Activist Emma Holten Fights Back Against Revenge Porn by Reclaiming Her Body In a Powerful Photo Series

Emma Holten was 17 when her then-boyfriend snapped a series of nude photographs of her. After they broke up, however, those private photos became public without her consent, ending up splashed across the Internet on what have become known as revenge porn websites. Six years later, she’s still experiencing the ramifications of this violation — but she’s not staying silent about it. The Copenhagen native has opened up about her experiences in a powerful essay for Friktion magazine, and it should absolutely be required reading for everyone.

The essay isn’t new; it was first published in September of 2014. But in addition to the fact that it’s only begun making the rounds now, it’s still culturally relevant — and will continue to be so until revenge porn becomes a thing of the past. I should also take a moment to note that Holten’s essay was originally written in Danish; since I don’t speak Danish, I’ve had to rely on Google’s imperfect translation of the page to get the general gist of it [UPDATE: The essay has been translated into English here]. But it’s a powerful essay nonetheless, and it’s made even more powerful by the images which accompany it. Taken by photographer Cecilie Bødker Jensen, the pictures — beautifully shot nudes — show Holten making a statement by reclaiming her own body. Head on over to Friktion to see the photos; they're well worth it. As Holten recently told One Woman Army, “It’s still my name and it’s still my body.

The crux of Holten’s argument hinges on consent, entitlement, and objectification. “Being sexy and to think that another person is sexy is obviously fine and natural,” she writes — but, she continues, “The danger arises when one feels entitled to sexualize a human being,” which for some reason reads as more exciting if the sexualization is done without the other person’s consent. According to the campaign End Revenge Porn, 90 percent of revenge porn victims are women; accordingly, Holten calls for the humanization of female bodies, both dressed and undressed: “If the men who contact me think of my humiliation and me as a whole person with feelings, fears, and hopes, would they then be able to actively participate in harassment and commodification of my body?” she asks. “No matter how sexy you think another person is, their right to be a self-determining subject will always be paramount.”

Yes. This. So much this.

Holten, now 23, has become an activist in the wake of her experiences, speaking about what it means to be a victim of revenge porn, about what governments need to understand in order to effectively legislate the issue, and more. One Woman Army spoke with Holten after a recent talk at the FemF feminist forum in Helsinki; the whole interview is definitely worth reading, but there are a number of points I find to be particularly thought-provoking. About legislation, Holten noted that something being on the Internet doesn’t make it ephemeral; on the contrary, the Internet is often forever. “That’s what a lot of legislatives don’t get,” Holten said “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.”

Whenever Holten has asked for the photographs to be taken down, she has received one of two responses, neither of which has ever been the removal of the photos in question: “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,” she said. “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.” So what’s to be done about it? It starts in one place: Holding revenge porn site owners responsible for the content on their sites. “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?” said Holten. “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.”

And here is yet another layer: Since Holten was 17 at the time the photographs were taken, they classify as child porn — but only if she herself can prove it, which she’ll likely never be able to do in such a way that won’t further endanger her. Because revenge porn isn’t just about photos; according to Holten, exes will also frequently dox their victims in addition to posting images, uploading credit card information, home addresses, workplace information, and more. In order to prove that she was not of legal age when the photos were snapped, the sites have asked her to send them scans of identifying documents — information which, knowing these sites’ track records for doxing, is the last thing anyone should hand over. “They’re like, ‘OK, if you can send us a picture of your driver’s license or passport,’” said Holten, “and I’m like, ‘You are a site that profits off of naked bodies against their will. I will not send you a scan of my passport, are you insane?’”

The easy solution to the revenge porn epidemic — and the one that’s tossed around most frequently — is telling people, “Well, just don’t take any naked pictures, then.” But as is the case with so many other things, why is the onus placed solely on the victims to prevent crimes from happening to them? Why are we not teaching people not to commit those crimes instead? It’s the same issue we’re dealing with when women are told not to get raped or assaulted, instead of teaching people not to rape and assault in the first place; it’s the same issue we’re dealing with when girls fighting with school dress codes are told their clothing is “too distracting for the boys,” rather than teaching those boys (and all kids) that the only people responsible for keeping them focused on their lessons are themselves. The easy thing to do isn’t the same as the right thing to do — and if we’re going to make our world a better place, we need to set the easy solution aside in favor of the right solution, no matter how hard it might be.

Images: End Revenge Porn/Facebook (2); Giphy