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Why the Sexting Scandal Matters

The barrage of leaked celebrity nudes that recently flooded social media and led to some of the strongest public reactions to date gave rise to many debates that deserve to be analyzed and discussed. Although one of hundreds of well-known faces whose intimate pictures were hacked and published, Jennifer Lawrence has become the poster girl for this latest hacking. She is not the first victim and will almost certainly not be the last. From legal implications to its larger social impact, this scandal has demonstrated that the Internet can betray us even if we have an Oscar.

     It seems almost common knowledge that everyone has a right to privacy, but this hasn’t always been the case, especially for famous people. Nowadays, the courts are siding with the victims of these scandals, but depending on what charges are brought against the hackers. For example, in the Jennifer Lawrence case, it has been speculated that a judge will not allow for a copyright infringement case to be made because the pictures were not taken by Jennifer Lawrence herself, but by another, unknown person. Because Jennifer Lawrence is not the photographer behind these pictures, they do not legally belong to her.  On the other hand, the victim can press charges for things like intentional infliction of emotional distress, like in a historical case where Jackie O. sued a paparazzi claiming he had intruded into her and her children’s lives by following and constantly photographing them.

    Another charge that could be brought against the hackers is that of wire fraud, but in order to be found guilty of this, the victim has to show evidence of quite a few things that could be difficult to prove, like intent. Another recent case, one that many believe J. Law and other victims of this latest hacking could use to build their case, is one that involved some of the biggest names in Hollywood, like Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, and Christina Aguilera. The hacker, Christopher Chaney, hacked his way into their e-mail accounts and eventually released their nudes online. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for charges that included espionage and non-authorized access to a computer, making it one of the biggest victories in terms of hacking cases. Legally speaking, these are very tricky cases because they are based on subjective interpretation of the law. The fact that there is no written, black-and-white protocol that one can legally follow to ensure that the hackers will be brought to justice is worrisome, and only serves to point out that our legal system has yet to catch up to our technology.

   This legal grey area is not the only worrisome part of sexting scandals. The fact that the majority of the hundreds of nude pictures that leaked were of women demonstrates the latent sexism that is very much alive in our society and that excludes women from many activities, including being benefitted by sexting. Why is it that when we log into Twitter, we don’t see a bunch of leaked nudes from the likes of David Beckham, Johnny Depp, Chace Crawford and Zac Efron? It seems far-fetched and improbable to say that women are the only ones who take naked pictures of themselves and that they are always the subject of sexts but never their receivers, yet why is it that it’s almost always naked photos of a woman that are being circulated online? Is a female naked body more attention-grabbing than a male one? Or is it something that goes deeper than that? Because these women are naked, they stop being viewed as people and instead become objects that are only there for men to enjoy. When these kind of photos are made public, the woman becomes diminished: she is naked, in a state of extreme vulnerability, and is being publically displayed in all of her sexuality, which our society tells women is only okay to do behind closed doors. Because what was once private is now available for all to see (shocker! Jennifer Lawrence has body parts and can pose them sexily!), she is now deemed less respectable.  

     Celebrities are not untouchable human beings immune to suffering. They make a career out of playing roles that will eventually become part of the shows and movies we watch. They are paid millions of dollars and given infinite amounts of publicity for what they do, but their Hollywood lifestyle doesn’t give us permission to access their private lives illegally like Peeping Toms.

May the odds, the courts, and the public be ever in your favor, J. Law.

Sources: 

  •  Dávila Pernas, L. (2009, August). Derecho a la propia imagen: ¿Derecho patrimonial o vertiente del derecho a la intimidad?, Revista Jurídica UIPR, 44, 137-156
Gabrielle Thurin is a Sociology major at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus. She interned at the professional services firm Ernst & Young during the spring of 2013 and spent the summer of 2013 as an intern at the prestigious law firm Fiddler, González, & Rodríguez, P.S.C., where she currently works part-time as a law clerk in the Foreclosures department. Gabrielle enjoys reading, pop culture references, vintage-inspired dresses, and discovering new things. Also, Netflix.
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