Skip to main content

Who's at fault over J-Law's nude photo hack?

By Peggy Drexler
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An anonymous poster put hundreds of nude photos of big celebs on message board
  • Peggy Drexler: This is not just a violation of privacy; it's criminal invasion but hard to prosecute
  • She says the debate should be over making this illegal, not over taking nude photos
  • Drexler: The problem isn't the wisdom of photos or hacking iCloud; it's the perpetrator

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- The latest nude celebrity photo leak is yet another case of how the Internet often lets people do whatever they want to whomever they want.

On Sunday, a user of anonymous Internet message board 4chan posted hundreds of nude photos of some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities, including actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton. The poster claimed photos of Victoria Justice and Ariana Grande were included, but the singer/actresses deny that the photos are real.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

Representatives and the women themselves have begun issuing their denials (in the case of Justice and Grande) and confirmations (in the case of Lawrence and Upton). A representative for Lawrence confirmed in an email to Buzzfeed that the images were stolen from the actress' iCloud account.

"This is a flagrant violation of privacy," the representative said. "The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence."

Of course, what happened here is more than a violation of privacy; it's flat-out criminal invasion. Prosecution, however, may be something of a long shot. Although a Florida man responsible for breaking into the private email accounts of more than 50 celebs and posting many explicit photos online is serving 10 years in prison, the law is only just beginning to catch up to the problem of what is broadly referred to as "revenge porn," or the unauthorized posting of explicit content without the consent of the individual.

Most websites that host these photos are protected by a federal law that absolves them of responsibility for material posted by third parties. It's legal in most of the United States, and only a few states -- about 12 -- have laws that make posting on such sites a crime ... if you can even find out who the poster is.

These unclear, largely ineffectual laws have in turn encouraged a culture of victim blaming, which we're seeing here in full force.
Peggy Drexler

Prosecuting depends on first determining who uploaded the photo and where the photo originated. A California law, for example, did not, until just last week, protect victims who took the photos themselves.

These unclear, largely ineffectual laws have in turn encouraged a culture of victim-blaming, which we're seeing here in full force. Consider that the biggest headlines haven't been along the lines of "How can someone can do this and get away with it?" but a debate over who bears greater blame: Apple's iCloud or the women themselves.

Certainly, the surest way to avoid ever having your most private photos shared publicly is to not take them in the first place. This is the philosophy behind the most common advice given to teens, among whom the rates of "sexting" continue to rise. Trust no one. Share nothing. Even better: Take nothing.

While we're at it: Don't leave the house. After all, you could get mugged, or raped. You'd better not fly on a jet, either, what with all the terrorism and overworked pilots. Swim in the ocean? No way: sharks!

It's ridiculous logic.

How celebrity nude photos get leaked

And yet much of the reaction to the celebrity leak has fallen prey to such logic, questioning why these celebrities would take such risqué—and risky—photos in the first place. For this reason, taking nude photos is most definitely a right to fight for, if only because ceasing to do so is a form of victim blaming, and far more harmful than protective.

The blame for a crime lies not with the victim but with the criminal. Jennifer Lawrence was not naïve, or tacky, or any number of criticisms that have been and surely will be lobbed at her, for posing for provocative photos. She was a normal young woman. And I suspect that we're more shocked by the fact that Lawrence had a glass of wine and posed naked for a boyfriend than the fact the image is now ours to see. We've become accustomed to knowing everything about everyone.

Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, one of the victims, received responses to her tweet, "To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves," that echoed this sentiment: "‪@M_E_Winstead Stop posing nude on camera, dummy. Your husband not know what you look like nude? ‪#LessonLearned." She has since gone silent on Twitter.

The message, of course, isn't that it's heinous to so publicly and maliciously invade someone's privacy but that these women brought their misfortune on themselves. After all, it wouldn't have happened to them if they didn't take the photos.

But the first step to protecting our privacy both online and off isn't to demand that Apple make a stronger iCloud or to start stripping our storage spaces of anything private. Nor is it to insist that women stop taking nude photos of themselves or, for that matter, stop engaging in any activity they wouldn't want to be made public. Instead, it's to take these crimes seriously and hold their executors accountable. The problem isn't the picture. It's the perpetrator.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:08 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
updated 12:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
updated 7:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
updated 7:46 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
updated 1:33 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT