Posting nude ‘selfies’ without consent is ‘abuse’
Posting and sharing explicit photos of someone without their consent is an act of abuse bordering on violence, according to Brenda Murphy, a senior lecturer in Gender Studies at the University.
“The blame must lie fairly and squarely with the person who has carried out the violent or abusive act, which in this case is reposting a photo to the public,” Dr Murphy said.
The academic, whose research interests include gender and the media, was reacting to the furore after naked ‘selfies’ of several young Maltese women were posted online last week.
Singer Ira Losco had flagged the photos on Facebook. She expressed concern about “irresponsible men” who shared the photos, but made it clear she felt the women who took the photos were “most at fault”.
Dr Murphy disagreed:“I’m not blaming the girls; we are all subject to society’s current pressures.”
“The message young girls are getting from the media is one of hyper-sexualisation. Young girls are being told the only way to behave is in a sexual way.
“We are becoming desensitised to it. Girls are now valuing themselves according to this criterion,” she said.
The photos have since been removed from a blog dedicated to Maltese girls, which closed down shortly after it was reported in the mainstream media.
However, they have been widely shared through social networks and mobile phone apps.
One of the women posted a comment on the offending blog before it closed, claiming to have uploaded two of the explicit ‘selfies’ to her Instagram (photo sharing) account by accident.
It is not known exactly how the photos began to circulate widely, but the posting of them on a blog led to fears of ‘revenge porn’, whereby jilted lovers or hackers upload explicit pictures to the web without the subject’s consent.
Dr Murphy was dismayed by the reaction from sections of society, who seemed to think the women brought the problems upon themselves.
She saw parallels with the 1960s and 1970s when rape began to be discussed openly, and some commentators said women deserved violent treatment because of their behaviour.
“It is the perpetrators, not the victims, who should have to account for themselves. This mainstream reaction takes away the responsibility from the aggressor, who is guilty of bullying and abuse.”
Whether the women had naively shared the photos with na ex-boyfriend or whether they entered the public realm another way, Dr Murphy was very concerned about the psychological impact on the subjects.
“In Malta it is exacerbated by size; you can’t go to the other side of the country to forget about it. It may cause profound damage to the person’s psychological wellbeing,” she said.
For Dr Murphy, one solution is to teach children about “media literacy”, so they can challenge and critique the messages they are bombarded with daily.
“We need to empower young women and men to think for themselves. The sexualisation of women is just as damaging for men. The message they get is women can be objectified, because the media reinforces this message.”
Police said investigations were ongoing. Distributing, circulating or publicly displaying pornographic material in Malta is illegal, but lawyers said this is difficult to enforce online.
The Data Protection Commissioner said he had no jurisdiction over websites such as Tumblr and Facebook, which are based in the US.
The Social Solidarity Ministry was asked if it would propose a law making it illegal to post sexually explicit material online without the subjects’ consent, as Israel did last week.
It has not yet replied.