Celebrity hacks and victim-blaming: Responding to 3 common claims

Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities have had (nude) photos stolen. I noticed three, of many, recurring responses, mostly it seems from my fellow men dictating what women should do with their bodies. Cos, yeah: of course.

Others have said these things more eloquently. But here’s some responses to claims about celebrity privacy violations – i.e. nude photo leaks – that we need to keep reinforcing.

  1. “Who cares?”

Celebrities may be annoying to many; celebrity culture itself is to me largely horrible. Celebrities are not necessarily talented, merely people with a large audience. However, the key here is “people” – not monsters. Presumably we want a better world for people – thus if bad things happen to people, we should defend and support them. This isn’t about whether they themselves actually notice – but it does mean setting up an environment that reacts appropriately to when women have their photos leaked and aren’t berated as “sluts“; it’s about reinforcing a space, like the Internet, that doesn’t spread stolen information from people because they’re “hot”. After all, women who are not celebrities at all, have the same thing happen to them.

That the victims are celebrities is irrelevant; that the victims are women and the same people react the same way to women’s bodies is revealing.

The same people would probably not be this dismissive were it a loved one: it’s precisely about creating an environment in which no one’s loved one – i.e. no one – is treated in such a dismissive way that we should care.

  1.  “You shouldn’t put private data in unsecure locations: you’re kinda asking for it to be taken.”

Unless someone says “Do you mind hacking into my secure server (or whatever) and stealing my private information?”, no one is “asking” for anything.

This is victim-blaming, pinning the wrong behaviour on the person mistreated and targeted, as opposed to the perpetrator. You probably hear this when people “explain” to you that you shouldn’t leave valuables in the car, your wallet lying around, etc. No one who is an adult doesn’t already know these things – so the advice isn’t unwelcome, it’s already known. And advice to victims becomes blame because the advice wasn’t followed through (properly, 100%); criminals are turned into a Sauron-like force that arises the minute human “error” (according to victim-blamers at least) occurs – this is victim-blaming.

It’s the short-skirt assertion that so many know is wrong and yet so many keep reiterating: “If she didn’t want to be sexually assaulted, she should’t have worn a short skirt.”

Looking at the latter wardrobe assertion highlights what’s wrong with the security one. Here’s what the evidence says: Sexual assault isn’t caused by what people are wearing; it’s caused by people assaulting. Further, such assaults are for many/most cases between known individuals. Some random evil force doesn’t materialise wherever short skirts are being worn.

The reason this matters is targeting short-skirts means using finite time and energy on the wrong object. If we’re having a discussion about what to do about assault and put effort into wardrobe advice, it means less focus on male entitlement, disregard for consent, etc. Indeed, having to explain this is itself a way to not talk about what, say, men can do to curb sexual assault (for example: don’t rape, don’t street harass, etc.)

People need security, whether on the street or online. To blame them when such security fails only adds to the overall environment being unsafe. While physical safety is of utmost priority, we should also be caring about digital security. This doesn’t negate efforts on the ground, only extends our concerns into a space we all use.

In terms of digital security, we’re undermining what such services are supposed to offer. It is supposed to be secure. It is supposed to be about protecting our information. Data being stolen isn’t what we sign up for, but exactly the opposite. Of course violation and theft are ever-present dangers, but we expect online services we sign up for to prevent such events from occurring. If they do occur, we can blame incompetent security only to the extent that they did not deliver on their promise of protection; but primarily, we should blame the person who stole the information in the first place.

I’m starting to think that I’m more angry toward people who aren’t condemning the act and the criminal behaviour, and instead mock, deride and blame those who are victims and their supporters. There’s nothing brave or edgy here: you’re dismissing a violation, a criminal act, and using your time, which could be used to create an environment of solidarity that supports victims, to instead make a bad environment worse. You’re adding spikes to the ceiling instead of the roof, while criminals raise the floor.

3. “Well, that’s the Internet/world/life.”

Women can do what they like with their bodies. They can wear as much or as little clothes as they want; they can sleep with as many or as little people as they want; they can take pictures of their bodies for select people – or no people – if they want. None of this is about you; none of it allows entitled men to leer, look at, demand access to said bodies because these bodies exist.

The other element of blaming women for violations is how it also undermines men: to perpetuate assault as being the result of some evil force undermines men’s humanity, too. We, men, are no longer in control, apparently. We can’t make decisions about what to do when presented with women’s existence. For example, you could choose to not look at leaked photographs; you could decide to not catcall women because they have legs. But no: instead men are made out by victim-blamers to be mindless, knuckle-dragging orcs powered by the Sauron-like force of assault. Not rational, moral beings who can not only not catcall but oppose it.

And, to be fair, when reading comments and responses, it isn’t actually that far removed to think men really are like this. I don’t blame people for thinking of men this way – we need to be doing more.

Sure: not all men (heh) catcall, assault, and so on. But there seems there are men who victim-blame, who shrug and say that’s the world, that’s the Internet, that’s what happens – as if they’re not dealing with fellow humans but an uncontrollable force. We oppose and speak out and respond – that’s the Internet, too; that’s the world when people are angered and won’t stand for bullying. So yes, it might be true that people are horrible, but it’s also true there are those who will oppose such violations.

What are you hoping to achieve by shrugging and highlighting the very horror people are opposing? Why not join the voices opposing the violation instead of telling people that violations occur – of course they occur, that’s why people are upset, that’s why they’re opposing them! The problem’s ubiquity is part of why people are this invested in opposing it.

Telling people who are fighting women’s mistreatment that “it happens” is no different to telling a doctor “sickness occurs”.

Well done, Sherlock – everyone knows. What are you doing about it?


  1. =8)-DX says

    For me the only issue with these kinds of things has been “should I look at the leaked photos/videos/documents myself?” I mean whenever there’s a big discussion about a particular leak of the private information of a public personality, I guess one is naturally curious to see what the fuss is about. The things anyone can be sure of:
    – you won’t be able to stop other people finding the photos/materials.
    – you’ll probably never meet the public person yourself or influence their life by having seen the materials.

    I guess people avidly slut-shaming and making other lewd remarks about the given celebrity online is harmful – something I don’t condone and something I think should be actively resisted. However in a world with millions of cameras on multiple devices all around us and given humanity’s propensity to be interested in taking photos of themselves I should think that one day we’ll just have to come to grips with the fact that everyone will have embarassing pictures of themselve online, it’ll be so common as to not be an issue. Celebrities are in fact (shock, I know) just the same under the clothing as anyone else.

    So yeah – I agree with the OP, but it still misses the main question for me: should I download the leaked pictures? Feel guilty for wanting to? I’m going to go with – no harm, no foul.

  2. Tauriq Moosa says

    @ 1 >> “but it still misses the main question for me”

    Don’t confuse “miss” for “didn’t focus on for this piece”. Perhaps for you that’s priority, but, in this particular blogpost, which is neither the first or last of this whole mess, it was about three responses. That’s all.

    And, focusing strictly on your comment would itself take a whole article.

  3. says

    @1 – Searching out the photos isn’t a passive activity. You would be actively participating in a gross violation of another human being’s privacy. But hey, however you want to justify it to yourself…

  4. chrislawson says

    @1 – how can you not see the harm? Of course you’re contributing to the invasion of privacy if you seek out and download those photos. Have some damn empathy.

  5. says

    “You shouldn’t put private data in unsecure locations: you’re kinda asking for it to be taken.”

    It really doesn’t help that that’s basically the tack that our various governments have taken. The FBI, NSA, GCHQ, etc — “if it’s on a server muaahahahahaha it’s not anything you’d expect to be PRIVATE amirite?”

  6. ekwhite says

    The victim blaming annoys the heck out of me. The celebrities had every expectation that their private pictures would remain …private. Any blame rests squarely on the shoulders of Apple, for not securing their iCloud network securely, and the hacker, for criminally exploiting the weakness.

  7. outeast says

    Not really disagreeing here, but (you had to know that was coming).

    On the ‘victim blaming’…. In this specific instance, the data *should* have been secure so the ‘well, duh’ doesn’t even apply (it will from now on, mind). I’m uncomfortable with the binary thinking that lies behind both victim blaming *and many accusations of victim blaming.* Fault is NOT NOT NOT a zero-sum game. Poor judgement that makes one susceptible to crime should be open to criticism without that detracting in any way from the fault of the perpetrator of the crime. I know that a lot of victim-blaming really does seem to assume that somehow a degree of irresponsibility detracts from the actual offence itself, or from the harm done; but it’s not a *necessary* part of that. Walking out onto a zebra crossing without making sure the that drivers have noticed you remains bloody stupid no matter how absolute your right of way – and the stupidity of ‘not looking’ does not in any way mitigate the fault of the careless driver that hits you.

    On ‘that’s the world’… This I think is a not unreasonable attitude. Yes, we can and should do all we reasonably can to make antisocial behaviour unacceptable, but as a simple matter of fact antisocial behaviour absolutely 100% will continue nonetheless; and no matter how hard and far popular opinion swings, there will be sufficient numbers who reject those moral/ethical norms to pretty much guarantee that weaknesses and vulnerabilities will be exploited.

    It may well be I’ve misread your thinking, or extrapolated unfairly from what you’ve said, and that I’m tilting at straw men here. If so, my defence is simply that I’ve seen so many people adopting the idea of blame as a zero-sum game (consciously or implicitly) that I see them everywhere nowadays.

    (PS Overall I’m on the same page as you wrt the meat of your comments above. And no, I’ve not looked at those photos… and will not do so, any more than I catcall.)

  8. Dunc says

    “You shouldn’t put private data in unsecure locations: you’re kinda asking for it to be taken.”

    Yeah, and we know people go to great lengths to rob banks, therefore putting your money in the bank is just asking for it to be stolen. But then again, if you keep it under your mattress, and your locks aren’t as good as a bank vault, you were also asking for it to be stolen.

  9. John Peterson says

    Ian Botham has had (nude) photos stolen and posted on twitter. This was only two weeks prior to the latest hacks. In keeping with your own post Tauriq, I noticed no reponse, not ONE from authors of websites commenting about whether or not this person was being victim blamed, not one comment about the lack of privacy in this case.

    It seems that you articles like these ONLY only get published when it affects women and / or you believe that the person is of high enough status to bring about enough views and comments on the article. Otherwise we coul have assumed that you would have written a nice little piece about the rights of a male being persecuted in a female dominated environment (the web) and how shocking it is that this person’s rights were violated.

    Here is a scenario. I have had a great night out and more than a little drunk, and being male I (apparently) can go anywhere I like with impunity, I cross through a park known for being dark and at times dangerous. While walking along a very dark portion of path where I have heard that nasty things have happened to others I am accosted and beaten so severely that my skull is fractured, my jaw broken and I am the beneficiary of several cracked ribs.

    I think you are probably sitting reading this thinking “and good riddance”, but what truly was your first reaction? I think if you could be truly honest with yourself you would be thinking “how could a person that knew of the potential for danger simply ignore it and continue on down that chosen path” and “what a moron, heading down such a dark and dangerous path”.

    I don’t think I would get the outpouring of emotion and disgust that seems to be the theme of your article for three reasons

    a. I am not a celebrity
    b. I am male
    c. because common sense dictates that there are situations that we will be a victim of and knowing and assessing risks will minimise the chance that I will encounter the situation.

    Point (c) is a very big one. It is core to our survival as a species. It is about learning and applying what you have learned. It is about natural selection and survival of the fittest / smartest.

    By the way, I agree it is our right to be able to live without fear, to live without repercussions of other people’s violence. In the olden days I used to live in an area where your doors could be left open of a hot night without worrying that someone would walk in and murder you in your sleep. I think the general concensus is that this is a particularly idiotic thing to do nowadays, but it is no different to the subject of your piece. This is the core of why some people are saying it is stupid. The rest of us assess risk. We look at things as being our right with a smattering of what we used to call “good judgement” thrown in. This makes our brains ask the question “is this such a good idea?” and “what if …?”.

    At the end of the day, if this had been a man who was not well known, this piece would not have been written. If it had been 100 men who were not well known, I am pretty sure the article (if one had been written!) would have scoffed at how ignorant those people were to allow their phones to be hacked.