Let’s play a game.
Imagine you have a car. Not just any car, but a really nice, new one. Make and model of your choice, fresh custom paint job. You drive your gorgeous car to a fancy restaurant, opt for valet parking and have a delicious dinner.
The next morning, you notice a huge dent and scratches on your formerly perfect ride. You go back to the restaurant to get to the bottom of things and post about the matter on social media in the meantime. The restaurant owner — who promised to investigate — finds out about your posts and decides to drag you all over Facebook in a post that thousands can see, denies responsibility for the damage and offers NO compensation. People commenting on the issue are asking you why you would even bother to use valet parking in the first place with a car like that. What did you expect to happen when you handed your keys over to a stranger?
Crazy, right? You entrusted your car to the restaurant employee to perform a service and it was damaged. As far as you know, the restaurant is responsible. Even if it turns out the damage was actually caused by your next-door neighbor early that morning, what kind of businessman would even respond like that?
Now imagine you took your cell phone to have the screen replaced and months later discovered that some pictures from that phone had been posted online. Private pictures meant for your eyes only. You have reason to believe they were stolen during the repair, so you go back to the store owner to raise the issue and he promises to investigate. However, since these private pics are also circulating online in the meantime for friends, family and co-workers to see, you also post about what happened.
Angry that you would publicly reveal the wrongdoing as you saw it, the owner then attacks you via social media and shares the pics for spite. Even worse, people following this increasingly public spectacle are now blaming you for daring to use your personal property as you chose. Instead of… oh, I don’t know… condemning the person who stole from you.
Is that not equally ridiculous?
If the second scenario sounds familiar, that might be because it was exploding all over Facebook last week. If it doesn’t sound familiar that might be because with the exception of Loop and the Trinidad Express few media houses seemed all that interested in the story at first. This is despite the involvement of no less a public figure than Anya Ayoung-Chee (who, unfortunately, can empathize with this situation better than most). This could be because there were a couple of other things blowing up on local social media at about the same time, or it could be that the violation of a woman’s privacy just isn’t considered much of a big deal in Sweet T&T.
I’d love to give my country (and its media, by extension) the benefit of the doubt. However, considering the deafening silence of most of the organisations who were so ready to defend our former PM from all manner of perceived misogyny, and the almost hilariously tone-deaf stance of self-described feminist and co-ordinator of the Network of NGOs for Advancement of Women of T&T, Hazel Brown, I’m not sure I can. Especially in light of the people (men and women alike) bending over backwards to defend the businessman’s right to further humiliate an already victimized woman.
The most disturbing part is the nature of the defences I’ve read. Victim-blaming and slut-shaming at its finest. The worst ones come from the folks who admit that the businessman was wrong to share the pics, but want to give him a pass because “she get him vex”. Poor him. Then there are the ones who admit that it was wrong to steal her pics but insist that she was wrong for taking them in the first place. Naughty girl.
Let me be very clear: first of all, no one is responsible for anyone else’s behavior. Did the businessman have a right to get angry when he discovered that she had posted about the incident in relation to his company before (as he claims) he had a chance to investigate? Sure. Did that anger give him the right to compound the initial violation by posting the pics? Nope. Even he knows as much, judging by the lacklustre apology he posted to (and has apparently since removed from) his company’s Facebook page when it became clear that everyone didn’t enjoy his flavor of “customer service”.
Second of all, the victim (and yes, she is a victim) is a grown woman who has every right to use her personal property in any legal way she saw fit. Regardless of how you personally feel about it, her decision to take those pics was quite legal. What was quite possibly illegal (I’m not quite sure, given the state of limbo in which our cyber crime laws currently reside) and definitely morally despicable was the decision to steal her private photos and share them. And let me be clear here, everyone who has since shared them is equally guilty of violating her right to privacy.
As an aside, if your perspective is that the pics couldn’t have been stolen if she’d never taken them, I invite you to apply that perspective if, God forbid, anything tangible is ever stolen from you. After all, the bandit couldn’t have your car/computer/money if you hadn’t left it where he could get it, right? And if you’re thinking of drawing parallels between this situation and half-naked Carnival revelry, I invite you to explore the meaning of the word “consent”.
To be completely fair, it has not yet been conclusively established exactly who stole and posted the pics. But, because everyone is so busy arguing over whether she even has the right to be upset, the chances of that ever happening are slim to none.
We all were quick to pat ourselves on the back over the way we came together via social media to prod the police to take action over two appalling crimes last week. The fact that we couldn’t do the same for the third shows that we still have a very long way to go.