Yifat Kariv

Invasion of privacy or sexual harassment?

urges new legislation in Israel to stop nude photo hackers

Distributing naked pictures of Hollywood stars is another example of a dark online phenomenon, it is “virtual rape.” The private photos, which the world now has access to, required those who distribute them to hack accounts, unlock passwords, steal photographs and invade the privacy of their victims. Hackers, or as I prefer to call them “virtual rapists,” spent hours staring at stolen naked pictures. They entered into the most private realms of these famous actresses and treated them as porn stars who came to entertain them and then spread the images publicly.

The leaking of nude photos of the famous has once again raised the issue of “Virtual Rape” that could strike any one of us. The legal and social issues that arise from this phenomenon are whether the distribution of intimate and private photos are only a violation of privacy, or if the distribution should be considered an act of sexual harassment, indecent assault and even rape.

Does society allow itself to spread the pictures because the victims are famous? Does it mean that every film or TV actress can be forced to transition into pornography against her will? Would these sites and newspapers continue to spread similar images if it were pictures of anonymous young women rather than actresses?

In 2012, Amanda Todd, a 16-year-old Canadian girl, committed suicide when nude pictures of her circulated online without her knowledge. It highlighted for the world just how serious this dark phenomenon truly is.

It’s time to stop for a moment and think about what happens to that young woman who suddenly finds her naked pictures spread across the internet, accessible to everyone, giving pleasure to the masses, to the virtual rapists. One minute of fun and laughter for the masses weighed against the irreversible destruction of someone’s life. Did you ask yourself what it is doing to her? The one in the picture? How is she dealing with it? And what happens to her family members, spouse, children?

Israeli legislators made a breakthrough by setting a global legal precedent on this issue. In what has become known as “The Videos Law,” an amendment to the sexual harassment law, distribution of sexual photos without the consent of the parties involved is considered sexual harassment and punishable by up to five years in prison. The bodies and minds of young women and men are not objects and so this act receives a far greater punishment than violation of privacy.

This is not just a legal statement but a moral and social one. It is Israeli society saying, Enough! This stops here! This is not a prank, it’s not banter, nor is it, as some try to argue, freedom of information. This phenomenon is destroying the lives of girls and boys, young women and men who experience “virtual rape.” Images and videos will always be there in the virtual world. They will never truly disappear, they are now porn stars against their will.

The law passed through the Knesset in Israel in January 2014, changes the entire approach in Israel to this issue. From the moment a complaint is filed, the victim is treated as that of sexual assault and all police procedure is conducted with the appropriate sensitivity by a specially trained police officer. The victim is directed to therapy and offered psychological help. If found guilty, the perpetrator is treated as a sex offender and is punished as such.

In the United States, the first amendment, which deals with the freedom of speech, is an obstacle to similar legislation, but a number of congressmen and women are already looking to enact a similar law. This latest act of online sexual harassment should serve to push parliaments across the world to pass similar legislation and work together to bring online sexual harassment to an end.

The Internet has brought much good to the world, but at the same time we are discovering the disturbing social phenomena caused and sponsored by this technology; viral distribution of intimate sexual content is the collapse of all moral and normative barriers.

About the Author
Yifat Kariv is a member of Knesset with the Yesh Atid party. She heads parliamentary committees on Holocaust survivors, promotion of teens in Israel, young adult leadership and Israel-India relations. She lives in Hod Hasharon and is the mother of four children.