“It’s Not A Career Boost- It’s A New Form Of Sexual Abuse” Gabrielle Union Is Fighting Back After Her Nude Photo Leak

November 7, 2014  |  

I think it’s safe to assume that the general public didn’t take the celebrity nude photo hacks seriously. In fact far too many people celebrated their release, posting and retweeting the photos, focusing more on their own feelings of misplaced glee at seeing these celebrities naked, than the fact that the rights of another human being, another woman, had been violated. To be clear, having your phone hacked and having pictures that were intended to be private, blasted across the internet, is nothing short of a violation.

And yet, the way many sites have reported the hacks and the way many people have interpreted the attacks, seem to suggest that these celebrities were stupid for taking the pictures in the first place. And as a result should feel shamed.

But eff what you heard.

Gabrielle Union sat down with Cosmopolitan to share the experience of having her photos leaked, how that particular violation felt and why, despite the invasive nature of the topic, she’s decided to fight back.

Gabrielle starts off telling the story of how she first learned her name was on the list of celebrities who had been hacked the day after her wedding.

I had been so happy that week, thinking about my wedding and honeymoon with my new husband, Miami Heat basketball player Dwyane Wade. But suddenly, I felt paralyzed…Nude photos of dozens of stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton were flying around the Internet…The shots had appeared on a website called 4Chan, where people can post anonymous comments and pictures. The site said more photos were to come, including mine. And so it began. It felt like The Hunger Games: You’re waiting to be attacked. Friends are assuring you that this will pass and people will move on to the next thing. But in this case, the next thing means the next victim — the next woman to have her naked body exposed to strangers against her will. And the crowd in the arena is going wild. People are critiquing and judging, cheering for more. They’re shouting, “Next! Next!”

My honeymoon was plagued by thoughts of when I would get hit. It was always in the back of my mind: Will today be the day my life gets ruined? I thought about my family and everyone the scandal would affect — my mom, who teaches classes about Catholicism to kids, and the three boys I had become a stepmother to when I married Dwyane. My husband, meanwhile, would always have to wonder who had seen intimate photos of me that only he was supposed to see.

The hit came three weeks later. I was on the final night of a beach retreat with Dwyane and the kids in Turks and Caicos. We had just given the boys a big lecture on how to protect themselves online, telling them to be careful what they post and what they say. Friends contacted me with the news: A photo of me had surfaced online. 

She explained that the first leaked picture, one that wasn’t too revealing, was taken three years ago. And since Dwyane has a habit of losing his cell phones, deleted from both of their devices after he saw it.

This was just the first of many. Though all of the pictures had been deleted from both of their phones, years ago, they were making their way to the internet, for the world to see.

Gabrielle said:

“I felt extreme anxiety, a complete loss of control. I suddenly understood that deleting things means nothing. You think it’s gone? It’s not. What is the point of even including a delete function on a phone if it doesn’t really delete? I had deleted the photos from my phone, but apparently they had remained on some server somewhere, unbeknownst to me, where hackers could find them.

I called my reps and attorneys, pleading, “Get the photos taken down.” They said it takes time — the shots were spreading fast, to some 50 sites within the first few hours. Nude pictures of other celebrities were appearing in this second wave too, including Rihanna and a new round of Jennifer Lawrence shots. I thought, this is a targeted attack, a hate crime against women. Photos of my friend Meagan Good showed up as well, and that really hurt — she’s like my little sister. We had become close while filming Deliver Us From Eva. She’s married to a pastor. I wanted to protect her from the inevitable character assassination. She was the target of a crime and did not deserve to be attacked.”

Experiencing this herself, watching her friends go through it and being on the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women, Gabrielle felt the need to speak out.

I didn’t like the public perception of this scandal — that we were just a bunch of narcissistic, sexually deviant celebrities who got what we deserved for being dumb. No one deserves to have a private moment stolen, whether it’s a photo, text, or email. Everyone has intimate parts of their life they don’t want the public to see

Some people say the publicity surrounding the photos helps our careers. We don’t need this kind of press. Jennifer Lawrence is the face of two billion-dollar franchises. It’s not a career boost — it’s a new form of sexual abuse. Other people think that they are entitled to know everything about us because we are celebrities, in the public eye. No. If I show my husband my naked body, it doesn’t mean everyone gets to see it. And people sometimes argue: But you wear skimpy bikinis — what’s the difference? The difference is that you are the one who chooses whether to show your body. When billions of people on the Internet can see you naked without your consent, it’s a crime.

Sadly, this is not the first time Gabrielle Union has been violated. When she was a college student, working at the Payless shoe store, she was raped by a stranger. She reported the incident and the man was caught and later prosecuted.

With one traumatic experience under belt, Gabrielle knew she had to speak out about this violation as well. She issued a statement about the photo leaks shortly after, explaining how women and especially Black women have been subjected to the nonconsensual sexual objectification of our bodies.

“I can’t help but be reminded that since the dawn of time, women and children, specifically women of color, have been victimized, and the power over their own bodies taken from them.” For black women targeted in this attack, there’s an added dimension. Throughout history, our bodies have been open for public consumption, as in the days of slavery, when black women were taken into the town square to be sold. They were paraded around naked, to be inspected and critiqued for future sale and sure abuse.”

While still on her honeymoon, Gabrielle said she was hesitant about leaving her hotel room.

“I just wanted to hide. I had a wave of fear, thinking everyone had seen me naked. Then I thought, wait a minute, to hide is to act like a guilty person. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I went downstairs with my family and had breakfast. I ate some amazing bacon. I braced myself for battle.”

And while she was surprised to find support in unlikely places, like the paparazzi, there was a notable silence.

“I also want to know: Where are all the women’s groups, the feminists, demanding justice in this case? The silence is deafening. 

She has a point there, even when feminist site Jezebel reported about Gabrielle’s article today, the tone of the piece seemed surprised, and dare I say irritated, that she seemed to call them out.

These days Gabrielle says she’s adjusting because her reality is certainly different now.

“Everything feels tainted. On Instagram, people tell me they’ve seen me naked. Walking into my favorite pizza place, I wonder who has seen the photos and what they are thinking. It’s part of daily life now. Some people have told me, “On the bright side, you look amazing in the photos.” I know they mean well, but this is a criminal act, a gross violation. It reminds me of the time someone asked me if my rapist was “cute.” That kind of misguided thinking lessens the severity of the crime and the horror of the experience.”

But despite this horrific experience, Gabrielle is trying to make the best of it.

“Here’s the way I choose to look at it: Bad things happen to people every day. It’s what we do with them that counts…Just keep going. Whatever your dreams were before, they still remain. You might feel like nothing will ever be the same. And that’s true — nothing will be the same. Take that and change things.”

You can read her full essay over at Cosmopolitan.

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