The Naked Truth: Emma Holten's Revenge Against Revenge Porn
EMMA IS SITTING IN A BLACK CHAIR in a black room, lit by sharp projectors. Her hands are moving back and forth while she tries to explain what happened. She looks away for a moment, but when she turns her head back towards us, her eyes pierce straight through the camera lens and to the audience on the other side.
“I do not know who did it. I do not know why they did it. It is a common misunderstanding that it’s always an ex-boyfriend who does it, but that’s not true. There are many people who have been hacked, and whose pictures have been stolen. I haven’t got a specific person to be angry at. I have had thousands of people to be angry at,” Emma says. She’s participating in an “Ask Me Anything” session at DR3, a Danish public broadcaster.
Emma Holten was just 17 when her life changed. She woke up one morning in 2011, completely unaware that the night before, someone had hacked her email, changed the password and leaked the new password online. While she was asleep, strangers were able to access and poke around in her email and Facebook accounts. Someone found some private photos that she had sent to a boyfriend. When Emma woke up that morning, her nudes were online.
Emma was haunted as the pictures spread across the internet. The police were not willing to do much. The pictures were shared again and again, and she received a never-ending stream of hateful and sexist messages.
Three years after the theft, Emma found a way to fight back and to take back control. She posted an article and a ten-picture photo series of herself topless in her room. She titled the series Samtykke, or “Consent” in Danish. From then on, Samtykke became her mission.
“The only difference between the old and the new pictures is that I chose to put up the new ones. The old ones were stolen from me and uploaded against my will,” she told DR3 in a subsequent article about her.
International media picked up the story of how Emma had responded, and as quickly as she had become a victim of “non-consensual porn,” as Emma describes it, she became a feminist role model. The feisty teenager had found within her humiliation an impetus and determination that turned her into one of the most prominent voices in the Danish debate about consent and women’s rights.
Before long, Emma was traveling the world giving speeches and interviews about her cause, including a TED-talk and a presentation before the United Nations on gender equality and female empowerment. She still spends a lot of her time speaking about consent, feminism and sexuality in Denmark, especially in schools.
Here is the crux of Emma’s continuing battle: to ensure that you have the right to send or share whatever photos you want on social media platforms, but that you—and only you—own the rights to those pictures. In 2016, the German TV network RTL displayed the stolen photos without asking Emma for permission. She sued the network and later donated the €6000 she received in damages to Headspace, an organization that provides anonymous counseling to Danish youths.
As Emma told the German Welt, “Consent is the key. Now it is my story and not that of the idiot who hacked my emails.”
This article appears in Are We Europe #4: This Is Not An Elections Issue