Was actress Jennifer Lawrence sexually violated when someone stole her nude photographs and posted them on Internet sites a few months ago?
She seems to think so.
“It is not a scandal,” she told Vanity Fair contributing editor Sam Kashner in the magazine’s November issue. “It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change.”
No doubt, Lawrence and other actresses whose privacy was similarly violated were victims, and the FBI is reportedly investigating the theft of photos and videos.
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Technically, what happened is not a sex crime. But it definitely was a crime. The question is, which existing law was violated?
The Washington Post offers several possibilities, noting that the man who hacked photos of Mila Kunis and Scarlett Johansson was fined $66,179 and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012 for violating wiretapping laws. That seems pretty just to me.
I read and reread Vanity Fair’s interview with Lawrence, trying to decide if I agreed with her. Her outrage is palpable, and understandable.
But it’s hard to take her seriously as the face of criminal-justice reform when she says things like this: “Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetrating a sexual offense. You should cower with shame. Even people who I know and love say, ‘Oh, yeah, I looked at the pictures.’ I don’t want to get mad, but at the same time I’m thinking, I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body.”
People who I know and love?
I don’t want to get mad?
Why would you not want to get mad at people you know and love, and who, by your own definition, have sexually violated you?
Because, I would submit, looking at stolen nude photos is not the heinous crime everyone is pretending it to be. The fact that Lawrence’s own friends and loved ones are looking at the images perversely proves my point.
I would never discount Lawrence’s feelings of exploitation and violation, but I dare say, she is a complicit member of the very generation that has normalized digital nakedness. She was not victimized by paparazzi aiming a long lens at her bedroom or into her vacation villa.
She shot a selfie and pressed “send.”
I’m not the first to point out that we are in a great social conundrum here. We are both obsessed with digital privacy and obsessed with digital exposure. Those two impulses are always and inevitably on a collision course. But I just don’t think this is a case where the law has failed to catch up with technology.
I think this is a case of misplacing our faith in technology itself. Call me callous, but I think that anyone who stores naked photos on cloud servers, or sends them to another person, has in a very real sense forfeited control of the images.
“Either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you,” Lawrence told Vanity Fair.
And so, in this complicated age, is everyone else.
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