Don’t Blame the Victim, Blame the Perpetrator (November 1, 2015)

Victim-blaming and shaming are the usual lot of any woman who dares to own her own sexuality. Whenever videos or pictures showing naked women, engaged in sexual acts or not, are released, people say it’s her fault for taking the pictures or having them where they can be accessed. The fault of the person who released the photo, or of those who look at and share the information, is rarely scrutinized.

The most recent case in point is that of a local model, who took her phone to be fixed at a phone repair store. She realized her pictures had been leaked and publicly chastised the owner on Facebook. In his annoyance at being called out, he said he would find and share the pictures. A storm of recrimination from across the internet, including from local celebrity, Anya Ayoung-Chee, who was the victim of a similar situation, led to him apologizing. Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women Coordinator, Hazel Brown said the model should not have made herself vulnerable by taking the pictures and should have known the risks she was taking.

The questions raised during the debacle were: Who is responsible for the situation? Why is the model being criticised for taking the pictures, especially by a women’s advocate? Were laws broken by the sharing of the information?

Feminists and others discussed the situation on social media, especially in light of the October 26 landmark ruling against cricketer Lendl Simmons in the ‘revenge porn’ case brought by Theresa Ho, where Simmons was ordered to pay TT$150,000 to Ho after he shared nude photos of her without her consent. They disagreed with the view that the model should not have taken the pictures in the first place.

“People have been taking, scratching, drawing and painting nudes since the dawn of time. At this point we can accept it as part of routine human sexuality. So why should women be required to NOT engage in perfectly normal behaviour because men do not respect our privacy?” said blogger Cate Young. In her blog post “The Nude Body as a Site of Shame”, Lily Kwok said “I would like to know what is so inherently wrong with taking pictures of one’s own naked body. Although we are born absolutely bare to the world, and we are all naked underneath our clothes, people still find ways to shame us in our most natural form. What makes the nude body so harmful to society?”

Local historian Corey Gilkes said Brown was coming from an older generation of feminists who struggled to be taken seriously so these issues trigger old erroneous ideas about respectability. “Sex is viewed in Western society through the cultural mindset laid out by early Greek philosophers Plato, Aristotle and the Christian theologian Augustine who drew from both of them. It is viewed as an irrational, dangerous, potentially corrupting part of the human makeup that must always be controlled and women are incapable of doing so because it is part of their nature. Many feminists and academics who may never have read Plato subscribe to this way of thinking whenever the issue arises of women being shown as sexual beings.”

Institute of Gender and Development Studies tutor Renelle White said Brown’s response was “straight up victim blaming. Old school conventional feminism vs new school feminism. I won’t say I’m disappointed because we all still have our own factors that colour our identity.”

University student KL Singh asked if business owners should be mindful of their customer’s privacy. “Does this mean if I take my phone to be serviced, then there is a legal entitlement to all my text messages, photo content and contacts lists by said management? Am I relinquishing ownership/copyright to the described information by handing someone my device?” Calisa Paulson, in her post “The Victim Blame Game,” said “if your perspective is that the pictures couldn’t have been stolen if she’d never taken them, I invite you to apply that perspective if, God forbid, anything tangible is ever stolen from you. After all, the bandit couldn’t have your car/computer/money if you hadn’t left it where he could get it, right?”

Rhoda Bharath, in her blog post, Don’t be a Bad Robot: Or, what to do if your naughty pics get shared without your permission,” outlined the legal action that can be taken with respect to the leaking of nude photos. She said “sharing of personal and private files by third parties without your permission is wrong, and sharing pornographic material, whether it is a repost to a private group, is also against the law.” Local laws addressing the issues of sexual exploitation, privacy violation and abuse of technology are the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, the Summary Offences Act and in the case of minors, the Children’s Act.

When it comes to the leaking of nude pictures, men are congratulated and women are shamed. The Cybercrime Bill is still in the works, but hopefully the precedent set in the Simmons case, where the judge lamented the archaic state of T&T’s laws, will deter further instances of this type of behaviour.

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