experience it in my own life and I witness it in the change I see in men who take the time to listen to what I have to say. When we ask, 'well, what did she expect?' when addressing sexual assault (and stealing private photographs for the purpose of humiliating and sexually degrading women is assault), we are implicitly defending the actions of criminals who have been empowered by the general disregard society has for women's rights to sexual liberty and freedom.
After thinking about it for an hour or so, I decided to use the power of social media to make a statement. My reasons for this were twofold. Firstly, I wanted to oppose the message of victim blaming that forms so much of our social narratives about crimes against women's bodies. But secondly, I wanted to show solidarity to every woman who has been made to feel afraid or ashamed for engaging in a form of intimacy that should be bound by trust and respect but instead was marked by betrayal. From experience, I know that one of the biggest contributors to women's silence is the desperation and fear that comes from feeling you are alone in your pain, and that speaking out will only invite more people to ridicule and judge you. I lived in that world for a long time, and I'm never going back to it.
So with the help of a friend, I wrote a simple and to-the-point message across my chest. I then took a semi-nude photograph of myself (semi-nude because there was no actual visual nudity in it, only the suggestion of it) and uploaded it to my public Facebook page. An abridged version of my adjoining post follows:
I have taken nude photos of myself and sent them to lovers. I've taken nude photos of myself when I'm bored. I've taken nude photos just because I have a smart phone and it's fun. None of that means I have asked for my privacy to be violated, my photos stolen and my very self made available for public humiliation and judgment. Consent is everything.
When Channel 7's Sunrise asks 'when will women learn' instead of 'why do men continue to view women as objects they can defile and violate while the world watches and tut-tuts', they are victim blaming. They are saying it's the responsibility of victims of crime and assault to prevent it and not the responsibility of society to make such crimes intolerable and unacceptable.
When will women learn? Learn what? That our bodies do not belong to us? That we have no right to determine who sees those bodies, touches those bodies, f---s those bodies, and shares in those bodies? Honey, we don't need to learn that. We already know the answer. We don't have those rights. We are not allowed to be the masters of ourselves, only the gatekeepers.
Consent is what happens when you give permission. Theft and assault is what happens when people take it from you despite you saying no.
Like I said, I have taken nude photos and I have chosen who gets to see them. That doesn't make me a fool or 'asking for trouble' or somehow deserving of assault. It means that I expect they'll be kept private and treated as personal. It means that I expect to live in a world where sexual predators, revenge pornographers and misogynists aren't defended on morning television shows while their victims are demonised as having made a mistake.
Within minutes, the post completely exploded. Less than 24 hours later, it has had over 140,000 likes and been shared almost 30,000 times. There are over 13,000 comments on it, many of them supportive but equally as many of them rude, aggressive and misogynist in nature. My body has been criticised, my mental capacity called into question and my looks denigrated. I have been called a mutt, a feral slut and a whore. Dozens of men have messaged me requesting or demanding that I send them nude photographs while others have messaged to let me know how repulsive they find me.
Despite this, the photograph and post will remain published for the public to see, even though there is a part of me that thinks it might be easier and less exhausting to take the whole thing down. Because there have been other messages too, from both women and men. People who, like me, want to see us living in a better world. A world where intimacy and trust are not seen as mutually exclusive, a world where men aren't publicly provided with excuses for violating women and where the capacity of men to love, respect and honour their partners is accepted not just as possible but as the blueprint for male behaviour.
I'm not ashamed of my body, even though there are thousands of people who tell me that I should be. I'm not ashamed of owning my sexuality, even though people want me and every other woman to relinquish power over it. Most of all, I'm not ashamed of having built relationships with men that are defined by trust and love, and being able to explore the intimacy that's made possible because of those things.
The only thing that would make me feel ashamed would be staying silent. It can be hard to remain energised in the face of such overwhelming hostility. But the more of us who speak, the easier it will be to drown out the voices of those people who want to remain entrenched in a past defined by the fear and control of something they cannot and will not try to understand.