Nearly two decades ago, Paris Hilton’s now ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon nonconsensually shared a sex tape of them without her permission, and Hilton says she’s still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of it.
According to a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Hilton said the tape is something that will “hurt [her] for the rest of her life.”
Hilton put it succinctly when she shared why the experience has been so traumatic for her, saying, “It was a private experience between two people. You love someone, you trust someone and to have your trust betrayed like that and for the whole world to be watching and laughing…”
“It’s always there in the back of my mind,” she said. “When it happened, people were so mean about it to me. The way that I was spoken about on nightly talk shows and the media, to see things with my family was just heartbreaking. I would be in tears every single day, I didn’t want to leave my house, I felt like my life was over.”
Some might view the “leaked” video as “hot celebrity gossip,” but the issue is actually much more serious than that. Rich Juzqiak, of the US-based news and cultural commentary website Jezebel, states in his review of Hilton’s documentary This Is Paris that, had Hilton’s “sex tape” been released today, it would likely have been called revenge porn or image-based sexual abuse instead and discussed much differently by the media.
Hilton herself supported that sentiment when she likened the experience of the sex tape release to “being electronically raped.”
While Hilton wasn’t actually sexually assaulted in the making of the tape, research shows that the mental health effects that have come as a result of its leak are very similar to the mental health effects faced by those who have actually been sexually assaulted.
Let’s talk about it.
What is “revenge porn” and how does it happen?
Before we look at the studies that show the commonality of negative mental health effects caused by “revenge porn,” commonly referred to as image-based sexual abuse by anti-abuse advocates, it’s important that we first understand what “revenge porn” is and how it happens.
Revenge porn, a form of nonconsensual image-sharing, is a growing phenomenon that involves uploading nude or semi-nude images or videos of a person online without their consent. Most specifically, the uploading occurs often as revenge after a relationship has ended, but it may also occur for monetary gain.
While some nonconsensual photos or videos are obtained through computer hacking, they may also be obtained consensually, but “leaked” or intentionally distributed nonconsensually—in a similar fashion to what happened with Hilton where one member of a shared, “private experience” took advantage of the other.
In some cases, the victims of the hacking or leak are extorted for money in order to get their stolen photos or videos removed from the internet, but in others, the distributor may simply make money from selling the photos or videos to porn sites and/or taking ad revenue.
In Hilton’s instance, Salomon is reported to have made $10 million off of distributing the tape.
The effects of revenge porn
This issue, while making headlines, is far from just hot gossip. It damages real lives, celebrity or not.
According to one study, the impact of image-based sexual abuse includes public shame and humiliation, an inability to find new romantic partners, mental health effects such as depression and anxiety, job loss or problems securing new employment, and offline harassment and stalking.
More specifically, the study categorized the negative effects of having nonconsensual porn uploaded of you under two themes: mental health and coping mechanisms.
Within the former theme, trust issues, PTSD, anxiety, depression, lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence, and loss of control were all common struggles after victimization. Under the latter theme, survivors generally engaged in denial, avoidance, excessive drinking of alcohol, and obsessing when they were closer to victimization, but turned to more positive coping strategies, such as counseling, as time passed.
Further, based on a non-random sample of 1,244 nonconsensual pornography survivors, over 50% of survivors’ full names and links to social media profiles accompany the naked photos or videos and 20% even included survivors’ email addresses and phone numbers
If that wasn’t enough, think about how challenging it is to completely remove something from the internet. Take Hilton’s case as an example, the image-based sexual abuse of her was posted on numerous porn sites. Even if she was able to get every site to agree to take the tape off, many porn tube sites also include a download feature meaning Hilton could never be certain that the tape wasn’t still possessed by a third party who could upload it at any time.
The study concluded that, all things considered, the mental health effects of experiencing sexual assault and image-based sexual abuse for survivors are very similar.
Why this matters
Whether it’s a photo or a video “leaked” of someone famous or not, revenge porn is image-based sexual abuse—it is never “hot gossip.”
In fact, the language of “leaks” implies it’s somehow an accident, like a faucet dripping when it shouldn’t. Make no mistake—intentionally distributing intimate images without the consent of all parties depicted is no accident. It’s an act of abuse.
While “leaks” have historically been looked upon as salacious hearsay, Hilton sees a light at the end of the tunnel: “I’m again happy that things have changed and that people are realizing that is just, the woman in the situation who is the victim should not be treated like that or spoken about like that.”
As an organization that raises awareness on the harmful effects of porn and its connections to sexual exploitation using science, facts, and personal accounts, we’re sounding the alarm on nonconsensually-shared images. “Leaked” intimate images are abuse, not arousing entertainment. Image-based sexual abuse harms people in a similar fashion to physical sexual assault. How is that acceptable?