Let's call the Leslie Jones attack what it is: revenge porn, not trolling

Let's call the Leslie Jones attack what it is: revenge porn, not trolling
Source: AP
Source: AP

On Wednesday, comedian Leslie Jones was the victim of a vicious cybercrime: Hackers stole nude photos of the star, along with her driver's license and passport, and posted them on her website, JustLeslie.com. 

The attack highlights the layers of sexual violence black women face online. As Katy Perry aptly pointed out, Jones' attack is beyond misogyny — it's misogynoir, the unique brand of hatred directed at black women, often demonstrated in American pop culture.

Jones has dealt with months of relentless harassment on social media, and ultimately quit Twitter in July after receiving a barrage of hate speech. Why? She is the black lead actress in the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters, which was widely protested for its all-female starring cast. 

Whoever attacked Jones is not a "troll." We need to call the hack what it is: an act of sexual violence, a hate crime in the form of revenge porn.

What revenge porn does to its victims: Revenge porn, which is criminalized in at least 34 states, is the publication of explicit material featuring someone who did not consent to having their likeness shared. Revenge porn is spread to intentionally cause the victim severe distress, to humiliate and silence them.

According to a study by researcher Samantha Bates, nearly all revenge porn victims suffer severe mental health effects for years after the initial crime, including "trust issues, PTSD, anxiety, depression, elevated fear and loss of confidence and self-esteem." The victims also reportedly had varying "difficulties" with their sexuality and romantic relationships.  

That's why it's crucial not to trivialize this attack as if it were a celebrity scandal. Jones doesn't have any "leaked nudes," as most headlines are saying. She is not a DJ who accidentally posted a new track before the album dropped. Her private photos are stolen digital property. 

As a single black woman in the public eye, Jones' sexuality was already highly scrutinized. It's a topic Jones has always confronted head-on. "I'm a great fucking catch. ... I'm fine," she declared in her 2010 Showtime special. In wielding intimate photos as a weapon against her, hackers tried to undermine Jones' bodily autonomy.

The internet is trying to lay the blame on Jones: On Twitter, Reddit and other corners of the internet, victim blaming was a common response. Many questioned why Jones owned nude photographs in the first place. It underlines the sexist assumption that famous women's bodies are only ever photographed for public consumption

Furthermore, it's important to recognize the racial dimensions of this crime. The Telegraph reported the hackers uploaded a video of Harambe, the internet-famous gorilla, onto Jones' website — a blatantly racist symbol that attempted to mock and dehumanize Jones' black body. 

A long history of racist hate speech: Jones is not the first; many celebrities have been victimized by hackers stealing private photos, most notably in the Celebgate incident in 2014. But few of these victims have been targeted with the level of hate speech and ongoing, coordinated campaigns like Jones has. 

Wednesday's revenge porn attack is just the latest in a series of abuse aimed at chasing Jones away from the internet's public spaces. If we reduce this story to yet another tale of salacious photos and harmless "trolling," the internet will continue to be a hunting ground for those preying on women of color who dare to be in the public eye.