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Gabrielle Union's Powerful Essay on Her Leaked Nude Photos11/08/2014
by Gabrielle Union as told to Abigail Pesta for Cosmopolitan A day after I got married this past August, rumors spread on the Internet...
by Gabrielle Union as told to Abigail Pesta for Cosmopolitan
A day after I got married this past August, rumors spread on the Internet that my name was on a list of more than 100 women whose private photos had been stolen off Apple's iCloud. I had been so happy that week, thinking about my wedding and honeymoon with my new husband, Miami Heat basketball player Dwyane Wade. But suddenly, I felt paralyzed.
Nude photos of dozens of stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton were flying around the Internet. The shots had appeared on a website called 4Chan, where people can post anonymous comments and pictures. The site said more photos were to come, including mine. And so it began. It felt like The Hunger Games: You're waiting to be attacked. Friends are assuring you that this will pass and people will move on to the next thing. But in this case, the next thing means the next victim — the next woman to have her naked body exposed to strangers against her will. And the crowd in the arena is going wild. People are critiquing and judging, cheering for more. They're shouting, "Next! Next!"
The hit came three weeks later. I was on the final night of a beach retreat with Dwyane and the kids in Turks and Caicos. We had just given the boys a big lecture on how to protect themselves online, telling them to be careful what they post and what they say. Friends contacted me with the news: A photo of me had surfaced online. I clicked on the link and felt a flicker of relief: The picture was not very revealing — my body was covered. It was a flirtatious shot I had sent to Dwyane three years ago. I had zapped it to him and then told him to delete it right away, as he has a habit of losing phones. He deleted it, and so did I.
I knew there would be more to come. I wondered how a photo that was shot and deleted three years ago could be found. Sure enough, later that night, more pictures started popping up, one after another. All of them had been shot and deleted years ago. Yet there they were, online for the world to see. I felt extreme anxiety, a complete loss of control. I suddenly understood that deleting things means nothing. You think it's gone? It's not. What is the point of even including a delete function on a phone if it doesn't really delete? I had deleted the photos from my phone, but apparently they had remained on some server somewhere, unbeknownst to me, where hackers could find them.
I called my reps and attorneys, pleading, "Get the photos taken down." They said it takes time — the shots were spreading fast, to some 50 sites within the first few hours. Nude pictures of other celebrities were appearing in this second wave too, including Rihanna and a new round of Jennifer Lawrence shots. I thought, this is a targeted attack, a hate crime against women. Photos of my friend Meagan Good showed up as well, and that really hurt — she's like my little sister. We had become close while filming Deliver Us From Eva. She's married to a pastor. I wanted to protect her from the inevitable character assassination. She was the target of a crime and did not deserve to be attacked.
I felt an urgent need to speak out — I didn't see silence as an option, and my inner circle supported me. I started working on a statement the night my photos surfaced. I've been a longtime advocate for women and girls, and a few years ago, President Obama named me to the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women. I didn't like the public perception of this scandal — that we were just a bunch of narcissistic, sexually deviant celebrities who got what we deserved for being dumb. No one deserves to have a private moment stolen, whether it's a photo, text, or email. Everyone has intimate parts of their life they don't want the public to see.
Some people say the publicity surrounding the photos helps our careers. We don't need this kind of press. Jennifer Lawrence is the face of two billion-dollar franchises. It's not a career boost — it's a new form of sexual abuse. Other people think that they are entitled to know everything about us because we are celebrities, in the public eye. No. If I show my husband my naked body, it doesn't mean everyone gets to see it. And people sometimes argue: But you wear skimpy bikinis — what's the difference? The difference is that you are the one who chooses whether to show your body. When billions of people on the Internet can see you naked without your consent, it's a crime.
It was not the first time I had been violated. When I was a college student, a stranger raped me one night when I was closing up shop at a summer job at a Payless shoe store. People rallied around me with sympathy and support, but I didn't want to feel like a victim. I helped get the rapist prosecuted. I finished college. I started my career. And later, I spoke out about the attack, even though it made me feel physically ill to do so. It still does. But it's important. I was raised to speak up.
The first draft of my statement was pretty furious — somewhere between Louis Farrakhan and Gloria Allred. I finessed it and released it with my husband that night. I said, among other things, "I can't help but be reminded that since the dawn of time, women and children, specifically women of color, have been victimized, and the power over their own bodies taken from them." For black women targeted in this attack, there's an added dimension. Throughout history, our bodies have been open for public consumption, as in the days of slavery, when black women were taken into the town square to be sold. They were paraded around naked, to be inspected and critiqued for future sale and sure abuse.
The next morning, I didn't want to leave my hotel room. I just wanted to hide. I had a wave of fear, thinking everyone had seen me naked. Then I thought, wait a minute, to hide is to act like a guilty person. I hadn't done anything wrong. I went downstairs with my family and had breakfast. I ate some amazing bacon. I braced myself for battle.
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Photo credit: Andrew Hetherington/Cosmopolitan