- Matt Gaetz once said the recipient of a private image could do with it what they want, his former colleague said this week.
- The Florida lawmaker has recently been accused of sharing nude images of women in Congress.
- Insider spoke to an expert to find out why this common assumption is wrong and also dangerous.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
When the state senate in Florida passed a bill that would ban nonconsensual pornography back in 2015, only two lawmakers voted against it. One of them was Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Former state Rep. Tom Goodson, who was the main sponsor of the legislation at the time, told the Orlando Sentinel this week that when he met with Gaetz to discuss his opposition, it was clear that “Matt was absolutely against it.”
“He thought the picture was his to do with what he wanted,” Goodson said, according to the Sentinel. “He thought that any picture was his to use as he wanted to, as an expression of his rights.”
Read more: A Trump appointee who drank vodka and had sex on the General Services Administration building’s roof is back with a new political committee, documents show
Gaetz’s supposed outlook has become even more problematic now that the lawmaker is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for allegedly showing several colleagues in Congress nude videos and images of women he’d slept with. This is on top of an already existing sex trafficking probe.
What is most striking about Goodson’s claims this week is Gaetz’s supposed assumption that the recipient of a private photo can do what they want with it. This is not only wrong, but also dangerous for victims of image-based abuse.
According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, the very definition of nonconsensual pornography, otherwise known as revenge porn, is “the distribution of private, sexually explicit images of individuals without their consent.”
Amy Hasinoff, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver who recently co-authored a study on image-based abuse, told Insider: “Just because someone consented to send a photo doesn’t mean the receiver has consent to distribute it. That’s a completely separate act.”
“If somebody wants to distribute your sexual images, they have to get your permission first,” she added.
For Hasinoff, this should be a no-brainer. It should be obvious that certain pieces of information — whether it’s health, financial, or sexual information — are meant to be private. It should be obvious that, like any other sex act, consent should be sought before sharing private images.
But unfortunately, nonconsensual pornography is still far too prevalent. A nationwide study in 2017 found that 1 in 8 Americans who have social media have been targets of image-based abuse. Women were significantly more likely to have been targets compared to men.
On top of this, the consequences of this crime can be devastating: 51% of US victims have contemplated suicide, according to research carried out by the campaign End Revenge Porn.
“We need to dispel the myth that the victim has done anything wrong”
Many victims of image-based abuse suffer from bad mental health because they end up becoming the subject of slut-shaming and victim-blaming. The very name “revenge porn” is misleading because it implies that the perpetrators are motivated by revenge.
Former Rep. Katie Hill, who was forced to resign from Congress in 2019 after nude images of her were leaked, told Fortune last year: “We need to dispel the myth that the victim has done anything wrong. When you hear…’She should never have taken those photos’ we’re talking about photos in many cases that were not even taken consensually, let alone distributed consensually.”
Hill is still struggling from the fall-out of what happened: She recently lost a lawsuit against the Daily Mail for publishing the photos of her (her team plans on appealing the case.)
Like many victims, her mental health has also suffered. “One of the most overwhelming feelings is knowing that the vast majority of people who know who I am if I encounter them on the street and they recognize me. I have to hold it within my mind that there’s a very good chance they’ve seen my naked pictures,” she told Fortune.
“That’s a really shitty thing to think about,” she added.
After leaving Congress, Hill vowed to campaign against revenge porn, most likely why the recent Gaetz allegations have hit her hard.
Last week, the former Representative tweeted that she felt “depressed, anxious, nauseated” by the new claims, especially because she once considered Gaetz an unlikely ally (he had defended her during the scandal.)
“I have to wonder about what his motives were when he defended me back then,” Hill said in an interview with CNN on Friday. “Knowing now that that could’ve been just because he was trying to kind of cover-up for whatever his own indiscretions were or be able to use my name and invoke that defense later on. It’s just gross.”
For Hill and other campaigners, the fight is still far from over.
At the time of writing, 46 states, the District of Columbia, and one territory have revenge porn laws. However, they’re still relatively new, contain many loopholes, and change drastically within each state. Conviction rates also remain very low.
Masinoff told Insider that one way to solve this problem is to make it clear to people that behavior like this is unacceptable — and even deadly. And it starts with not assuming you can share a private image as you wish.
“Most of the response to this problem has been to create sort of new criminal laws to try to punish people for doing it,” Masinoff said. “I understand that that’s sort of the tool that we have right now, but it’s wrong that this is one of the only ways we can tell people that their behavior is bad.”
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