It was nearly seven years ago that I read GW lawprof Dan Solove’s book, The Future of Reputation. After doing so, I sat down with my kids and had a nice talk about doing stupid things on the internet, and how that could come back to bite them in the butt later.
The upshot was to teach them to think ahead, to understand the potential unintended consequences of doing something that might seem cool or fun at the moment, but could have dire consequences later. The point was to protect their reputation in the future, despite whatever they felt like doing today.
As I read a BBC post promoting the revenge porn advocates’ efforts to get criminal laws enacted, a quote by a baby lawyer from Brooklyn was quite disconcerting:
Carrie Goldberg, who is based in Brooklyn, said she has been overwhelmed by the number of victims asking for help since she started her practice in January 2014.
“The response was immediate and unexpected,” she said.
“I’m getting calls daily from victims. Their ages range from as young as 13 to as old as 40.”
She added: “Sexting images is not exceptional behaviour anymore. It’s really, really common to take and send sexual images and it means more people are going to need protection from the law.”
She was likely too young to have read Dan’s book, but the ideas shouldn’t be foreign to any reasonably intelligent person. Rather than trying to help people to protect themselves from the harm of revenge porn, she was rationalizing sexting for 13-year-olds!
While I doubt greatly that it’s “really, really common,” for 13-year-olds to send nude images of themselves to others, this was one of the most irresponsible assertions imaginable. If she cared about “victims,” then she should be advocating for people not to engage in this behavior. Instead, she proclaimed it unexceptional, as if there is some moral imperative for people to send nude pictures of themselves to others.
In almost every discussion of revenge porn, someone will raise the point that if people didn’t send nude images to others, then they wouldn’t exist to be posted on the internet. This response has been castigated as “victim blaming,” a phrase that became prominent in rape cases where the rape victim was blamed for wearing clothing or behaving in a way that some saw as inviting sexual interest and thus explaining, if not justifying, subsequent unwanted conduct.
While the phrase still applies, the analogy doesn’t apply quite the same. Sending an intimate image to a person with whom an intimate relationship exists does not invite that person to use the image to harm the sender when the relationship ends. These are two entirely distinct acts, and the former neither causes nor justifies the latter.
Yet, by sending a naked pic, one creates an opportunity for harm that the victim of rape does not. This point was made in a post at The Spectator, that by making the choice to engage in a behavior that exposes someone to harm, one is exposed to harm.
I know I know, I’m being a prude. Filming yourselves having sex is just a really bloody normal and sexy thing for consenting adults to do now, like using dildos or wearing bondage gear. Get real man. The bad thing is not the act, but the publication of the material without consent — the breach of trust and so on.
More and more, we expect some official agency to restore our dignity by punishing those who humiliate us. But if you have allowed some creepy bloke (or girl) to turn you into an unwilling porn star, you probably deserve a fair share of the blame.
This post was swiftly branded “victim blaming” by the anti-revenge porn advocates. and while its language is coarse, its point is that if you don’t want to be the victim of revenge porn, protect yourself from the possibility of it happening.
Aside: While the Spectator post addresses the issue through a degree of humor, the self-righteous advocates not only find it unfunny, which is fine, but further use it as if it’s intended to be taken literally rather than as humorous. Another grave failure of credibility, that they deny to their detriment.
One might think that those engaged in advocating for criminal laws against posting naked images on the internet would also be advocating for people to use better judgment, to stop creating the weapon to be used against them. Instead, it’s just the opposite, arguing that it’s perfectly normal for 13-year-olds to send naked pictures of themselves to others. It’s nuts.
While they will no doubt claim this is “victim blaming,” as dissembling and attacking anyone who doesn’t support their quest to criminalize their enemies and any collateral casualties who are unfortunately in their way, it’s not.
This is victim proofing. This is warning people not to engage in conduct that lends itself to becoming the victim of revenge porn. This is Dan Solove’s warning seven years ago, that anything that can be posted on the internet will be posted on the internet, and that we need to get our heads out of our collective backsides and think before doing something that will come back to harm our reputations in the future.
The fact that those advocating for a new crime to stop revenge porn do not simultaneously advocate against sexting, and all the other variations of conduct that give rise to the harm they so zealously attack, reflects a hypocrisy that undermines their position. No, there is no cultural need to send intimate images. No, it is not “normal” for 13-year-olds to sext naked pictures. No, there is no compelling need to engage in conduct that lends itself to the harm about which you so fiercely complain that it’s worth sending people to prison.
Don’t send others nude images. Don’t let others take nude images of you. Protect yourself from the potential for harm. This isn’t to blame you for doing something foolish, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And as long as the anti-revenge porn advocates continue to promote the normalcy of engaging in risky and foolish conduct, they are irresponsible hypocrites. They are part of the problem, and deserve to be blamed.
Update: Is this plain hypocrisy or something more malevolent? The answer, just like the error, is that these things are not mutually exclusive.
Yes, it is the sexting, as well as the exploitation, and when you cry to criminalize the outcome, remember that you could have done something to save a person from the harm and didn’t.