Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Jennifer Lawrence poses at the premiere of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" in Los Angeles, California November 18, 2013. (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
Jennifer Lawrence poses at the premiere of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" in Los Angeles, California November 18, 2013. (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

Leak of nude photos a sex crime, not a scandal Add to ...

When private nude photographs of the actress Jennifer Lawrence were stolen from iCloud and leaked on the Internet earlier this week, there was much speculation on Twitter over what her reaction would be. Would she get all high-horsey like George Clooney and start banging on about her right to privacy? Or would she stay cool by laughing it off with a wisecrack because, hey, she looked great and one can’t take this stuff too seriously, right? JLaw is a famously easy-going actress, after all. A famously easy-going actress with nudie pics hacked from supposedly secure digital files. What else can a laid-back, globally famous, female sex symbol expect?

In the carefully chosen words of @mattyamazing: “Knowing [my perception] of Jennifer Lawrence I feel like she will own it and be like I’m hot and have an Oscar so suck it.”

Unfortunately for @mattyamazing and the many JLaw fanemies who urged her to “own it,” the actress chose to get righteously angry and – with the help of the authorities – to get even. Earlier this week Lawrence’s publicist Liz Mahoney confirmed that the FBI and Apple are investigating the hack job, which is believed to be the biggest celebrity photo leak in history – other victims include the model Kate Upton, Kim Kardashian and the actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead (all, incidentally, women). In 2012, a similar hacker who leaked private nudes of Scarlett Johannson and Mila Kunis was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

And rightly so, because these photo leaks aren’t sex scandals. They’re sex crimes.

“This is a flagrant violation of privacy,” Mahoney said in a statement. “The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence.”

Some critics complained that JLaw’s reaction was out of character. She’s the cool chick, the fun one, the girl who’s so confident she waves her bingo wings for a laugh on the Oscar carpet. But here’s the thing: While she might own her own fame, we (the public) don’t own her body just because she’s famous. If she chooses to show it to us (as she did under blue body paint in the X-Men movies), then that’s her choice – in the same way it’s a woman’s choice to walk out of the house wearing whatever she pleases. To say that Lawrence ought to “own” the digital sex crime against her just because she’s a hot movie star is like telling a rape victim to own her assault because she put on a cute dress and went to a party.

It’s fascinating, this whole notion of “owning” things on the Internet – and I’m not even talking about piracy and intellectual property theft, which is a whole other basket of snakes. When we click on things that we shouldn’t click on, when we watch things out of lurid curiosity knowing that their very existence is a violation of the subject’s privacy and dignity, and of our own integrity, that is exactly what we are doing – we are owning those images, whether we admit it or not. We are in effect buying what the criminals who posted them are selling.

That is the crucial exchange; not the theft itself, but the exposition of private images in public. If no one looks, no one is actually exposed. Whether it’s the video of American journalist James Foley’s execution, child porn or a starlet’s topless selfie, to look is to participate in the crime that brought the image before your very eyes.

And the criminals, be they Islamic State terrorists waving the black flag across Syria and northern Iraq or some pervy teen in his parents’ basement, are essentially delivering the same message. The message is simple: Look. Whatever feelings or opinions you might form after you do (disgust, moral outrage, titillation, etc.) don’t matter. By the time you’ve looked, the criminals have already won. Their ploy has worked. It’s like Pandora’s box: You can’t unlook. And so they will steal and post again. It really is that simple.

As you may have guessed by now, I didn’t watch the Foley video or scan the Lawrence nude pics. I don’t want a medal for this, because it wasn’t difficult to resist – and I’m a person who writes about culture and current events, which means I could have made the argument (if only to myself) that I “needed” to look. But I didn’t need to look. Jennifer Lawrence had been violated, and poor James Foley had been brutally murdered.

Lena Dunham, a woman who knows a thing or two about having people look at her naked, summed it up well when she tweeted: “The way in which you share your body must be a CHOICE. Support these women and do not look at these pictures.” And later: “Remember, when you look at these pictures, you are violating these women again and again. It’s not okay.”

What these stolen and criminally disseminated images should evoke in us – beyond mere curiosity – is outrage. Outrage that our digital public space, a space we all share and live in together, is also being used to violate, humiliate and even murder. We need to take responsibility for our Internet just like we take responsibility for our backyards and neighbourhoods. It belongs to us. Own it.

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular