Opinion

Jennifer Lawrence: 'Sex crime' victim or in need of a reality check?

Jennifer Lawrence doesn't strengthen her 'sex crime' argument by appearing half-naked in Vanity Fair

Jennifer Lawrence finally broke her silence on the photo hack that revealed private and nude photos of the young actress over Labor Day weekend. "It is not a scandal," she said of the hack in an interview with Vanity Fair. "It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation."

Yes, the hack was a gross and no doubt traumatizing violation of privacy. But was it a sex crime? Our opinionators weigh in below with sympathy, annoyance and a reality check.

Jennifer Lawrence, it’s time for a reality check

I sympathize with Jennifer Lawrence’s anger and fear over the illegal hacking of nude photos of her. But I could have dispelled her fears about what it would do to her career and assured her it would only make her a hotter commodity. Not that I know for sure how she looks in the photos -- because she can also rest assured that unlike even her friends, apparently, I did not go searching online for them. And besides, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what her boobs look like from, of all places, the cover of Vanity Fair -- the magazine in which she rants on the inside about people seeing naked pictures of her and then poses on the outside half-naked.

OK, OK, I do get the difference. The cover shot was her choice. The pan-cyber dissemination of naked photos from her personal storage space on the Cloud was not her choice. That’s theft. And it’s a personal violation since presumably she only wants her boyfriend and the readers of Vanity Fair to see her naked.

OK, I’ll stop and get serious. Yes, it’s a crime and the hacker should be prosecuted. And it’s profoundly infuriating to lose control over a deeply personal part of your life. But contrary to what Lawrence said in Vanity Fair, that loss of control does come with the territory of being a huge movie star in a huge blockbuster franchise. And that’s not just something that happens to actresses. It happens to male movie stars too. Ask Brad Pitt

By the way, Lawrence doesn’t need to justify that she has the photos by saying she was in a long-distance relationship. It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing wrong with having naked pictures of yourself for whatever reason. Which is why it’s ridiculous that she said she would trade the money she made in “The Hunger Games” for not having to tell her father that there are naked pictures of her out there. No, she wouldn’t.  She should never say anything like that again.

--Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times editorial writer

Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t strengthen her argument with those racy Vanity Fair photos

Memo to Jennifer Lawrence: If you’re going to be complaining in the pages of Vanity Fair that hacking into your nude photos on iCloud was a “sex crime,” maybe people would take you more seriously if you didn’t appear on the cover of Vanity Fair possibly topless and with your lips steamily parted like a Victoria’s Secret model.

Seriously, though -- hacking and circulating nude photos a sex crime?

Actually, distributing nude photos was a crime in many places, up until the 1960s and 1970s, when the U.S. Supreme Court began striking down obscenity laws on the grounds that they violated the 1st Amendment’s free-speech guarantees. Of course there was no such thing as iCloud back then, but there were plenty of roll-of-film photos, “French” postcards, peep-shows, and “dirty” movies that sometimes resulted in prosecution because they showed naked adults in alluring poses. Many states, and even the federal government for a while, considered such material obscene, and you could go to jail for passing it around.

But then, the Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that “nudity alone is not enough to make material legally obscene,” in the words of the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. This was thought to be a good thing: freedom of artistic expression. The case involved a prosecution in Georgia for exhibiting Mike Nichols’ 1971 classic movie “Carnal Knowledge,” so the Supreme Court’s ruling was praised as a victory for artistic freedom.

That doesn’t mean that hacking photos shouldn’t be a crime -- and it probably was, in J. Law's case. The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and other statutes make computer hacking a felony punishable by prison and fines -- which is why the FBI is currently investigating the iCloud celebrity hackings.

But it shouldn’t be a sex crime -- unless you want to go back to the days when showing a movie such as “Carnal Knowledge” could land you behind bars. And please, Jennifer Lawrence, if you’re trying to make a point about outlawing suggestive photos, wear a different dress.

--Charlotte Allen, Opinion L.A. contributor

Good for Jennifer Lawrence for speaking up, not remaining the silent object of the male gaze

Celebrity phone hack is definitely a sex crime.

The recent leak of celebrities’ nude photos are the “Peeping Tom” crimes of the 21st century. The hackers that stole and uploaded these intensely personal images is clearly guilty of a sex crime. But the crime is multiplied thousands of times over as cyber-voyeurs continue to search for and download these images, violating the privacy of others for their own sexual amusement. 

We live in a society that values the protection of personal information online. We take great pains to secure our banking information and medical records. And yet when it comes to the bodies of our celebrities, privacy is a privilege to which they are seemingly not entitled.

Many have argued that you shouldn’t put your information on the Internet if you don’t want it exposed. Celebrities -- specifically female celebrities -- have essentially been told that they should expect these violations of privacy, that their fame makes them public property, and that they deserve it. These arguments underscore the persistent belief that women should be the silent objects of the male gaze, rather than human beings with agency over their own images and the right to a private life.

--Susan Rohwer, Opinion L.A. contributor

Let’s reserve the “sex criminal” label for actual sex criminals

Jennifer Lawrence called the publication of her private nude photos “a sex crime,” with the perpetrators being the websites that made the pics available. She added that the people who viewed the photos were “perpetuating a sexual offense.”

Although her outrage is justified, Lawrence goes a bit too far in attempting to expand the reach of sex-crime police.

It seems clear that the people who copied Lawrence’s images out of her online locker without permission violated the federal anti-hacking law (the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act), as well as the civil provisions of federal copyright law. Making the photos available on a website also would violate Lawrence’s copyrights, assuming she owned the pictures.

Those are not sex crimes, however.

Other writers on this post have likened Lawrence’s malefactors to Peeping Toms.

That’s not entirely apt, at least not under California’s anti-voyeurism law, which bars peering directly or via device into a space where someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy to view or capture images of that person’s body. In other words, the law protects people against surreptitious surveillance and recording. Lawrence, on the other hand, knew about and authorized the nude photography.

As for the people who downloaded her photos from the Web, they did more than “perpetuate” the offense -- they violated the law themselves. But again, that’s a civil copyright violation, not a criminal one.  

OK, so maybe that’s all sophistry. The sites that made Lawrence’s stolen photos available were capitalizing on the public’s appetite for titillation. They might not have been taking the photos, but they’re the ones opening Lawrence’s virtual curtains for the rest of the world to see. Given all that, isn’t it fair to treat them the same as Peeping Toms?

Even if your answer to that question is yes, though, California doesn’t consider all crimes with a sexual component to be sex crimes, or least not one serious enough to land someone on the registry of sex offenders. Convicted Peeping Toms, in fact, are not required to register.

I’m not defending those who have so little respect for others’ privacy that they would post stolen photos online. Those who merely checked out the photos are little better, because they only encouraged hackers to make public more images that were meant for an intimate audience. I am, however, arguing that we should reserve the “sex criminal” label for people who do more than host or view stolen, intimate images that were not meant to be shared. The law has other remedies for them.

--Jon Healey, Los Angeles Times editorial writer

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