In a new project with Dylan Mulvin, we explore how a reliance on consent—in sex and in data—can fail to prevent harm or achieve justice. Here’s a 5-minute summary of one of the key ideas we plan to explore in that book, for a CSCW 2022 panel:
Just out, a new article I wrote for Teen Vogue on revenge porn: “What to Do If You’re a Victim of Revenge Porn.”
Lisa Damour writes in the NYT this week that we shouldn’t just tell girls not to share images–we should also tell boys not to ask for them.
I appreciate the gender equity in how she frames the problem:
That our focus has been so preponderantly on the sending, not requesting, of sexts underscores the exact problem we need to address. We accept and perpetuate the boys-play-offense and girls-play-defense framework because it is so atmospheric as to be almost invisible.
But this article implies that sexting is typically (or even, always?) damaging and coercive. Certainly, lots of people (up to 40% of women in some studies) have experienced coerced sexual contact. Researchers call this “consensual unwanted sex.” And it’s definitely a problem in sexting too. Sexual coercion–online and in-person–is a massive cultural problem that we need to address.
Yes, we should urge everyone not to pressure their partners into to have sex. But no one who’s interested in effective public health policy suggests that educators and parents should also urge all women to avoid sex entirely as a viable solution to sexual coercion.
If we look at the stats, heterosexual relationships are quite dangerous for women–indeed, about as dangerous as sexting, statistically–so perhaps women should just abstain from them entirely? Perhaps the lesbian separatists of the 1970s were on to something.
The alternative is to create educational programs that teach teens how to say “yes” and “no” to sexting, how to recognize their own needs and autonomy, and crucially, how to communicate with and respect their partners.
It troubles me that Damour suggests we should teach teens “not to ask” for photos. Because the vital skill teens need to learn is the difference between “asking” and “coercing.” Until boys and men are taught about consent — how to ask and communicate without pressure or manipulation — in a serious and sustained way, the sexual assault epidemic will continue.
Check out the video from my talk at “The Conference” in Malmo, Sweden, September 4, 2017. In this talk, I focus on how designing small barriers in apps and platforms for content distribution might help us do a better job of respecting each other’s privacy.
Here’s my talk from TEDxVienna last month. For the paper this is based on, click here.
Non-consensually recorded and non-consensually posted pictures and video of people in sexual situations may be frequently called “revenge porn,” but they are very different from the way the actual porn industry operates. I perform in commercial porn with high production values, porn in which stacks of paperwork — including model releases and 2257 compliance documentation — confirm the age, identity, and legal consent of the performers to both the recording and distribution of the resulting product.
Professional adult entertainment, though often maligned and defined by its worst iterations — like the dramatized biographies based on the stories of Linda Lovelace and Traci Lords — is largely an industry where consent is absolutely necessary. This is not to say that it is a utopia full of sunshine and vulva daisies — it isn’t — but it most certainly requires consent, consent that may be given based on a variety of reasons, from the desire to indulge an exhibitionistic streak to calculations that balance the pressures of economic necessity against willingness to work in a stigmatized and sometimes risky field.
I like her idea to hold websites that host nonconsensual sexual images to the same standard that the law holds for consensual, legal pornography:
It’s terrible to see women who don’t wish to be seen naked in public forced into navigating the stigma associated with visible, public record of their sexuality. And I’m happy to see Twitter and Reddit finally taking steps to curtail this violation of privacy. But I think executives at these companies can do a little better than just allowing users to report violations of their updated terms of service: They should require proof of consent before a nude image is posted, period.
“We need to shift discourse away from discussing sexual and suggestive photos as inappropriate and abnormal, and rather focus on the inappropriate acts of sharing. This not only places blame back where it belongs – on those violating privacy – but also moves away from discourse that demonizes expressions of sexuality; instead we ought to approach sexually suggestive and explicit pictures as part of normal sexual expression, exploration, and intimacy.”
— Jacqueline Ryan Vickery, “Oh Snap! Stop Shaming the Sext“
A lot has been written about Jian Ghomeshi in the last 5 days.
4 6 8 women have stated that Ghomeshi, a Canadian radio celebrity, sexually and physically abused them.
Many have reacted by saying: finally. Finally everyone knows now what kind of person he is. This excellent article, “Do you know about Jian” explains how and why people keep this kind of open secret about abusive men.
Many BDSM practitioners have denounced Ghomeshi’s claims that he’s being persecuted simply for being kinky. When 8 women have come forward to say they’ve been abused or harassed that means we can be pretty certain that the person is a predator, not a maligned kinkster. As sexgeek explains:
Face-punching and choking to the point of unconsciousness are absolutely some people’s kinks. But even among seasoned BDSM players, these acts are widely understood to be things you must do only with the most carefully negotiated consent, with a goodly amount of education and practice, and with the knowledge that they are highly risky. Beginner BDSM this is not. … Ghomeshi’s argument that what he does is a “mild version of Fifty Shades of Grey” does not match up with his apparent practice of engaging in very high-risk activities with women he’s just beginning to date.
California just passed a new law (that applies to most college campuses) that defines sexual assault as a lack of affirmative consent. That means consent cannot be assumed from a person’s silence or intoxication. Thomas Millar at Yes Means Yes recently posted an extensive analysis of the law. In Canada, this same basic model has defined sexual assault in federal criminal law since the early 1990s. (It gets a lot right in theory, but in practice many prosecutors, judges, and juries still rely on racist and sexist rape myths). Around the same time, Antioch College was nationally ridiculed for mandating a policy of explicit verbal consent. In 1993 the New York Times was sympathetic to the effort but cautioned:
To people used to associating sex with romance and romance with mystery, these guidelines look stifling. Each and every time? … Adolescents will always make mistakes — sometimes serious ones. Telling them what’s unacceptable, in no uncertain terms, is fine. But legislating kisses won’t save them from themselves.
More than 20 years later, I can see some real progress in the NYT’s reaction:
[The new California law] is not radical. Its underlying message is that silence does not necessarily equal consent, and that it’s better to be certain that sex is desired than to commit assault. Sexual assault is rampant on campuses, and colleges have failed to respond adequately. “Yes means yes” won’t make these problems disappear. But the new standard is worth trying.
So, twenty years from skepticism about “legislating kisses” to “this is worth trying.” As Millar writes:
This Is Not A Revolution In Practice (But I Can See It From Here)