Joyce Fegan: Let's talk about our role in the leaking of nude images

When it comes to crimes of a sexual nature, offences that disproportionately affect women, the victim is always to blame in the court of public opinion, the perpetrator a ghost-like figure with no agency of his own, writes Joyce Fegan
Joyce Fegan: Let's talk about our role in the leaking of nude images

As a society we inadvertently protect rapists, perverts and pedophiles with the myths we choose to continue believing and repeat about sexual crimes.

It's never ever their fault, is it? And we are to blame for that.

When a person gropes, upskirts, sexually assaults or rapes another person, private and public conversation always goes to the victim.

"What was she wearing?" "How much did she have to drink?" "Why was she by herself?" "What was she thinking?" "What did she think would happen?"

This week, when news broke that tens of thousands of naked images of women, and girls as young as 14, were leaked online, our predictable age-old victim-blaming reared its ugly ahead again.

The conversations went like this: "they should know better than to take naked photos of themselves"; "what did she think would happen sending nudes of herself"; "she should have been more careful".

But the conversation should have gone like this: "how sick would he have to be to leak intimate photos of another person"; "how sick would he have to be to plan to leak intimate photos of thousands of girls and women"; and "how sick would you have to be to open a link sent to you of naked images of girls as young as 14?"

Because that's not just a bit of WhatsApp banter with the lads on an idle Tuesday in November, that's child pornography right there. Maybe you're a dad yourself, not that you have to be in order to have basic morals, but try not to cognitively split here and remember that girl you're looking at could be your daughter, or even granddaughter. That's how sick this is.

But it's never ever their fault, is it? When it comes to crimes of a sexual nature, offences that disproportionately affect women, the victim is always to blame in the court of public opinion, the perpetrator a ghost-like figure with no agency of his own

In the study of rape, victim-blaming is as old as time. And to look at the history of victim-blaming is to be confronted with our faulty thinking around it.

The blame remains the same, but the type of blame changes with time and place.

First it was — "she shouldn't have worn red". Quite literally, a woman in 1910 was blamed for being raped because she wore red. Then in some parts of the world it is: "she shouldn't have gone out alone". In Saudi Arabia, in broad alcohol-free 2020 daylight, if a woman is raped, the public asks why she ventured out without her chaperone. And then in other parts of the world, even the garment worker gets dragged into the blame game equation: "the amount of fabric in a piece of clothing, otherwise described as the length of the victim's skirt, was what triggered the rape your honour". As if.

Because it's never ever their fault is it? Whatever about the actions of the perpetrator of sexual crimes, as a society we inadvertently protect rapists, perverts and pedophiles with the myths we choose to continue believing and repeating.

These rapists, perverts and pedophiles aren't monstrous social outcasts living under bridges in trench coats, they're your college classmate, they're your professional colleague, they're your five-aside teammate, they're your neighbour 

Sexual-based crimes might be illegal but they are not socially taboo because we bat them away by saying "that was just a bit of grope" or "what was she thinking".

The question is not: "What was she thinking?" The question is: "What was he doing?"

Impulse to victim blame

And it's not just a matter of the perpetrators of sexual crimes, it's also a matter of the rape culture that surrounds their behaviour. Have you ever forwarded on an image illegally captured and shared with you? Have you ever stood silently by when someone passed a misogynistic comment, disguised as a pathetic joke? Have you ever wondered what age the girl in the video you saw is?

Perpetrators of violence and its sharers aside, there is a rationale behind the public's almost unconscious reaction and impulse to victim blame. And this explanation is not to let society off the hook, but to better understand our behaviour so we can change it.

We are psychologically hardwired to victim blame. It's because of the "just world" theory. We need to view the world as fair and safe. Only good things happen to good people. Effort and hard work are rewarded. Bad things happen to bad people. That way, when something bad happens to an innocent person, we can reassure ourselves that it won't happen to us because we would never wear red, go out without a chaperone or take a photo of ourselves on our phone.

But depending on place and time, the goalposts always move. You can not wear red lipstick and still get raped. You can travel with a friend and still get assaulted. And yes, you can take a photo of your body, after all it is your body to do with it as you please, and send it to your trusted, loving partner and it can still get leaked.

A changed society

The year is 2020, the rules of engagement have changed, boys and girls don't meet under the clock at Cleary's anymore. Boys and girls don't send love letters in the post anymore. Boys and girls no longer meet at the crossroads. Boys and girls have smart phones, social media accounts and the internet.

It's the same way you no longer walk into the bank to lodge a cheque anymore because you do your banking online.

If, say come December 19, you went to buy your Christmas presents only to find out that your bank account was empty because someone, somewhere in the world, had somehow gained access to your debit card, what would you do?

Would you report it? Or would you keep it to yourself for fear of being victim blamed? Would you tell your friends and family? Or would you be too ashamed? Would you feel such a level of shame and dread as to contemplate suicide? Or would you feel righteously angry because you had been violated for the simple act of trusting your most precious asset with an online entity?

You'd probably tell everyone you meet, your postman, your barista, your child's lollipop lady. There is no one you wouldn't tell and there are no lengths you wouldn't go to to seek redress. You'd be on Joe Duffy and the whole of the country would have your back.

The only difference with this cyber crime is that it is devoid of sexuality. Why, when sexuality comes into it, do the goalposts of crime suddenly and dramatically change, is a question we all need to seriously contemplate.

Crimes of a sexual nature, are crimes. It's not complicated. It's simple. Only when we see it as simple, will we start talking about it and reporting and prosecuting it as such.

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