Whether you consider them a tribute to body positivity and sexual liberation or a sign of civil and social decline, they are inarguably a hallmark of the modern era: nudes.
Thanks to the internet and social media, the advent of easily shareable nudes, or sexually explicit photos and videos, has created both a billion-dollar boom in cyberporn and a troubling space for victimization and exploitation.
One such space is nonconsensual porn, or as it’s problematically referred to as, “revenge porn.” That’s when sexual images are shared without the permission of the subject, often, but not always, by a scorned or former lover.
The posting of these nonconsensual images, never meant to be shared publicly, often has the intended effect — to humiliate and shame. It’s a hideous practice that has ruined lives.
Hustler magazine is often credited with commercializing it in the 1980s with reader-submitted photos. A number of victims successfully sued Hustler after proving their photos were stolen or submitted without consent.
In 2014, a collection of nearly 500 photos of celebrities, many sexually explicit, was posted online, obtained illegally from an iCloud hack. Multiple perpetrators were eventually charged and sentenced to prison.
Today, with laws prohibiting the distribution of nonconsensual porn on the books in 46 states, Washington, D.C., one U.S. territory and the U.S. military, it’s hard to imagine anyone defending it.
And yet, according to a report by the Orlando Sentinel, one Florida lawmaker was adamantly opposed to a bill meant to stop it. You may have heard of him, he’s been in the news recently: Rep. Matt Gaetz.
The report details the former state legislator’s opposition to a bill outlawing nonconsensual porn, a bill sponsored by fellow Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson, who says Gaetz “was absolutely against it.”
“He thought the picture was his to do with what he wanted,” Goodson continued. “He thought that any picture was his to use as he wanted to, as an expression of his rights.”
The bill was finally passed in 2015, on a 114-2 vote. Gaetz was one of the two “no”s.
Putting aside Gaetz’s obvious lack of concern for the rights of victims in the cases of nonconsensual porn, his words and that vote are now coming back to haunt the embattled congressman, who is accused of showing explicit images of women he had sex with to other lawmakers, while on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to CNN.
Gaetz is also accused of having sex with a 17-year-old girl and sex trafficking, both of which he denies.
In what may seem like a contradiction, Gaetz once defended a Democratic colleague who was herself the victim of revenge porn in 2019.
When former California Rep. Katie Hill was investigated for allegations that she’d had sexual relationships with two staffers, and explicit photos of her were posted online, Gaetz was quick to dismiss the public scrutiny as an invasion of her privacy.
He tweeted, “Who among us would look perfect if every ex leaked every photo/text? Katie isn’t being investigated by Ethics or maligned because she hurt anyone — it is because she is different.”
And just last week, in an op-ed he penned defending himself, he boasts of his support for her, writing, “I just didn’t think it was anyone’s business.”
Advocating for her privacy in the face of potential ethics violations involving sex looks different now in light of the allegations against Gaetz. While Hill was appreciative then, she has also noticed the potential hypocrisy.
She writes in a Vanity Fair essay: “The women on his phone likely had no idea that the nude photos and videos they’d either privately shared or that he’d taken (with or without their consent) were being passed around and ogled by Republican congressmen. If true, Matt had engaged in the very practice he’d defended me from.”
Perhaps no one’s surprised that Gaetz is afflicted with a case of situational morality that’s convenient for him.
As a state legislator, he fought to keep nonconsensual porn legal in Florida — and might have benefitted from that today if the bill he opposed hadn’t been passed, and the allegations against him prove true.
As a U.S. congressman, he was against the posting of nonconsensual porn because a congresswoman’s sex life is “nobody’s business” — even if it involves potential ethics violations.
He now faces potential ethics violations of his own, some involving pornographic photos of women he’s alleged to have shared without their consent to other lawmakers.
I wonder where he’ll land on the nonconsensual porn issue today. Something tells me he’s back in favor.
Cupp writes for Tribune Content Agency and is host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN: firstname.lastname@example.org.