Danish Activist Emma Holten Has Released Her Own Naked Pictures In A Fight Against Objectification

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Emma Holten is a revenge porn victim. But she is a lot of other things as well. A 23-year-old Danish woman. An activist. A feminist. A writer. A Tumblrer. A daughter.

But according to Emma, the media – like many others she comes across daily – only seems to see the former. They see the Google-able photos of a naked 17-year-old girl standing in her ex-boyfriend’s room, which were posted and sold on the internet against Emma’s will and they automatically assume that they’ve got her figured out. A slutty teen perhaps, a mortified casualty of a break-up gone wrong, a strong survivor and/or the rest of the bullshit assumptions that are associated with revenge victim portrayal.

But out of the box they put her in, Emma has emerged to re-claim her exhibited body. Earlier this fall, the young Danish activist released a personal essay about her experience with revenge porn and a new lot of naked photos shot by photographer Cecilie Bødker on the Danish feminist magazine Friktion’s website, as a big “Fuck you” to the never-ending cycle of exploitation that she and many other women deal with when their naked bodies are exposed without their consent. It’s not the cover of Vanity Fair like Jennifer Lawrence had to talk about her experience, but it’s her platform.

Emma is speaking out against objectification by broadening the term. And her targets aren’t just the creepy men on the internet who trafficked her underage photos. She’s focused also on the media who have used her victimization for a few likes and shares.

Following her first lecture at a FemF feminist forum in Helsinki, Emma opened up about her activism and shared insight on what it even means to be a revenge porn victim, despite her cautiousness against her continued misinterpretation. She doesn’t want to talk about herself. She wants to talk about what the hell victimization even means, when not even the media seems to fully understand:

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 What are the biggest misconceptions of revenge porn victims that you’ve experienced?

Emma Holten: Somehow, they think that there’s this false relationship between taking pictures and sexual acts. Or your naked body and having a lot of sex. I think there’s this idea that, not that there’s anything wrong with being a promiscuous person, but there’s this idea that, having the need, or getting turned on by taking pictures, or filming sexual acts means that you have some kind of deviant, extra sexuality that’s very attention grabbing. That you’re overly sexual and very insecure with yourself and has a lot of sex to build self-confidence. And it’s just absurd. I think that visualization and pictures have been a part of sexual practice since fucking forever. I think it’s a very classic misogynistic move that’s been made.

So, it’s like victim blaming?

This puritanical condemnation of young people’s sexuality that makes me super uncomfortable. And I think that’s also why I did the nude photographs with my article. It’s to show that people who oppose revenge porn or oppose the dissemination of pictures against people’s will is that, this is not about me being afraid of bodies or me being afraid of sex. This is about me valuing consent above everything else. And there’s an idea that this is an indulgent and decadent thing to do that it’s like, “Oh, you’re so fucking proud of yourself for having a body or having sex that you want to show everyone. Ha, you little slut.” Everyone takes pictures. Like married couples that have been married for 20 years. Don’t deny me my right to live my sexuality and then shame me when it goes wrong. It’s so absurd. To all the people that say people should stop taking pictures, they should really consider what it is that they’re saying. The next 10-20 years, privacy on the internet is going to the number one topic of legal discussion in every single country in the world. I think it is hugely important that we, from the very beginning, highly value privacy and we do it un-apologetically. It’s a fucking slippery slope to begin to say that some things, we should stop doing because we could be outted for it and publically shamed. Like what kind of middle aged shit is that?

The name revenge porn, it seems that people view it as an original act between the victim and the person who leaked the pictures, but then it seems that the backlash beyond that initial betrayal also does emotional damage. Wouldn’t it be fair to call it non-consensual pornography or something else  instead?

It’s hugely misleading and I think that it’s sensationalizing. Even shame porn. I think that using shame as a way of silencing people is a very classic awful act that humans have always done. This is just carrying the torch from witch hunts to now. I feel like it’s completely the same thing. Exposing a person that you find to be disgusting is a very sad act that has a lot of history to it. And that shame is the worst part. Revenge porn as a word reducing everything that this means.

People seem to have this notion, especially in the Twitterverse, that these pictures are here one minute and gone the next, because of timeliness of relevancy of things on the internet but people are really buying your photos?

It is 100% a commercial industry. They make money off of me. They are prostituting me.

What happens if you contact them and ask them to take the photos down?

Either they tell you that you’re a slut and that you shouldn’t have taken them in the first place, or they tell them that you uploaded them yourself and now you regret it. I don’t know why that would be an excuse not to do it but for some reason there is. So there is this kind of entitlement that now that they are there, it would be absurd not to share them. Some sites have a mechanism where they want women to write texts where they describe how ashamed they are that the nudes got leaked and then they say, “OK, if you give us this text, we will remove this pictures,” but what they do is, they use these women, who are in complete panic and don’t know what to do, and then they write it, and then they just upload the text too. Some sites demand money out of women. For me, it’s a very Google-able reality that they will never ever disappear. It is forever a part of my life. People think that it gets buried, but it doesn’t. It’s still my name and it’s still my body.

Nowadays, depending on what industry you’re in, your online persona can be even more important than your physical one.

That’s what a lot of legislatives don’t get. They’re like, “Oh it’s just somewhere on the internet.” Do you not understand that these sites use SEO to have it be on top when you Google me? Do you not understand what that means for a person? Because I sure as fuck understand it, because it happened to me and I can tell you that it’s no fun being at a job interview and having to explain that there are naked pictures when you Google me. It’s not a joke to me. Legally, what would make a lot of sense to me, I don’t believe in that bullying bill from Canada, I read about it and it seems absurd and it will be abused in five minutes. We need to have sites to be responsible for what they’re hosting. This is not a limit of freedom of speech. That’s like saying the existence of newspapers is limiting the freedom of speech. That’s what pisses me off about porn sites that say they have zero control over publishing, but you have control over your bank account that the money from the ads are coming in. That’s where we need to focus. Responsibility for site owners. Shouldn’t it be the burden of the site owner to prove that a person is there willingly instead of the burden for me to prove that I am there unwillingly? I find this to be so basic. And it should be their burden to prove that I am 18 in these pictures, which I’m not.

Wouldn’t that be considered child porn?

If I can prove it. These pictures were taken six or seven years ago. And they’re like, “Okay, if you can send us a picture of your driver’s license or passport and I’m like, “You are a site that profits off of naked bodies against they’re will. I will not send you a scan of my passport, are you insane?” A lot of exes upload credit card information, address information, workplace information, the email to your boss and yea, there’s just a lot of nuance to this that doesn’t ever get described in the evilness of how these things work. This is a fetish that has to do with humiliating women. The pictures are boring. It’s basically a fucking 17 year old with no bra, standing in her ex-boyfriend’s room. Like, how could you even jack off to that?

After you were able to tell your own story through your essay and take the new batch of photos, did people get your message?

Even though I did the pictures and so heavily in the article tried to radically subjectify myself and challenge the picture of what a person like me could be, [people] still didn’t really get it. They were still very interested in if I felt ashamed and weren’t really interested in perpetrators and weren’t that interested in social dynamics. I constantly told them this. I am not a standard victim of this. What I have done is hugely conditioned by a lot of privilege that I have. My point here is to raise awareness about an issue that I find important and that I find systematic of very destructive relations of the female body and none of them wanted to talk about that. What I find much more interesting is, what does this say about porn culture? What would be the standard North American and European man’s reaction to seeing a girl naked on the internet without her consent? How does he react? Does he find it funny? Does he find it sexually arousing? That interests me much more, because that’s what’s creating these situations. They tried to make me the face of a crime that was committed against me and I feel like that very easily leads to victim blaming. And then the question of whether I should have taken the pictures or not becomes much easier to ask than, who the fuck are these guys?

What headlines and narratives do you want to start seeing surround the topic of revenge porn?

Victims in general are being done a huge disservice by the media, who are being sensationalized to gain clicks and shares. And I think it’s god-awful. This is about a mentality that needs to change. I have used my own body in an activist act to bring light to this and that is a huge burden on me. I think that it’s very important that we as activists go forth and do our thing, but it’s also limited what we can say. I’ve done the thing. Now it’s up to journalists who are the people that really scorch into these things and say, “What’s going on here?” The thing that has made me the most happy is that it seems like the thoughts that I’ve had about this subject applies to a lot of things and can be expanded into a larger critique of media and a larger critique of how we conceptualize beings and acts and structures in terms of each other. And I find that to be very important. I find that we use some forceful narrative construction to make people legible in journalism. Objectifying a person is making them forcefully legible in a larger context and I find that the right to not be objectified is granted to some people, very privileged people and it is something not granted to, for example, people that don’t have a lot of experience talking to the media. This is a lot about representation. That’s where I can perhaps step in and show that I was a victim of this, but I’m also a lot of other things. And I hope that that can kind of show people and young women that. I have not disowned that I was a revenge porn victim. That exists perfectly well with my activism and my intelligence. I do not eschew my femininity. I do not eschew my sexual abuse, in order to justify myself.

What advice do you have for other revenge porn victims?

Realizing that this is not who you are is very effective and important.

Emma’s essay and photo series by Cecilie Bødker  can be found at: here & here

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