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Meet the Danish Revenge Porn Victim Who's Fighting Back with Nude Photos

We asked Emma Holten about consent and why she published a whole bunch of nude pictures of herself.
February 27, 2015, 12:44pm

One of the consentual nudes shot by Cecilie Bødker

23-year-old Emma Holten is a victim of what people call revenge porn: basically, sexually explicit pictures that are shared without the subject's consent. A few years back, Emma's email was hacked and nude photos, originally taken for her boyfriend, were subsequently leaked across the internet. After years of dealing with all manner of horrid online abuse and threats from complete strangers, she devised a retaliation plan: to have a series of consensual nude portraits shot and then personally spread them, along with an essay, all over the internet. We met up with Emma to have a chat about the whole revenge porn thing and figure out how she recovered from such a violation of privacy.

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VICE: What was your initial reaction to your photos being leaked?
Emma Holten: I distinctly remember my first feeling: pure shock. My e-mail was filled to the brim with messages from both strangers and acquaintances with links to the photos. I figured this would blow over in a week or two though—people would have had their fun and it would become a thing of the past. I had no idea it would go on for so long. The complete hate and disgust directed towards me for being nude or sexual was very surprising—and blatantly misogynistic.

Do you have any idea how the photos got leaked?
No, and from the beginning I knew I wouldn't find out. After my e-mail was hacked, my password was changed and shared. So hundreds, maybe thousands of people had access to my account. If one person hadn't found those photos, someone else would have. Finding out who started it doesn't interest me much.

Was there ever a possibility of getting the photos taken down?
I tried for the first month but it became too painful to go through. The only hope you have of getting anything taken down is if you can prove you were under 18 in the photos, but you can't trust the sites with that kind of info anyway. I've seen women sending in their passport photos as proof with pleading e-mails to the sites to remove the nudes, only to have the sites post it all online as a means to further abuse these victims. That's exactly what these sites are about. It has nothing to do with the sexual appeal of the nude woman herself and everything to do with fetishising her pain and embarrassment.

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Good lord. How did you cope with negative feelings about yourself after?
I always knew I hadn't done anything wrong. I got involved in feminism and tried to figure out why I was feeling pain or shame when I knew I was actually the victim. These feelings of self hatred weren't coming from inside - they were just emotions other people were ascribing to me.

Did you try to hide from these online threats?
No. It was very important to me to keep on top of the situation and be aware every time it came up somewhere new, so I never changed my e-mail. That way I could mentally brace myself for the new surge of questions from people I knew and threats from strangers. Even if I had tried to change my Facebook name, it would only take one idiot on my friend list to blow the story.

Do you respond to these threats?
I have responded, but never angrily. That's what they want. They know I'm powerless in this situation so I have nothing to throw back at them. I've flat out asked why they would do this, and the response is basically, "Don't blame me, maybe you shouldn't have been such a slut in the first place." I live by the Destiny's Child "Survivor" mantra - I'm not gonna diss people on the internet 'cus my momma taught me better than that. I won't stoop down to their level, they're trash.

Why is sending a dick pic perceived so differently than a woman sending nudes?
The sheer amount of dick pics I've received since this happened is overwhelming proof that men don't have the same fear AT ALL about their photos being shared. Society still has this underlying belief that when a woman is intimate with a man, she is essentially giving something special away and therefore he is taking. That's an attitude I've gotten a lot, especially after these new photos. That I gave something "special" away by showing my breasts, like that's the pinnacle of my being. Can you ever imagine someone saying that about a dick pic?

Let's talk about your retaliation. How's that going?
For the first year I was completely paralyzed, but the more I started to think about it politically, the more self empowerment I gained. I decided to take new nude photos with a professional photographer and most importantly, my consent, and write an essay. The essay gives a deeper explanation of the photos and the photos themselves pose a lot of questions. Is this sexual? Is this a human being? Why does this matter? It's not wrong if you see it as sexual, it just gives you a chance to explore why. Furthermore, I wanted to stand with other victims. I wanted to say "I'm naked on the internet and it's ok." I'm not ashamed, I wasn't then and I'm not now. I'm not ashamed of my body and I demand to be taken seriously whether I'm naked or not. I flatly resent the idea that I am less because I'm nude.

Are people getting it?
Victims are definitely getting it anyway - the need to put nudity in a context other than sexual and to stand by what they did. I didn't want to write an intellectual essay and distance myself from the original photos as if it's not me or that was my "bad sexual self". My privacy was violated - that's it.

How do you deal with the "attention whore" reaction?
That term is so frustrating to me. I keep hearing about this "selfie generation" we're supposedly living in and my head just explodes. Rembrandt painted selfies all the time. People have always been fascinated by their appearance and suddenly it's being turned around to attack women for liking the way they look. Women do it to other women, sure, but in my experience it's more often than not men who are most vicious in their condemnation of women for loving themselves.

What do you think could be a solution to this problem?
There needs to be harsher punishment for the initial leak, but that doesn't help the victim once the photos are out there. The platforms that these pages are hosted on also need to be held responsible for their content. Sites like Tumblr, which houses two pages dedicated to posting my old nudes, make millions of dollars as advocates of "social justice"—but when someone speaks out, suddenly nothing is their responsibility.

This project hasn't saved me. My abuse will continue and will be something I'll deal with for the rest of my life, but at least I can give other women a voice.

@DanikaMaia