Why calling stolen celebrity nudes a ‘leak’ is wrong

BY Corinne Segal  September 1, 2014 at 5:44 PM EDT
Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage

Jennifer Lawrence, seen here at the Academy Awards in March, has called for an investigation into the theft and distribution of her personal photos. Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage

A hacker posted pictures of nude female celebrities without their consent on Sunday, prompting a call for a change in how we talk about the hacking of personal photos.

The photos, which the perpetrator posted on popular photo-sharing site 4Chan, purport to show dozens of female celebrities naked. Several women, including Ariana Grande and Victoria Justice, have denied that the photos depict them, but actress Mary E. Winstead confirmed that the photos of her are not fabricated.

“To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves,” Winstead tweeted.

Hundreds of headlines have called the event a “scandal” and a “leak,” but these words imply that victims are to blame for the photos going public, critics have argued.

“The theft via cell phone hacking of countless nude photos, real or doctored, of various female celebrities is not a ‘scandal’ to be mocked and teased about as if it were a public wardrobe malfunction or a gaffe … It is a crime that has turned the entire online community into potential peeping Toms,” Forbes writer Scott Mendelson wrote.

Writer Jessica Valenti said that the public reaction to the photos shows that many people consider women’s bodies public property.

“The underlying premise is that these women have consented to being there for public entertainment — whether they like it or not,” she wrote in The Atlantic.

Jennifer Lawrence, another reported victim of the hack, has called for an investigation into how the photos were stolen. This release of celebrity photos is the latest high-profile instance of the distribution of stolen private nude photography, also sometimes referred to as “revenge porn.”

Anti-revenge porn legislation gained prominence in 2012 after federal officials charged Hunter Moore and Charles Evens for hacking women’s email accounts, stealing nude pictures and posting them on the site “Is Anyone Up?” The now-closed site posted the names and personal information of the women in the photos — in some cases, it posted their addresses. Moore was indicted in January and faces up to 42 years in prison.

Eleven states have enacted laws against revenge porn, including California, where many of the recent hack’s victims live.

But critics of the California law say that it is insufficient to address many instances of revenge porn. The law does not ban distributing “selfie” photos and requires proof that a person posted the images with the intent to cause emotional distress in the victim.

Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami who has helped draft anti-revenge porn legislation, released a set of recommendations in July for lawmakers who are addressing similar bills.