Peep Show

Sharing and viewing leaked nudes without permission is a dangerous form of sexual assault

Miriam Geiger/Editorial Artist

Fame lends itself to unrelenting violations of privacy. We take pleasure in consuming the intimate details of celebrities’ lives, and the Internet allows users to share such private information quickly and anonymously. On Sunday, a massive leak of celebrity nudes demonstrated the increased vulnerability of celebrities to exposure. Our treatment of the photos, allegedly stolen via a hack into the Apple iCloud and shared anonymously through the forum 4chan, reveals how blurry the line between healthy curiosity and voyeurism has become.

Let’s not be distracted by how these photos were obtained or the celebrity status of the victims; when we choose to share or view a nude photograph without permission, we are engaging in a dangerous form of sexual assault.

Lena Dunham put it well when she tweeted: “Seriously, do not forget that the person who stole these pictures and leaked them is not a hacker: they’re a sex offender.” And by looking at these pictures, you are helping to perpetuate a crime.

A quick glance at a topless picture seems harmless. After all, the pictures are already out there for all to see. Such complacent thinking gives hackers incentive to further violate these women and others like them. The more traffic a leaked photo gets, the more money gossip sites are willing to dish out to hackers for nudes. The original 4chan poster claims to possess a large cache of celebrity nudes and plans to release more, at a price.

It’s not only the rich and famous who fall prey to the leaking of intimate photographs, and it doesn’t take a hacker to invade your privacy. The reality of romance and dating in 2014 is that sharing naked pictures has become a normal, almost expected courtship ritual. We take and share explicit photos of ourselves without further thought.

The corollary to this, of course, is that many of us have received these pictures as well. And maybe we’ve seen a few that weren’t sent to us.

It might seem harmless. It’s just a picture, right? At surface level, sure. But showing one of your friends a nude photo you’ve been sent not only violates the trust of the person who shared intimate details of his or her body with you, it also violates the person’s ability to control with whom they share those details. He or she chose to send the photo to you; not to you, your friends and to whomever else you’ve shown it. You wouldn’t invite a friend to watch your boyfriend shower, so why would you share his dick pic?

That in mind, there are obviously steps you can take to prevent such violations. Be careful with how you send or choose to keep racy photos and check the settings of any automatic photo-backup software on your phone to make sure it’s uploading what you want it to upload. And remember that Snapchat isn’t necessarily safe – it’s easy to download software that allows you keep received snaps without notifying the sender.

Sexting happens, and with all the ways that our privacy is continually breached online, we owe it to each other to keep private pictures private.