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OPINION: Why nude photos are not the problem

OPINION: Why nude photos are not the problem

Another day, another scandal to remind us that misogyny is alive and well.

A recent article by news.com.au’s Nina Funnell revealed that young women from over 70 schools across Australia have been targeted by an online pornography ring. Over 2,000 photos have been shared without consent, with users requesting pictures of girls from certain regions and schools, and posting personal details of targets such as names and addresses.

Unfortunately, too many people seem to believe this story highlights two problems. Firstly, boys have preyed upon these girls, but the more important second, these girls took naked photos in the first place.

It’s important to note that not all of the photos on the site were consensually taken by these girls. Yet, for those that were, let’s get one thing straight: young women who privately send a photo of themselves to an individual should not be anyone’s concern. The entitled attitudes of men who seek and share those photos, without consent, for the calculated purpose of shaming and objectifying women is where our concern - nay, outrage and disgust - should lie. To place them on equal levels is absurd, and completely ignores the predatory nature of sex crimes.

The girls taking these photos have a right to do what they want with their bodies, moral panic about female sexuality be damned. Yet theresponse from law enforcement and ‘do-gooder’ citizens seems to focus on explaining how very “wrong” it is to take nude photos. News flash - that isn’t the problem. The young men who find it entirely natural to stalk, harass, and exploit young women are the problem, yet they are hardly mentioned in the dialogue surrounding such issues. The truth is, rape culture is so ingrained that victim-blaming permeates the highest echelons of society, including the very people charged with women’s protection.

We are taught that men who stalk, who harass, and who manipulate are caricature creeps sitting in their basements. But the response to this news story shows us that this culture is widespread and inherent. People cannot fathom how it could be that those responsible are the boys sitting next to girls in class - they are sons, brothers, diligent students.

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In a world where young men accused of rape simply claim they “made a mistake”, yet women who take consensual nude photos deserve to be stalked and harassed, it’s no wonder people view women as sexual objects who can be preyed upon and swapped like baseball cards. Considering the internet offers access to innumerous consensual nude images, it’s clear that the purpose of this website is not nudity, but power, control and ownership of women.

Still, the overwhelming reaction from schools is to restrict young women’s actions. This was highlighted by outraged mother, Catherine Manning, who posted on Facebook a few days ago describing how her daughter’s school, Kambrya College in Victoria, began measuring girl’s skirts to the knee and told girls to “protect their integrity” because “boys are distracted by their legs, and boys don’t respect girls who wear short skirts”. This, despite Manning - who runs respectful relationships programs - volunteering her services to the school free of charge, an offer they did not accept.

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Sure, if they never took the nude photos, then there wouldn’t be any photos to pass around. Do I understand that parents might prefer their daughters not to engage in such behaviours? Of course I do. I might feel the same way. But unfortunately for them, they cannot control young women’s sex lives, and they have no right to - I’m sure all the father-with-a-shotgun-jokers will be very disappointed to hear that.

When will our society begin to understand that limiting women’s behaviour in order to ensure men cannot abuse and assault us is not the way to affect positive change? This same logic sees women told not to be out late at night, to always walk with others, to visit the bathroom in pairs, to never be drunk, to never party, and to ‘stop using the internet’ when they are harassed. People say “there’s no harm” in these warnings but they don’t realise that in teaching our daughters that they are partially responsible for men’s actions, there is harm. Why do we suggest limitations like “don’t drink” and “don’t listen to music while running”, when the same suggestions aimed at men would be deemed ridiculous or unrealistic?

The fact is, every precaution in the world cannot stop people from doing bad things. But when they do, let’s hold the culprits responsible, rather than suggesting the victims should never have *insert random activity that women are free to do and that men never have to second-guess here*. We need to seek change from those who commit the crimes because in a long history of blaming women for men’s behaviour, this never ending list of patriarchal nonsense has never actually seen sexual violence decrease.

All of these ideas are, frankly, ludicrous. As is the idea that something put online, in a private message, “belongs to the internet”. I’d like to see the reaction of the very same people claiming as much if they were to privately share a brilliant business idea with a friend, and it were stolen. If they were to share a photo of themselves that was then used for an erectile dysfunction commercial without their permission, imagine the outrage! Those same people would suddenly understand the notion of consent perfectly well. So where is all the confusion arising? It seems the argument “once it’s on the internet, you can’t complain about its use” is only reserved for young women expressing any kind of sexuality. Well, I’m calling bullshit.

This is not a problem caused by women taking nude photos. It's caused by young men being continually taught that women are sexual objects. If you blame the girls photographed, you are tacitly endorsing the commodification of women against their will and are dismissing the importance of consent. If you have looked at nude photos that were not consented to (such as the infamous JLaw photos) you have sexually violated someone. The fact that looking at those photos is so commonplace should disturb us a whole lot more than it does.

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Here’s an idea: maybe, just maybe, we should start making it a priority to teach students how important respectful gender relations are and what they look like, well before they reach this vile point. That hundreds of young men thought it appropriate to stalk, harass and sexually exploit young women they knew shows exactly where the problem lies.

And it’s not in the taking of nude photos, regardless of whether the women involved view the photos as an assertion of sexual ownership or a stupid mistake (neither of which are illegal or immoral). Because even if nude photos were never again taken, these same men would simply be exploiting and harassing women in other ways. The cause is rampant sexism, and it will continue to manifest in numerous forms until we fix the actual problem.

So if you’re going to preach anything to your kids tonight, make it about gender equality and treating women like humans. Why? Because we happen to know it’s the only damn thing that actually creates change.

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