The line between providing advice and blaming the victim is a fine one
In recent times, we have been facing questions we avoided in the past. Every day, sexual harassment survivors garner the courage to come forward with their stories, putting us in a unique crisis we don’t know how to respond to.
The latest issue making us largely uncomfortable as a society is non-consensual image sharing.
To them, such photos could be a way of keeping the passion alive. Many find them especially useful in long-distance relationships.
It can build excitement and maintain intimacy. There is a thrill in knowing someone has opened up their vulnerable selves to you, overcoming distance in the physical world.
Trust is the fundamental element here. The image is meant solely for the other person, with the faith they will keep it to themselves.
Yet, many become the star of a sex tape being passed around their campus. A woman could potentially get out of a relationship that is violent, but these images can be around for the rest of their lives. Even many ex-husbands use the tool to manipulate their ex-wives to transfer property.
“If you don’t take nude photos, they can’t be stolen” -- there seems to be a common idea that the horrible and humiliating invasion of women’s privacy and the theft of their property is in some way their own fault.
Of course, a person can’t steal something that doesn’t exist. Just like if you don’t have a car, it can’t be stolen.
Yet, taking these nude photos or having a car isn’t the problem here. The problem is the stealing, in this case of something immensely private. The individual at fault is the thief, and in this case the betrayer and abuser.
I agree that sending private images definitely comes with risks. However, what makes the action risky is dependent on the receiver’s intent to betray the trust.
When abuse, humiliation, and harassment happen online, they are still abuse, humiliation, and harassment. We often fail to recognize the coercive nature of obtaining these personal pictures.
“If you love me, show me your naked body” is a widely used manipulation technique to make victims feel guilty.
Furthermore, there are multiple instances of blackmailing via fake Facebook accounts, opening up a Google drive to store private images of many girls and engaging in group conversations to decide whom to target next.
“Who will help me, knowing I sent photos of my naked self? When will the threats ever stop?” --victims keep pondering over these questions every second.
Blaming women is far easier than blaming a culture that nurtures this kind of misogynist attack. This is largely because it makes people feel safe and morally superior.
After all, if you’re not the kind of person who would take nude photos then you’re not the kind of person who has to worry about this kind of invasive crime, right?
Think of it -- if all someone wants is to see naked women, the internet is full of options of women who gladly take their clothes off with full knowledge that strangers will take a look. So this is not about fulfilling some basic sexual need for men.
Instead, it is the sinister pleasure the voyeur feels when exhibiting power over victims. It is about bringing an unattainable woman down low by saying: “I can look at you naked whenever I want; I can distribute nude photos of you wherever I want; you can’t do anything about it because I have power over you.”
The individual loses control over their bodies and their boundaries. Survivors share symptoms similar to survivors of sexual assault.
The unique factor is the level of humiliation and shame is in many ways compounded. It’s so public, it’s so known to others.
How can you feel safe being in places not knowing if other people have seen that vulnerable image of you?
In response to this crisis, our society has come up with “when will women learn?” instead of “why do men continue to view women as objects they can defile and violate?” They are saying it is the responsibility of the victims of crime and assault to prevent it and not the responsibility of society to make such crimes unacceptable.
“When will women learn?” Learn what? That our bodies do not belong to us? That we have no right to determine who sees those bodies, touches those bodies?
Women have the answers, but not the rights to be the masters of ourselves.
It is important to inform everyone on how to protect their information online and to be aware of the potential for exploitation and abuse of their material. But the line between providing advice and placing responsibility back onto victims is easy to cross.
If we want to be allies to truth and justice, the questions must be directed at ourselves first.
Myat Moe Khaing takes interest in philosophy and gender studies. Send her your queries at [email protected]