If you follow Bella Thorne on social media, or if you’ve just been on Twitter lately, you probably already know that she’s the latest in a long line of celebrities who have been victimized by hackers that threaten to release their nudes. Maybe you’ve even seen the pictures in question, as she tweeted them herself in a bid to take back power. Here’s the statement she released alongside the photos (which aren’t included, for obvious reasons).
While many rushed to defend Thorne and applaud her for such a brave response to a cowardly act of manipulation, not everyone was sympathetic to her plight. Every time a woman’s sexual expression becomes the focus of public scrutiny, plenty of people inevitably feel entitled to share their two cents on what she should or should not have done.
Whoopi Goldberg, cohost of “The View” and overall cultural icon, clearly had no problem condescending to Thorne for the talk show’s millions of viewers. The infamous segment opens with Joy Behar joking about a picture of Thorne (“Oh, she’s fully clothed here.”) and saying if she had that body, she’d be posting her breasts everywhere. But that’s not even the controversial part.
Goldberg takes home the gold for “Cohost With the Worst Take.” She proudly blames the victim and tells Thorne she should have known better than to take nudes in the first place. In her words, “If you’re famous, I don’t care how old you are, you don’t get to take nude pictures of yourself … Once you take that picture, it goes into the cloud, and it’s available to any hacker who wants it, and if you don’t know that in 2019 … I’m sorry, your age does not — you don’t get to do that.”
Obviously, everything isn’t black and white and easy to define as good or bad, and Goldberg is right to point out the false sense of security we have with our smartphones. Too often, we assume that because we typically only access private information with our phone in hand, that’s the only way someone else could access it too. Her intent was most likely not to shame Thorne for expressing herself sexually, but to warn viewers about the potential consequences of carelessness when it comes to nudes.
But Goldberg’s tone tells a different story; her lack of empathy transforms Thorne from a victim of extortion into a dumb floozy who deserved what she got. To say that she shouldn’t have taken nudes in the first place is about as helpful as telling people who’ve suffered from identity theft that they shouldn’t have signed up for a credit card. As most people with a shred of common decency would believe, we deserve a right to some level of privacy, and when that right is violated by another person, the violator should suffer the consequences — not the victim.
Sunny Hostin and Meghan McCain, the other cohosts, did attempt to defend Thorne. Hostin remarked that Thorne only meant to share the photos with one person and that the extortionist is really the one at fault, and McCain makes the great point that nowadays, everybody sends nudes. Nearly everyone I know who’s been in a relationship has sent at least one racy photo to their significant other; between the rapid rise of technology and the concurrent increase in long-distance relationships, sharing intimate photos has become as normalized as premarital sex.
With so many people taking and receiving nudes, you’d think the taboo would be long gone, but an alarming number of people have tweeted in support of Goldberg’s comments, labeling her victim-blaming behavior as the kind of truthful, “tough love” advice they’d give to their own daughters.
But imagine this: your hypothetical daughter is in hysterics because she’s just had her naked body forcibly broadcast to the world. Would you really tell her that she should’ve known better than to take the picture at all?
We tend to take a hypocritical stance when evaluating celebrity behavior, because apparently when a person becomes famous, they lose their right to privacy. There are plenty of videos on the internet where fans and paparazzi stalk celebrities’ homes and approach their families without consent. We love to consume the drama of real people’s lives, and when celebrities complain about their lack of privacy, we love to turn the blame over to them, because they supposedly asked for it by choosing to be famous.
But in this case, it isn’t just some scandalous, legally-questionable tabloid fodder. It’s illegal. In Thorne’s state, California, Penal Code Section 647(j)(4) PC punishes “any person who intentionally distributes the image of the intimate body part or parts of another identifiable person … under circumstances in which the persons agree or understand that the image shall remain private, the person distributing the image knows or should know that distribution of the image will cause serious emotional distress, and the person depicted suffers that distress.”
Does the fact that Thorne technically distributed the images herself preclude her from seeking prosecution? Maybe — I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t say. But clearly, she only shared them because they were going to come out anyway. Wherever this incident falls on the legal spectrum, it’s obvious we need better defense against hackers and nudes-leakers.
At the moment, there are no existing federal laws that ban this crime, and not every state has legislation in place to defend victims; those that do have laws on the books have various loopholes, just like California’s, that could potentially let criminals walk free.
This all seems discouraging, but there is hope. Just this past May, House Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and John Katko (R-NY) introduced the SHIELD Act. The act, which stands for Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution, seeks to provide protection and legal means of retribution to victims of revenge porn and “sextortion.” Senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA) also introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
Why is this so important? As Rep. Speier points out, “Even in states that have laws on the books, the average person can’t afford to take on these predators in civil courts.” This issue needs to be recognized as a serious criminal offense, because it can devastate lives, and, moreover, these lives disproportionately belong to women and children. And above all, anyone, no matter how famous, can be affected.
Do you have an ex with a grudge against you? They could release nude images you’d never meant for anyone else to see. It can ruin you: families fall apart, friends abandon each other. Victims’ reputations are ruined, and they can lose their jobs; sometimes, they choose to end their lives. But the offender’s life may simply go on with few, if any, repercussions.
David White, the National Executive Director of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), has been an outspoken supporter of the act. As the representative for thousands of famous creative minds, he recognizes that, “The decision to appear nude in any photographic or video content is a serious decision for any person, and it is a human rights violation for this choice to be taken away from them.”
And, no, simply telling people not to take nudes or send racy texts won’t solve anything. Americans don’t respond well to moralistic directives; remember the Prohibition? What about D.A.R.E., or abstinence-only sex education? It’s been proven that these programs don’t work, because there will always be people that go against them.
It’s time to move past this outdated argument, rooted in shame, and accept our social climate’s new understanding of sexuality. Only then will we be able to find legitimate solutions to keep people safe.