catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 24 :: 2013.12.27 — 2014.01.09


Viewing the whole person

Charlotte Laws is known as the Erin Brockovich of “revenge porn.”  In her recent article on, Laws explains that revenge porn is “the online distribution of nude and topless photos without consent in an effort to humiliate and hurt their targets, who are mostly female.”  A photo can hit 200-300 websites in a day.  Sometimes the photos were sent privately to a partner, and posted publicly in revenge after the relationship ended.  Or the photos are hacked, meaning they were on someone’s private drive.  Other photos are Photoshopped, putting a head on a nude body.  Laws writes,

In October 2011, my 24-year-old daughter Kayla was alone in her bedroom, emulating poses from fashion magazines. She snapped over 100 cute and sexy pictures in the mirror with her cell phone. One shot revealed her left breast. She never intended to show the pictures to anyone, but wanted to save them on her hard drive. She forwarded the entire lot from her cell phone to her email and then to her computer. Three months later on January 1, 2012, her email was hacked; and nine days after that, the photo revealing her left breast appeared on the notorious revenge porn website, Is Anyone Up?

Charlotte Laws found the owner of that site, an Internet predator named Hunter Moore.  When he refused to take down the photos after many requests, she didn’t stop.  Her daughter was a victim, so she gathered reams of evidence, convinced the FBI to take the case, got her lawyer husband involved and reached out to other victims.   Well done, and bravely done.  The FBI case remains open, the website is down (though there are many others), and Laws and her family are dealing with threats and harassment from the man and his followers.

As I was thinking about this article, I wondered if we, as a society, could reach out to the victims, too.  We could do it with the attitudes we model.  If I see nude pictures of friends or co-workers, I don’t have to judge them.  It’s really as simple as that.  I can admit that it’s uncomfortable to see them, to be confronted with a sexual presentation of this person with whom I’ve shared only coffee and chit-chat before.  I can also admit that I knew they had a body (though the body in the picture may well belong to another person — thank you, Photoshop). I know their bodies do many wonderful things — hold babies, feed pets, carry backpacks full of books, make food, wash dishes, lie on the sofa, run out to the mailbox.  If the victim is a woman, I know that she has breasts — breasts that could feed a baby, breasts that may ache at certain times during her cycle.  I know the people in my life have genitals, that their bodies get rid of waste the same as mine does, and thank goodness they do.  And yes, I know they probably have sexual feelings, and they act on them, in the very human pursuit of finding intimacy and love, in the very human pursuit of creating new life.  

It’s not my business to think about them that way, and so I don’t.  That’s true whether I’ve seen them naked or not.  That’s true whether they were hacked or not, whether their pictures have been Photoshopped or not.  It’s not my business, and I don’t have to shame them, and I can reach out as a fellow human who also has a body and say, “Yeah, I’m sorry that happened, but you’re still the same to me.”

I am curious about that shame reaction, where it comes from and how it plays out.  Once I was at a church picnic with my young son, and the youth pastor grabbed my ass.  I couldn’t believe it at first — nothing seemed real in that moment.  In fact, for just an instant, my vision blurred and my hearing shut down, which is the body’s response to extreme confusion and stress. In an instant I didn’t understand or process, I had to respond, so I laughed it off.  

After I had my son safely buckled in the car, away from others — that’s when I cried in shame, wondering what I had done to make him think that was okay in the first place. The fact is, I had done nothing wrong.  I had been polite to him because he was my neighbor’s youth pastor.  I had been much more attentive to my son because he was my main concern.

My shame was lightning-quick and embedded right into that first instant of unreality.  My shame also contained some of the magical thinking of children.  I wondered, could he see something dirty in me, something that made me different from the other mothers?   Was this a judgment on me?

I am human and I have a sexual life. I’ve had lots of thoughts, questions and fantasies about sex, all of which have led me to know myself better.  That’s given me a base from which to relate to my husband better, and to relate to my children better as they explore their full identities, including their sexual identities.  I have richer relationships of all sorts, with more kindness and compassion to give to others, because I am a sexual being, able to be vulnerable.  

Magical thinking aside, it wouldn’t have mattered if that youth pastor had seen something “dirty” — i.e., something sexual — in me or not.  It wouldn’t have mattered if he could see my past, my thoughts, my fantasies (which, I can assure you, did not include him).  I am human, and having a sexual life is part of that difficult and complicated journey — nothing more or less.  Even if he could see my worst thoughts or actions, it gave him no right to judge me, and certainly no right to grab me.

It is the same with Internet victims.  I wonder if part of their shame, and the shame of others on their behalf, is that a photo — real or faked, posted with consent or hacked — shows something that hints at the truth.  That person is a sexual being, though usually in private, and at appropriate times with appropriate people.  (And privacy and appropriateness are wonderful things!) That person is a sexual being, and that’s okay.  

Instead of judging and adding to their shame (which seems to come unbidden and full-force anyway), we could say, “Yeah, I’m sorry that happened because it’s private.  But we all have bodies, and the adults among us know what sex is, and this is human, and it’s okay.  You’re still the same to me.”

Couldn’t we?

My hope is that we will not fear sharing regular photos online with our friends and families because our head might be Photoshopped onto a nude body.  My hope is that we don’t scare our children into never playing with the art of photography because they might be hacked.  I hope we remember to blame the predators, not the victims.  I hope we can take at least some of the power of shame away from the predators.

My biggest hope is for the victims and the people in their lives.  My hope is that they can all walk away with their heads held high and their hands held in each other’s.  My hope is that they can walk away from these photos, these predators, this shaming, and that they can walk into a greater acceptance of their full selves.  

Big changes can be brought about by slight shifts in imagination.  What would this kind of acceptance do as we connect as people who are straight/gay/trans, male/female, parents/children, oppressors/victims, independent/dependent? 

How about you?  What do you see in this story?  What do you hope for?

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