It's been five years since an iCloud hack made hundreds of nude photos of celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Amber Heard, available to essentially every single person on the internet. And yet, in that time, the perpetrators have largely gone unpunished, as have the many, many others who've brought about what's now a full-fledged phenomenon, known as "revenge porn."
Of course, it's not just celebrities who are victims, but also regular folks and officials in the public eye. Take Katie Hill, who was a House representative and rising star of the Democratic Party until last week, after a harassment campaign involving the nonconsensual publication of nude photos forced her to resign. "I'm leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching," Hill said in a speech on Capitol Hill. "I am leaving because of the thousands of vile, threatening emails, calls and texts that made me fear for my life and the lives of the people that I care about."
It's well worth reading Hill's lengthy, impassioned speech in its entirety. But perhaps even more significant is what Hill left unsaid: At no point did she use the words "revenge porn." Widely used as it is, the phrase is a misnomer—and quite the harmful one at that, as Heard explained in a op-ed published in the New York Times on Monday.
Heard, unfortunately, would know; the 33-year-old actor is all too familiar with the phenomenon in question. "Imagine someone stripping you naked in the middle of a busy street, suddenly exposing you to the leering eyes of strangers. Now imagine that this moment never ends but repeats itself endlessly and that as it does, all you can hear is the crowd shouting, 'You deserved it,'" she wrote of the "humiliating, degrading, and life-altering" aftermath of the 2014 hack. "And because nothing disappears from the internet, the torment will never end."
Heard knows that her situation is somewhat unique: "I am a high-profile, white woman in the entertainment industry. I am fortunate enough to have fantastic legal counsel and access to receptive law enforcement agents. I am financially secure and enjoy a tremendous amount of good will from fans. Despite all of the resources and advantages I enjoy, however, I still fell victim to this abuse. To this day, my private photos remain online and my tormentors remain unpunished." So, she continued, "What happens when a person with far fewer advantages is victimized?"
It's a question well worth asking, seeing as low-income women and women of color, as well as LGBTQ individuals, face a greater risk—and sometimes lethal consequences. At a time when "everyone is one step away from becoming famous," the lack of justice for even privileged celebrity victims shouldn't be overlooked: "The power of social media makes it possible for any person to be dragged before the eyes of the world. Nonconsensual pornography in particular forces a horrible kind of fame on its victims. And the average nonconsensual pornography victim has very few resources to manage the fallout of that involuntary fame."
That's in large part because, for public and everyday individuals alike, nonconsensual pornography is legislatively considered not a violation of privacy, but a form of harassment. The potential legal consequences for perpetrators, then, are much less. There's another legal flaw, too: Harassment laws target those with explicit motives, whereas hacks like the one involving Heard, or the Marines' Facebook group of their coworkers' nude photos, weren't about retaliation or vengeance.
Therein lies the problem with the phrase "revenge porn": "It is focused on intent rather than consent. What matters is not why the perpetrator disclosed the images; it is that the victim did not consent to the disclosure," Heard explained. "That is why laws against nonconsensual pornography should look like laws against other privacy violations, like the laws that prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of a broad range of private information, such as medical records and Social Security numbers." It's up to Congress, she continued, to pass legislation to change that. As her case and so many others demonstrate, even those who live in 46 states with anti-nonconsensual pornography laws are still exposed.
Amber Heard: Look Twice
Originally Appeared on W