A Brave Woman Is Fighting Back Against Revenge Porn, One Naked Photo at a Time

A Brave Woman Is Fighting Back Against Revenge Porn, One Naked Photo at a Time

Sometimes self-confidence is the best revenge.

In October 2011, Emma Holten discovered that her ex-boyfriend had published private, naked pictures of her online. She had, as she wrote for Hysteria, "become one of the thousands, hundreds of thousands, of girls thrown into the porn industry against their will." Further exacerbating Holten's humiliation were the countless messages from strange men that flooded her inbox. 

"These messages were from men all over the world," she wrote. "They knew it was against my will, that I didn't want to be on those sites ... The absence of consent was erotic; they relished my suffering."

After struggling with feelings of degradation and shame, Holten decided to turn the tables on her harassers and reclaim her body as "a sexual subject instead of an object." She promptly hired photographer Cecilie Bødker to photograph her topless — and released the pictures herself.

Feminism as inspiration: Holten credits the feminist movement with helping her cope in the immediate aftermath of her ex-boyfriend's betrayal. 

"Feminism played a very large part in me gaining some ground in the time following the initial release of the non-consensual pictures," she told Mic. "A lot of this shame is strongly internalized, and I found it extremely helpful to understand that my body had become part of a system, and that the way I was being treated had a name: misogyny. This made it much easier for me to cope, since I came to understand that this issue wasn't personal, but systemic."

Holten is right: Misogyny has systematically bred myriad forms of violence and discrimination against women's bodies for millennia. It is an institutionalized, systemic disease that adapts and advances alongside humanity. 

Case in point: As technology evolves, so does the proliferation of women's humiliation and abuse online. In recent years, revenge pornography — in which sexually explicit material is shared on the Internet without the featured person's consent — has flourished. Unfortunately, this makes Holten's experience a widely shared one, which has prompted public outcry and action from civil rights groups and legislators alike.

But are laws enough to stop the spread of revenge porn and online sexual harassment? "It's difficult to say, since obviously culture and legislation interplay," Holten told Mic. "I think what laws do is to very clearly tell us who is in the wrong ... However, legislation cannot stand on its own, and this is where people like me come in. Raising awareness and radically criticizing objectification and dehumanization and its interpellation with sex is paramount. Our opposition to it must be ceaseless."

At the end of the day, consent is non-negotiable. Its necessity cannot be overemphasized; embracing a cultural shift towards affirmative consent simultaneously empowers women and delegitimizes misogynists. How we go about achieving this is equally important. As Holten says, "Personal empowerment will only get you so far, while fighting for radical female liberation will give you strength for a lifetime."