You’ve probably taken a risqué photo of yourself before.

In our age of rapidly-advancing technology, nudes are the new locks of hair. Cosmopolitan.com once did a survey of 850 readers and found that 89% of them had taken nudes at some point in their lives. For most women, they’re useful for long-distance relationships, or for gaining self-confidence. For most women, nudes are a power tool. But imagine that these images of your naked body have been stolen from your phone and distributed to possible millions of people, and they either want to criticize you or masturbate to you.

Welcome to the evil world of revenge porn.

On August 31st of last year, over 500 nudes belonging to celebrities were stolen and released online. Though the FBI quickly dealt with them, the damage was done, and many people had already viewed the photos. One of the victims, The Hunger Games actress Jennifer Lawrence, described to Vanity Fair trying to write a statement after the incident: “Every single thing that I tried to write made me cry or get angry. I started to write an apology, but I don’t have anything to say I’m sorry for. I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”

More and more celebrities are getting scantily-clad in music videos or filming sex scenes in movies. They share risqué pics on Instagram and do tasteful nude photoshoots with professional photographers. Celebrities are becoming increasingly comfortable with sharing their bodies with their audience, so the question remains: what makes their leaked nudes so appealing?

When a famous artist posts the #booty for her fans, it often garners a fair amount of derogatory comments telling her to cover up, calling her a gross slut, and offering her the age-old advice of the internet: “Have some self-respect.” (This is usually said by people who don’t seem to understand that women can respect themselves while still showing off their bodies.) But when the same artist is the victim of a phone hacker who then distributes her most intimate photos on the web, suddenly it goes viral and earns a gross name like ‘the Fappening’ focusing on the millions of creepy men who will inevitably masturbate to those stolen pics.

The double standard men have been posing as a response to any kind of photo leak is head-spinning. “If you didn’t want those photos leaked to the world in the first place, you shouldn’t have taken them.” “Use a little common sense here; in a way, it’s your own fault that it happened.” But where would these gracious men be without (consensual) nudes, especially when men are often the ones begging for them while their own surplus of dick-pics goes unwanted? You may think that reaction would only come from the Cheeto-stained fingers of lonely basement-dwelling men, but the scary reality is that it can come from any gender, and it can come from the only people who can help revenge porn victims.

In 2010, the now-defunct revenge porn site Is Anyone Up? proved that sharing stolen nudes was never about anything other than fear and humiliation. Site owner Hunter Moore pathologically collected private photos submitted by followers, along with the victim’s personal information (including their full name, place of employment, and house address). He encouraged followers to stalk or verbally abuse the victims, and he encouraged the victims to commit suicide. Charlotte Laws, the mother of one such victim, fought back. When Laws and her daughter went to the LAPD, they were met with a female detective who asked Laws’ daughter, “Why would you take a picture like this if you didn’t want it on the internet?” Laws took up their case with the FBI instead.

It may be called “revenge porn,” but there’s nothing pornographic (or justifiably vengeful) about it: it has everything to do with the thrill of exploitation.

Two cases in particular stand out from the rest. One features 15-year-old Audrie Pott from Saratoga, California, a bright student struggling with body image issues. The other, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia—an animal lover with a big heart. Both were regarded as kind and sensitive by their peers.

Both of these girls are dead. They were both sexually assaulted and their rapists put the photos and videos of the events on the internet. They were then tormented by their peers, and it led each girl to commit suicide in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Two beautiful young girls never got the chance to live their lives, let alone even graduate from high school, because of revenge porn. Though the term “revenge porn” suggests the criminal committing the act is avenging something, it never justifies the horrible price paid by each victim.

People who haven’t been personally affected by revenge porn need to sit down and understand the amount of pain and destruction it can cause—and more importantly, do their part to get photos taken down and not go looking for them. Lawrence spoke about her frustration with people who did just that. “Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense. You should cower with shame. Even people who I know and love say, ‘Oh, yeah, I looked at the pictures.’ I don’t want to get mad, but at the same time I’m thinking, I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body.” It’s important to remember that even if you know someone or have previously seen their body, it’s still not okay to view or share their nudes without their permission, whether you mean it maliciously or not.

The popularity of Is Anyone Up? or its short-lived successor IsAnybodyDown, and unrelated websites like Texxan.com and MyEx.com speaks to just how insidious this phenomenon is. It gives a platform for scorned, massively entitled Internet users to embarrass and shame their victims. It’s long since taken on a dangerous form offline, even getting innocent people fired from their jobs or stalked just because they had the audacity to feel good about themselves.

If you stand around telling people to lighten up because “it’s just a joke,” make sure you spare a thought for the innocent people who get their bodies and their identities dragged through the mud. If you Google someone’s stolen nudes and then laugh it off because you didn’t actually do anything “wrong,” think of the people who will now have trust issues because their peers didn’t respect their privacy enough to leave the photos alone. 

If you try to downplay revenge porn because it’s “not as bad as some other things in the world” and “there are worse things than having people appreciate your body”... just remember Audrie and Rehtaeh.


Editor's Note: Thankfully, there are various organizations dedicated to the stop of revenge porn. We are more than happy to list some of the programs that addresses revenge porn head on. Please visit the following if you would like some more information: Audrie Pott FoundationRehtaeh Parsons Society, End Revenge Porn, and Women Against Revenge Porn.

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