In the news this week is an alarming story accompanied by photographs of captured Palestinian men who had been stripped nearly naked and lined up side by side, with vague and conflicting reports of whether the men were civilians. Regardless, the images have caused outrage and bring to mind other, similar instances of forced nakedness seen in recent news, history books, and documentaries, from my own country and from others, committed against prisoners, marginalized groups, and indigenous peoples. I’m sure you can recall for yourself—likely more than one case—without any help from me. It wasn’t more than a few weeks prior that a very different story began running through the news cycle: A troubling trend of teenage girls whose likeness had been taken without their consent and, with the help of AI, had been used to create deepfake nude photos and pornography, violating the girls’ claim to their own bodies and their right to decide when and where and who has access to them. Certainly, in the context of the war, terrorism, and indiscriminate loss of life taking place in Israel and Gaza, forced disrobement is perhaps the least of the atrocities. Likewise, fake nude and sexual images generated using someone’s likeness are arguably less atrocious than distributing someone’s actual, private, nude or sexual photos, and decidedly less so than cases of real-world physical or sexual abuse and harassment. None of these cases, however, are trivial just because the offense could have been worse.
Though the contexts of these stories are very different, the impact of these forms of nonconsensual nudity remains the same: demoralization, humiliation, and dehumanization of the subjects. Both cases serve to strip a person or people of their pride, their self worth, and their ownership of their bodies within a larger context of systemic oppression toward vulnerable groups or individuals. Though perhaps less atrocious than other offenses, it serves no one to diminish the traumatic impact of such acts, to downplay the importance of maintaining ownership and decision-making power over one’s body. 🪐
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