THE BLOG
10/15/2014 05:22 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

Revenge Porn Terrorism

Compassionate Eye Foundation/Paul Bradbury/OJO Images Ltd via Getty Images

The threat of revenge porn has become the weapon of choice to terrorize women. The images are intended to humiliate, to destroy a woman's reputation, to impact her livelihood, to limit what she can dream to achieve. But we incorrectly characterize the only victims of revenge porn as the women whose bodies are offered for public consumption without their consent. This is not the single expression of the threat. The truth is that all women are the targets and victims of revenge porn terrorism. And like all terrorism, the intent is to intimidate one's enemy into a state of fear and submission.

Terrorism is not merely a bomb in a public square or a mass shooting at a movie theater. It is the possibility of it. It is this possibility that shapes the decisions we make about where we go, how we behave, whom we trust, and the manner in which we lead our lives. Herein lies the perverse nature of terrorism. It actively debilitates and changes us even if the threat is not executed. It makes us stop doing the things we love. We stop being ourselves.

Revenge porn terrorism compels women to fear those they love. It isolates men and women and places them in opposition of one another. It infuses every interaction between a man and a woman with an imbalanced power dynamic by robbing a woman of control over her own fate and placing it in the hands of another. It doesn't matter that not every man would exploit this weapon. It matters that any man can. The number of women I know who have been threatened by a partner, a husband, a boyfriend with the images they produced together in an environment of love and respect are innumerable.

We have become accustomed to the use of revenge porn terrorism. As a matter of course, revenge porn is now the go-to threat for any man seeking to destroy a woman. For any man seeking to extort a woman for sex. To destroy the reputation of his ex-wife. To wield power in divorce proceedings or business negotiations. To ensure that an abused partner won't leave. And the terrorist doesn't even have to go through with it. The threat is sufficient to silence her and force her into submission because the consequences are so grave. The perfect weapon.

And it's working. Women are being hard-wired to associate fear with intimacy. Terrorism has led us to scan the room for hidden cameras rather than look into our lover's eyes. Terrorism has made us afraid to take pictures of our bodies and to explore our own sexuality in safety. But wherein lies the power of this threat? A bomb and a bullet threaten one's physical safety and sense of security, but what power, what truth, lies behind my naked body? Judges, doctors, politicians, movie stars, the popular girl in school; no matter her success or contribution, show us her breasts and it is all for naught. It places an enormous amount of power in the hands of weak men. The power not only to destroy everything she has built, but to do so with legal impunity.

But the insanity lies not with the abusers who hack or reveal images shared with them in confidence. The trouble is the power we hand them. We, as a society of men and women, who give life to the grave consequences. We, who believe this naked woman is less commendable for her achievements, less admirable for her intelligence, less worthy of our respect. We, who believe that a woman who engages in consensual sex is engaging in behaviour that is shameful and debased. We, who believe we are entitled to a woman's naked body simply because she is naked and on camera. That's all, really. It doesn't matter if it is a hidden camera. It doesn't matter if she was documented under threat or agreed to it as a result of emotional abuse by a partner. It doesn't matter if the victim created the images within the confines of a monogamous intimate relationship which would be a normative expression of female sexuality and thus acceptable, or at least less punishable. It doesn't matter that she has not consented to the viewing of her naked body and that the publishing and viewing thus constitutes rape. She has forsaken her right to her physical and emotional autonomy and integrity by possessing a female body. We believe something about her now. Something that absolves us of responsibility. Something that makes it ok to capitalize on her abuse. It is this set of beliefs that is the source of the terrorist's power.

The depraved person cowering behind a screen understands that to reveal a woman's sexuality is to annul her success. All he has to do is post the image and he knows we will do the rest. We deflect the blame to him because it is easier, but he is only leveraging the power we willingly deliver. We are responsible. Criminalizing revenge porn, while critical, would merely provide a remedy for a symptom. We must address the moral vacuum that permits the terrorists to operate within our society and the irresponsible and schizophrenic education of men and women that feeds it.

We teach young men that they are validated by the power they exert over a woman. We force that boy into a false and detrimental construct of maleness in which it is impossible to view a sexual woman as an equal. We teach him to dismember women in his mind so that a woman is merely the sum of her constituent parts, rather than an entire human being whose physical integrity must be respected, whose consent must be secured.

Yet, we teach young women that they are validated by their sexuality. Every single image we offer that girl, every complement, reinforces the celebration of physical beauty and of male constructs of femininity. We teach her to seek out male validation in social media, that a good measure of her worth is how many men like her pictures on Instagram and to take a slap on the ass as a complement. We teach her to compete for male attention in a race to the bottom that is not her own, a race that has been constructed for the benefit of men. We teach her to act against her own self-interest and then we blame her for her shortsightedness and stupidity in doing so.

We teach them that the whore deserves their love but not their respect, the prude their respect but not their love. We teach them that you can make any woman a whore by revealing her sexuality; and once a woman is reduced to her sexuality, she becomes a public commodity to which we all have a right.

We force women to walk along a tightrope of a false binary of womanhood, balancing the prude and the whore and inevitably tumbling under the weight of the world. It is in this environment that terrorism thrives. It is this set of beliefs, to which both men and women subscribe, that feeds terror. It is here that we cultivate, incubate and nurture the power wielded by terrorists who seek to terrify and silence. And it weakens us all. Imagine what we could achieve if we weren't so afraid.

We have a problem. The perverts who post these images only shown a mirror in our faces. We must take responsibility for the reflection.