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.
One of the main arguments for decriminalizing consensual teen sexting (with age spans) is that it would prevent victims from being charged. District Attorneys and others who are opposed to this change often claim that law enforcement would never do such a thing, so therefore no legal reform is needed.
This 2016 report on on “sextortion” from the Crimes Against Children Research Center provides new evidence that teenage victims of privacy violations (or threats, or other related harassment) are indeed sometimes threatened with prosecution under child pornography laws:
When victims were minors, perpetrators were often breaking criminal laws about the production or distribution of child pornography, but respondents feared they were vulnerable to criminal charges also. Some respondents [victims of “sextortion”] who described incidents that occurred when they were minors had been threatened with charges or blamed. So in many cases described in the survey, perpetrators were shielded from criminal consequences and respondents had little support from authorities. (p. 55)
Some examples from this survey:
“I was the one who ended up getting in legal trouble since I was the one who sent it.” Female, 16, f2f
“I was told I could be held responsible for making and distributing child pornography.” Female, 14, f2f
“The police threatened to bring me up on charges of distribution of child pornography.” Female, 17, online
“My boyfriend sent my whole family and his friends and my friends the photo. [My family and I] tried to press charges [and get a restraining order against him]. Him and I both looked at jail time, fines, and having to register as a sex offender for ‘child pornography’ since we were both under 18. Luckily, the state [did not press charges].” Female, 15, f2f
“I feel really intensely angry that you can get in legal trouble for sending naked pictures of YOURSELF when under 18. You literally can be charged as a sex offender for it, which is so incredibly wrong because I was the victim. All that law does is protect abusers…” Female, 17, online (p. 52)
The report makes this important recommendation for law enforcement:
[A]s with other sexual assault victims, police need to be trained to focus on perpetrator behavior to avoid exacerbating the sense of shame and self-blame that many victims feel.
In addition, law enforcement agencies need to review policies that lead them to charge young victims of sextortion with child pornography offenses or threaten to do so. Such policies, or victims’ fears of such policies, appeared to deter police reporting of perpetrators who victimized minors and increase the distress of victims who felt they could not get justice. (p. 63)
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.
Our current system of data privacy is based on a fundamental flaw. We are all supposed to be solely responsible for our personal information, but at the same time we are all part of a social network of family, friends and services with whom we are expected to share.
Our data systems ask us to be individually responsible but fail to account for how and why we share data with each other. They assume our data is personal, when in reality it is interpersonal. We are caught between opting out entirely and managing an impossible number of changing services with finesse. We do all this with our most important relationships at stake.
An article I wrote with Tamara Shepherd was published this week in the International Journal of Communication. In our study, “Sexting in Context: Privacy Norms and Expectations,” we used surveys and focus groups to study young adults’ beliefs about privacy in sexting scenarios. We found that that a large majority of respondents thought that sharing private images was never or rarely OK. Any tolerance our respondents had for privacy violations was dependent on the type of relationship between the sender and the recipient and the method of image sharing (off-line or online).
This morning my facebook filter bubble is full of impassioned articles defending Jennifer Lawrence and criticizing the victim-blaming attitudes that have emerged in response to the iCloud hack. On balance, it feels like maybe we’re maybe getting somewhere with understanding how to talk about and develop ideas of privacy online. Back in 2007, Disney forced Vanessa Hudgens to take the blame when her nude photos were leaked, and stated: “Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment. We hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.”
The defenses of Lawrence might indicate that we’re starting to understand that personal nude photos are meant to be private, and that distributing them without permission is a violation.
a “leaked nude” is a NON-CONSENSUAL form of sexual violation and ANYBODY who participates by viewing and sharing is part of the problem.
women’s bodies are NOT public property. we are human beings and we do not exist for other people’s sexual pleasure without our consent. anybody with an ounce of empathy should be horrified and disgusted by this.
And from Clementine Ford at Daily Life:
There are a few different issues that a criminal act like this brings up, but before I get into them it’s necessary to make one thing clear: If you deliberately seek out any of these images, you are directly participating in the violation not just of numerous women’s privacy but also of their bodies. These images – which I have not seen and which I will not look for – are intimate, private moments belonging only to the people who appear in them and who they have invited to see them. To have those moments stolen and broadcast to the world is an egregious act of psychic violence which constitutes a form of assault.
At the same time, I still see schools, parents, and prosecutors blaming teenage girls when classmates distribute their nude photos–shouldn’t we see minors as even less culpable than an adult celebrity? What’s going on here? There are a couple of problems:
1. Teen girls’ sexuality is often seen as deviant or as the result of victimization. Sexting girls are even sometimes blamed for contributing to the social ill of child pornography. JLaw doesn’t have this problem because she’s an adult; Hudgens was too, but was still part of the High School Musical franchise. As Anne Helen Petersen writes, these photos don’t really disrupt the JLaw brand:
They don’t tell you anything new about Lawrence. They don’t make you think differently about her. You know why? Because sexuality isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a dirty secret. In her public appearances and interviews, Lawrence has never attempted to make it so.
2. We’re much better at seeing violence when it’s perpetrated by strangers. JLaw’s photos were leaked by an anonymous hacker, while in most of the teen sexting cases, boyfriends and peers are the privacy violators. An ongoing problem with intimate partner violence is that we still tend to see it as a mutual dispute in which both parties are responsible.
What would it take to view teenagers’ who’ve experienced privacy violations with as much sympathy as we offer celebrities?
I’m quoted in a CBS News article today.
Hasinoff cautions parents not to worry excessively about kids who spend a lot of time texting. “I don’t know that texting a lot is a particular problem,” she said.
“We need to think of cellphones as a way that kids communicate. You’d never say kids are talking to their classmate too much at recess, or that they used 1,000 words at recess, and that’s excessive,” she added.
… The study says parents may wish to “openly monitor” their kids’ cellphones. But Hasinoff said “that sends the exact wrong message.”
Parents should talk about the importance of privacy and serve as role models, she said. “We want to be teaching kids to respect the privacy of other kids and develop the sense that privacy really matters,” she explained.
Kids should also learn about the need to gain consent for any kind of sexual behavior, including sending someone sexually explicit photos, she added.
This article also illustrates the way that research gets translated into headlines. The study itself was careful to mention that different sexting behaviors were correlated with both riskier sexual behavior and condom use. And the authors noted that the number of young people who were sexually active was too small to draw any conclusions about that. But there it is in the headline, a conclusion: “In middle school, sexting linked to riskier behavior.”