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What We REALLY Mean When We Talk About Leaked Pics

A few days ago, the naked, personal photos of over 100 celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande were published to the Internet without consent from the people pictured. A few of the celebrities have responded (they're not happy!) and most of the pictures have since been taken down, but you can still probably find them by Googling "Hello, I'm kind of a shitty person, give me something that does not legally belong to me as quickly as possible."

Before we get into this, here's a point of order regarding language that I'd like to address: I'm going to be making a concerted effort to use the word "stolen," instead of "leaked" when I talk about these photos and "women" instead of "celebrity" or "A-List Stars" when I talk about the victims. Also, I'm going to use the word "victim," because what we're talking about is a crime.

I don't know enough about hacking to explain how the breach happened (something involving iCloud and, if I let my movie imagination run wild, mainframes, algorithms, and swordfish), but I have been really interested in the different ways people are reacting to the news. Every time a scandal like this takes place, the same kinds of conversations start popping up over the Internet, and they're always sort of missing the point. I just want to help us be absolutely clear about what we're really talking about when we're talking about naked celebrities, so let's get into the most common responses.

"If You Don't Want People to See You Naked, Don't Take Naked Pictures!"

Stolen naked pictures and videos being posted on the Internet isn't a new story. We've seen it before and, while the players always change (today it's Kate Upton, last year it was Scarlett Johansson) and some of the specifics vary (the sheer volume of this particular breach was astounding), the game stays the same. Every time a naked woman's selfie gets stolen and published and the woman in question is super bummed about it, the Internet responds the same way: "If you don't want people to see you naked, don't take naked pictures."

That's Larry Wachs, the host of a radio show I really look forward to never listening to for the rest of my life. He's responding to Mary Elizabeth Winstead, one of the victims, by calling her a dummy. Winstead took private pictures for her husband years ago and then deleted them from all of her devices, and then someone found them and posted them on the Internet. What a dummy, right?!

That's a random sampling of strangers on Twitter who can be found by searching the phrase "stop taking nude pictures."

And that's, oh man, Ricky Gervais? Dammit.

Some people use this refrain to sit in holier-than-thou judgment ("Serves you right. No one will ever see pictures of MY butt on the Internet, because I'm so careful and smart and restrained that I've never even BEEN naked."). Still, some other people use it to justify the fact that they looked at the stolen pictures in the first place. It's a sneaky way to distance yourself from the problem: "I'm not the kind of perverted guy who would peek into a woman's window while she was showering or spy on women going to the bathroom, but if you are stupid and trampy enough to have ever taken a naked picture in your life, sure I'll look at it. But, ugh, do you have any with, like, better lighting?"

When you use this argument, here is what you're really saying:

Person A owned a thing. Person B stole it. Let's all blame person A for having the audacity to own a thing in the first place.

You can dress it up however you want, but at the end of the day this argument blames the victim for a crime that someone else committed. When I was in college and living in an area that wasn't the greatest, someone broke into my car and stole a massive binder containing all of my CDs (and if the thief is reading this, I sincerely hope the mixed CDs I made to get over my ex-girlfriend have brought you a level of peace that I have still never achieved, having been forced to go through all of that grieving without appropriate musical accompaniment).


Oh, and I'm also sorry I owned a Linkin Park CD. There's really no excuse for that.

At the time, none of my friends said, "Hey, that's unfortunate, but really you never should have had all of those CDs in the first place. I get that you kept them locked up in your car but, honestly, everyone KNOWS that you have them, so it was really only a matter of time before some clever person figured out how to 'share' them." Most of my friends were like, "That sucks. Thieves are bad!"

Blaming me for being robbed would have been absurd, but for some reason everyone seems to forget that when it comes to stolen photos.

It's also an attack on women

Hey, look! This argument even has some bonus subtext! If we want to get even more real, this argument blames women specifically for taking pride in their own sexuality. And, yes, this is an issue specific to women; there likely won't be a public-shaming of men who take naked selfies, because those aren't the pictures that hackers are going to track down and share publicly. If you don't think men take just as many, if not more, naked selfies as women, than you've probably never been on OKCupid, a dating website where women have to regularly beg strangers not to send them unsolicited dick pictures. We're living in a world where men take pictures of their dicks so often that women reflexively know to say, "Hey, before we start talking I just want you to know: PLEASE don't send me your dick unless I ask for it."

Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"And even if I do ask for it, I probably wouldn't be bummed if you just forgot to send it."

But no enterprising hacker-thieves are working through the night to track down Tom Cruise's penis or Will Smith's balls or John C. Reilly's butthole. I know that one of the stolen pictures in this most recent breach was of a man, and he is also a victim in this massive scandal. But I also know that no one was frantically Googling "Justin Verlander nude" this weekend, and that most of the people who saw Verlander naked only saw him as a side effect of seeing Kate Upton naked. The majority of the naked pictures that get stolen and posted to the Internet are of women, and when that happens, the Internet blames the women for taking pictures in the first place (after, of course, they look over every single one of those pictures).

hjalmeida/iStock/Getty Images
"Ugh, this is just so shameful. So, so shameful. I can't even stop looking at how shameful."

This is the cycle, and it is toxic. A person -- any person -- has a right to take a naked picture of him- or herself and share it with another consenting adult without the risk of having their privacy invaded by millions of strangers. Americans agree, which is why sexting activity has been steadily increasing across all age demographics since 2012, including the taking and sharing of naked selfies. We just choose to forget how common this is becoming as soon as it's time for a good ol' fashioned public shaming.

But that's just one of the common responses...

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Daniel O'Brien

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