There’s a Reason I Don’t Like Having My Picture Taken

And the primary one is that once it’s out there, anyone can do anything to it.

One day, you’re exchanging promise rings, and the next thing you know, you’re prosecuting your ex-fiancé for putting photos of your boobs on MySpace. The perils of modern love! Richard Morgan delves deep into what he terms “Revenge Porn,” i.e., when men distribute pornographic images of their exes without consent, on, and it ain’t pretty. The most insidious form of revenge porn includes the woman’s name, phone number, and address along with the naughty video for ultimate public humiliation. The worst part of the whole thing? Revenge porn is notoriously hard to prosecute.

Eight or nine years ago, the asshole I was seeing did this to me. It was the apex of an ultimately abusive relationship in which every item of abuse was unprosecutable. I left soon after, completely humiliated, pissed off, and helpless because there was nothing I could do about it. The nastiest part of the whole incident was that it twisted something that was done in a moment of trust into the ultimate betrayal, putting me out there in a vulnerable state without my knowledge or consent. Moreover, it was used against me for years in a way that was made to make me feel like a slut, as though I was some kind of whore instead of participating in a mutual sexual relationship with a monogamous partner. Believe it or not, I’ve had sex before.

I don’t want to get into another feminist porn war on the blog, yet I think it’s pretty safe to say that most will agree that this is Not Okay. That being said, there is a market for this, so much so that there are several free and for-pay sites that capitalize on the “revenge porn” market, wherein dudes can post pictures and movies of their ex-bitches along with “that’ll show her!” messages meant to punish the little amateur sluts. The article linked in the blockquote details some of the issues victims run into when they try to get the movies and pictures removed, and moreover, the inability to prosecute their exes.

So yeah, there may be pictures of your humble blogger doing naughty things out there on teh internets. Lesson learned: if the asshole you’re dating wants to watch you having sex together, leave the cameras out of it. Use a goddamned mirror. It’s just not worth it.

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46 comments for “There’s a Reason I Don’t Like Having My Picture Taken

  1. October 4, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Dear god. I like to think of myself as not being naive in terms of the intartubes, but this never did come to my mind. That level of anger is scary. That kind of reaction and its gendered results are even more so.

  2. October 4, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I posted on this phenomenon some time ago, and still every so often I get comments from women saying that this has happened to them and asking if I know what they can do about it. It makes me sad that I have no advice to offer them.

    It amazes me that there’s “debate” over whether or not this ought to be a crime.

  3. October 4, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    On a related note, Feministing has recently posted about the latest Axe campaign which, amongst other things, condones precisely this kind of behaviour.

    Sick, entitled assholes.

  4. October 4, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    As someone this has happened to, I’m a touch offended at the implication that this is something only men do to women as opposed to any one partner to any other. While I’m certain that a disproportionate number of men do this, the assertion that it’s only men posting pictures and videos of women is demonstrably false.

  5. Marksman2000
    October 4, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I think this type of behavior is indicative of an enormous amount of immaturity. Why can’t people just break clean and leave it alone? Several years ago, the girl I was living with cheated on me when I was out of state and working with her family. As soon as I found out, she was gone, history. No restraining orders. No flat tires. No disturbance calls. No nothing.

    Is it really that difficult for others to do the same? I suppose so.

  6. October 4, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Wow, only four comments in and already it’s “What about the menz??!”

    Thomas, yes, this happens to men too. No one denies that — and no one asserted that “it’s only men posting pictures and videos of women.” So I’m glad that an assertion no one made is demonstrably false. Congrats.

    At the end of the day, though, this happens to women far more often than men. And it’s intended to be more humiliating for women. That’s part of what’s fucked up about it — releasing a video of a hetero couple fucking is “revenge” on the woman, because she should be ashamed of her slutitude, but apparently not shameful for the guy.

  7. October 4, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Just to make the point, the article quoted above does assert that this is something men do to women:

    “Revenge Porn,” i.e., when men distribute pornographic images of their exes without consent,

  8. October 4, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    My husband showed me a series of videos he’d downloaded that were very clearly earmarked “revenge porn” – I made him get rid of it, and we had a huge argument about the ethicality (shut up, I like my new word) of consumption of porn that had never been intended to be released as such.

  9. Peter
    October 4, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    OMFG, there are some real pricks out there.

    Risque pictures and videos are fun, but its a good idea to let the female partner have total control over them, where they are kept, and how they are secured. Its just better for everyone, and makes everyone more comfortable, even if the trust level is high. Women don’t seem to do this shit, so this is one case where it can be a one-way street.

  10. sophonisba
    October 4, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    So, Thomas, when a man does this, are you suggesting that’s a masochistic act intended to humiliate himself as well as his former partner, so that everybody who sees it will laugh at how trusting and slutty and vulnerable he was? Or do you, just maybe, agree that when men do this, they are doing it to women as a targeted attack?

    It’s not just that men do it more, it’s that it means more, and differently, when men do it. It’s called revenge porn because showing a woman’s naked body is supposed to constitute vengeance against her. Whether or not a woman does something so ungentlemanly as to pass around naked pics of her ex doesn’t enter into it, because a woman who merely exposes a man as a non-virgin is not tacitly understood to be shaming him.

    This isn’t rocket science.

  11. October 4, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    I’ve never let my boyfriends take porny pictures of me (even though most have asked at some point), for this very reason. I just don’t want to have to worry about it later down the track.

    ‘Course this has made my boyfriends bemoan my prudish uptightness. But it’s something guys have brought on themselves.

    It annoys me how men always want to have their cake and eat it. On one hand they want a freespirited sexpot, but then they want to reserve the right use her freespiritedness against her once the honeymoon period is over.

  12. October 4, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    I don’t want to minimize what Thomas is saying because on a personal level this is an act that is devastating and completely undermines what it means to trust a partner.

    But I agree with what sophonisba is getting at, in that the social implications (and arguably, outcomes) for men and women with “revenge porn” as a phenomenon are markedly different. It’s the shift from subject to object, from a person to a receptacle of bitterness.

    I think this type of behavior is indicative of an enormous amount of immaturity. Why can’t people just break clean and leave it alone?

    Srsly. Shit happens, relationships end, and it sucks, it really does. But it’s how the world works.

  13. shah8
    October 4, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Richard Morgan should know. It was a central plot point in one of his sci-fi novels.

  14. shah8
    October 4, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    or…that may be a different Richard Morgan, ‘scuse me…

  15. prefer not to say
    October 4, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    And it’s not *just* about trusting your partner — it’s also about trusting the guy who might steal your partner’s hard drive, or who accidentally picks up his/her USB drive, or who hacks his/her password protection on flickr, etc.

    And in the case of strangers poaching compromising pictures, I would guess women’s images are far more vulnerable than men’s.

  16. Nicole
    October 4, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    The very thought of revenge porn makes me sick. I have heard numerous fratty “dudebros” brag about videotaping themselves “banging a chick” without her knowledge or permission. Totally disgusting.

    Anyway, this has happened to me before. When I was 17, I was dating a 20 year old who convinced me to let him take polaroids of me in the buff. After we broke up, he threatened to show them to basically everyone. It has been 10 years and I am frightened to know who has seen those pics. I hope there are no old men jacking it to and/or dudebro’s laughing at my pics. Good thing I moved away…

  17. October 4, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    I hear you, Nicole. There’s something lasting and disturbing about having your own image and your own sexuality used against you in this way.

  18. October 4, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    How awful. I’ve thought a lot about this topic, because while I was in college, I used the dorm room of someone who I thought was good a friend to crash for the night, and I had changed into my pj’s there. Well, when I had done something to piss him off, he began alleging that he had a “camera on” in the room while I had been changing. Then he told me he was “kidding.”

    I should have found out for certain, but I was too bewildered and confused and honestly humiliated. This was someone I looked up to and whose approval I craved, and to think he could have done such a thing was too much for me at the time.

    This crap ought to be a felony. Pure and simple.

  19. Bagelsan
    October 4, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    This is probably opening a whole ‘nother can of worms here, but isn’t a (large) part of the reason child porn (I’m thinking naked pictures of children, not sex with children, here) is illegal is because children can’t/don’t consent? So how is pornography of an adult without their consent not a crime as well?

    Using that comparison, *possession* of non-consensual pornography/nude pictures should be a crime too, not just distribution.

  20. grapeshot
    October 4, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    This issue hits close to home for me, too (though it hasn’t happened specifically to me). I think you hit the nail on the head, Lauren, when you mentioned how easily a woman’s participation in a monogamous relationship can be twisted into a demonstration of “sluttiness.” I’ve had an ex-boyfriend call me “slutty” for allegedly having sex with someone else after our break up. Oh my god, I may have started a new relationship after YOU. Shield your eyes from my harlotry. It really is just fierce immaturity.

    I’m so sorry so many of you have had to go through something like this. In my experience, it’s been amazing to see how many guys turn out to be stealth assholes though they were the height of chivalry while in a relationship.

  21. Peter
    October 4, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Lesson learned: if the asshole you’re dating wants to watch you having sex together, leave the cameras out of it. Use a goddamned mirror. It’s just not worth it.

    Oh hell yeah. Not that I’m an expert in what the ladies should know or think, but videos and risque pics belong in the domain of a marriage, a life partnership, or a committed long term relationship. That’s a level of intimacy that doesn’t need to be explored in a dating situation, or with some temporally limited boyfriend/girlfriend.

  22. harlemjd
    October 4, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Right, Peter, cause divorces never get nasty. If only the women would save it for marriage, everything would be OK.

  23. evil fizz
    October 4, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    Not that I’m an expert in what the ladies should know or think, but videos and risque pics belong in the domain of a marriage, a life partnership, or a committed long term relationship.

    Are you really trying to frame this as “women should know better” argument? Should I anticipate a “well, if you’d just keep your legs crossed” rejoinder shortly?

    Leaving the issue that divorces and long term relationships can end spectacularly badly aside, part of what makes revenge porn so appalling is that it exploits the other party’s trust. Generally speaking the closer the relationship was, the worse the betrayal can be later.

  24. anony
    October 5, 2008 at 12:48 am

    This post, and other posts talking about any kind of amateur porn, hit home strongly for me. Like an idiot, I played on a webcam for a bf. He saved it. At the time I didn’t know you could. Four years later a friend of a friend let me know it was on some popular porn sites.
    You would not believe how hard it was to get this video taken down. In several cases, the only reason they took it down was because I was under age and if needed to could prove it. One webmaster actually tried to fish for pictures of my chest to show I was older.
    Until I was able to get most copies, and all associated with my name down, I lived in a state of fear. There were days I wished I didn’t wake up, it was that bad. Every moment I was worried my family members would google me and see this. That my mom’s co workers would look up my name and find this video.
    I was so scared of what could happen I couldn’t sleep at night.

  25. CaliOak
    October 5, 2008 at 3:20 am

    I think this is just a matter of time. The internet is a whole lot less anonymous than it used to be. The divisions between “internet life” and “real life” are breaking down. How much of peoples online contact is with friends, family, coworkers, teacher, and classmates vs the amount of online contact they have with total strangers? How much time does the average 30 year old spend online w/ stranger vs people they know in real life compared to the average 13 year old?

    Technology makes it easier to identify a poster today and post 9-11 records are kept of more online activity. Especially if a person is dumb enough to publicly identify themselves as the woman’s ex. In an openly acknowledged relationship where people go out to dinner, hang around together, maybe even live together that doesn’t very many suspects.

    Normal business and corrispondence take place online now. Imagine if an ex sent dirty pictures to your family, boss, new loveinterest, and all you mutual aquaintances then was dumb enough to brag about it to anybody who would listen. He’d be lunch meat. The police would lock his loopy tail up before he could finish one sentence.
    Eventually their will be no legal difference between doing this kind of thing offline, and online

    The other thing is online ettiquite is still being sorted out. Eventually polite/functional/sane society will come up with its own set of standards about internet discloser the same way ettiquite developed around cell phones. Time was if your phone rang in a movie theater or lecture people thought there was nothing anyone (including you) could do about it. If you pull that stunt now you’ll get the same response you’d get to dumping a poopy diaper on you neighbors lawn. Social pressure on this will go up.

    PS Identity theft and tightening copyright laws will probably also help with this.

  26. October 5, 2008 at 6:47 am

    CaliOak, it’s interesting you bring up etiquette (and the lack thereof) on the net. The internet is unique in that it’s pretty much the only example of a truly anonymous social platform in human civilization. People are generally not accountable for their actions online, and so I don’t think social pressure will be very successful in improving etiquette in the long term.

    I think the problem of revenge porn will only get worse, especially as the mainstream culture becomes more pornified, and people become more inclined to make their own.

    I think the worse thing about it is that trying purge the internet of something you don’t want on there is like trying to herd cats – an impossible task. Even if you get it removed from places, well, you still don’t know who downloaded a copy of it and when it might resurface. I really feel for the people who have had this happen to them. I even felt sorry for Paris Hilton when her sex tape came out (even though arguably it helped her go from being a mere socialite to bonafide celebrity).

  27. October 5, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Here in Thailand, this is very popular, due to the culture of camera phones. However, it gets ever nastier. Guys in relationships with powerful or well-known women will then turn around and use the shots or videos of their girlfriends/wives as blackmail (as well as revenge) material. They can slap it up on Facebook or Hi5 or wherever else and suddenly the whole country will know that Ms. So-and-so is nothing but a worthless prostitute. (Society’s views, not mine.)

    The government is trying to figure out what to do about hidden cameras (due to an ongoing scandal) but I don’t think there are any laws in place about revenge porn.

  28. timothynakayama
    October 5, 2008 at 8:05 am

    In relation to this topic, ie. pictures of heterosexual adults having sex appearing on the net without one/or both their consent, there was a huge scandal in Hong Kong recently.

    Pictures of a famous male actor having sex with various female celebrities appeared on the Hong Kong tabloid mags, creating a scandal in the Hong Kong movie industry. Apparently, this famous male actor enjoyed having a webcam/digicam on while having sex with these female celebrities, and it was a mutual agreement thing (ie, the female celebrities often looked straight into the camera/webcam). The story was that he saved these pictures/movies onto this laptop and then one day he brought his laptop into a computer service center, and yes, you can guess what happens next, the service centre people decide to download all the pictures/movies from said actor’s laptop and in turn sell them to the tabloid magazines for a hefty sum.

    The pictures were explicit and even made it into the international news’.

    During the scandal, it was interesting to note society’s take on the issue. All participants lost a lot of contracts, and the male actor retired from Hong Kong cinema to return to the US. He publicly apologized to everyone (no doubt it was his fault for putting the pictures on his laptop and forgetting to take them out before sending his latop to the service centre.) However, it was very interesting to note that society was “amazed and stunned” at seeing the female celebrities naked and engaging in sex, whereas no one really gave a lot of thought into the actor being seen naked, except for the usual quips about penis size. Actually, most of the “focus” both in Hong Kong and overseas were how “hairy” the ladies were (and the international news turned it into a “why are Asian girls hairy down under” ). In his apology to the media, the male actor publicly apologized to the female celebrities for “compromosing their purity/innocence”.

    Therefore, this goes to show you that even where there is no element of revenge, society usually reflects negatively on females being caught in the act, whereelse no one really gives a toss about the males involved, even though the males are in the same frame/shot.

  29. Peter
    October 5, 2008 at 10:13 am

    You’re fight fizz. Divorces can end nasty, and some dudes can be pricks after a divorce. I never meant to imply that “women should know better”, and after re-reading my post I don’t think I ever implied that. If it looks like I implied it, I regret it.

    The whole video thing is a personal choice, I was just agreeing that the whole video thing is especially inappropriate if you’re with someone that one is simply dating. If its going to be done at all, it is probably a little safer in the context of a marriage or life partnership. But, I didn’t mean to imply that ex-husbands can’t be pricks either.

  30. Anonymous
    October 5, 2008 at 11:12 am

    They most certainly can be Peter- my asshole of a husband shared details of intimate conversations we had with his girlfriend. That marriage license did nothing.

  31. October 5, 2008 at 11:51 am

    With cameras in cell phones, people clearly can take pictures with you on the sly. I had my photo published on a local discussion site with some ranting about something I blogged about and calling it my “racist agenda” being exposed and my finally getting what was coming up to me, after an elected official told everyone I had a blog, I was a racist and had no ethics. So the rather incoherent ranting was related to that in some way. The ranting was kind of funny but it’s unnerving to have it attached to a picture that you don’t know when it was taken or where.

    I still haven’t figured out exactly where the picture came from. I wish at least they’d taken a better one. It might have been when I was sitting totally oblivious at a public meeting but I’m not sure.

  32. October 5, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    CaliOak has a good point about changing times and changing societal beliefs. The issue is more how long will it take, and how many people will have to be hurt in the meantime.

  33. Thomas
    October 5, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    The problem with having a common name and no sign on is that people can’t always tell who is who. The guy above is not the Thomas who sometimes guest posts here. I’d like to stake out “Thomas” on all the blogs I frequent, but it doesn’t work that way. I’ve tried using “Thomas TSID”, but I never remember to be consistent with it.

    -Thomas MacAulay Millar — love me or hate me, I’m the Thomas you’ve seen here for years.

  34. October 5, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    There are some laws against putting that sort of stuff on the internet in the US (a Danish exchange student recently got into trouble over that, which made Danish news), so I can’t understand why such “revenge porn” sites are legal.

  35. evil fizz
    October 5, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    The whole video thing is a personal choice, I was just agreeing that the whole video thing is especially inappropriate if you’re with someone that one is simply dating. If its going to be done at all, it is probably a little safer in the context of a marriage or life partnership. But, I didn’t mean to imply that ex-husbands can’t be pricks either.

    The real determining factor here is not whether it’s “safer” to take naked pictures inside the context of an exclusive relationship. It’s whether or not someone in the equation decides to be a slimeball of epic proportions and commit potential felonies.

    Let’s keep our eye on the ball here. Yes, one would like to think that long term relationships and/or marriages have an added element of stability, trust, or respect. But a piece of paper is not some kind of guarantee and to shift the focus away from the scum who post these kinds of things is a red herring at best and victim blaming at worst.

  36. Elizabeth
    October 5, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    I emailed some naked pics of myself to my boyfriend when I was about 19 or so. We were each others’ first loves and we had been together for over two years at that point. He was a great guy and I trusted him completely. We broke up a couple years later (it wasn’t a terrible breakup, but difficult nonetheless) and I asked him to delete the pictures. He refused, saying that “they were a gift” and therefore he was entitled to keep them. After much pleading he finally agreed and assured me that his computer was so clean “not even the FBI would be able to find the pictures.” I wish I could believe him, but it’s been a few years since then and I still wonder if those pictures will come back to haunt me someday.

  37. Bitter Scribe
    October 6, 2008 at 11:38 am

    A friend of mine dated an artist and let him do nude oils and sketches of her. When they broke up, he displayed them and sold a few. I guess that’s a high-class version of revenge porn.

    P.S. A little while after their breakup, when she was having trouble making the rent, he came across so she wouldn’t get evicted. Guess he wasn’t a 100% jerk after all.

  38. CM
    October 6, 2008 at 11:46 am

    It’s telling that these men can be in these videos and pictures — butt naked, and fucking — and it is not at all negative for them. No, no; it’s only negative to the female they are “banging.” The man is the stud. The woman is the slut.

  39. William
    October 6, 2008 at 11:53 am

    CaliOak: I’m not so sure I agree. I can think of at least one large internet community that is built around the idea that anonymity on the internet can be preserved with minimal effort, and that because you can be anonymous you can do anything you want with no consequences. Ethics and social pressure only hold if you can be continuously identified. You have a name and a face, the things you do in your circle of friends stick because it is unlikely that anyone else shares your name and face. Further, it is very, very difficult to change your name or face. Essentially you’re stuck with an ID. The internet isn’t like that. Every time I post a comment here I could use a different name if I wanted to. Anyone can get a new, clean e-mail address from any one of a half dozen different sources with virtually no effort. I legitimately use 3 IP addresses on a regular basis, one of which is an unsecured wireless connection. If someone wants to put some distance between themselves and their online behavior they can go to any starbucks, or simply poach from any of the tens of thousands of unsecured connections in any populated area. You can go through browser proxies with no technical knowhow. Tor is free and user friendly, allowing anyone to use an international proxy network that makes use extremely hard to trace.

    The problem with revenge porn is that it isn’t usually sent to people that the victim knows. That certainly happens sometimes, but most of the time its just dumped onto any of the dozens of places where that kind of thing is common, then it gets snapped up and spreads. The really scary thing about it is that social pressure might never come into play, because the material could circulate for years without anyone who knows the victim ever seeing it (or admitting to having seen it). The further you get to the underside of the internet the creepier it gets.

  40. PamB
    October 6, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    I’m an amateur photographer, and my partners wonder why I NEVER allow cameras in the bedroom. This would be the reason, darlings…
    My no ice (like frozen water) rule doesn’t require as much explanation.
    Go figure.

  41. exholt
    October 6, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    There was a student at an institution where I took a summer class who did this to an ex-girlfriend and ended up being expelled because he violated university computing policies by placing her nude pictures in a folder on the university network.

    He publicly apologized to everyone (no doubt it was his fault for putting the pictures on his laptop and forgetting to take them out before sending his laptop to the service centre.)

    Blaming anyone for the above is a form of victim-blaming IMO as the computer problems they were having may have prevented them from taking the pictures off (i.e. laptop not being able to boot up period).

    First, trying to backup/remove the pictures in such a situation may end up violating their computer manufacturer’s warranty…not a smart thing to do when it covers repair work and replacement parts. Even assuming one does not care/warranty is expired, the internal layout of many computers are such that it can be an arduous chore…especially to those who aren’t technically inclined.

    Though I have no problems opening up and swapping hard drives and other computer parts in and out of desktop and laptop computers, one cannot assume everyone is technically inclined….or has the time/desire to deal with such tasks.

  42. October 6, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Just wanted to point out, there are cases of spiteful ex boyfriends taking out ads on sex sites with their ex-girlfriend’s name and contact information. One asshole actually posed as his girlfriend in an ad saying that she was into rape fantasies, and left her number and address. One guy actually tried to take her up on it, and (thankfully) realized that she was serious when she didn’t know WTF he was talking about.

    So no–I won’t knowingly have myself recorded on video, film, or disc when I’m having sex, simply because I am not a trusting person at all. But an abusive asshole–and seriously, abusive assholes do this–can resort to other ways to harass, bully and sexually threaten and shame their exes.

  43. October 7, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    A friend of mine whent through this during her divorce, when her asshole (then) husband let his new girlfriend post nude photos he had taken of her on the new girlfriend’s porn site, with captions that made fun of her weight as well.

    Fortunately, my friend had a lawyer on-call because of other asshole things they had already done, and she got them down within about 48 hours.

  44. October 9, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Definitely not okay!

    I’m a pro-sex work feminist, but for me the point of being pro-sex work as a feminist is celebrating a woman’s agency and ability to make free and informed decisions about her life. It does *not* mean men or other women are welcome to abuse, humiliate, coerce, or otherwise harm women by taking away that agency. That’s the exact opposite of what I think the sex workers movement is about.

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