Tiziana Catone
Tiziana Catone
Tiziana Catone

OPINION

The suicide of a woman whose sex video went viral must be a wake-up call

Irreversible damage is done when women are sexually shamed, says Daisy Buchanan

Added on

By Daisy Buchanan on

Imagine you've made a sex tape and you're pleased with it – that you consent to sex, and consent to the filming and you think you look hot. You send it to some friends and an ex, because you can't resist, and you expect that to be the end of that.

Then imagine that the video is circulated. It's not just being watched by the people you chose to look at it, but by their friends, and their friends, and suddenly you're a meme. The words you used at the beginning of the video are on T-shirts and phonecases. You feel like you're losing control. You're forced to change your job, your home and your name. You take it to court – after all, these websites are profiting from using your images without your permission. You win, but your legal fees are expensive and no one is helping you with them. And you can't stop people from wearing the T-shirts or recognising you in the street. What do you do?

Tiziana Cantone killed herself.

Cantone's tragic story has become a major talking point in Italy, provoking a national debate about the irreversible damage that is done when women are sexually shamed. Her funeral procession was televised and four men are currently being investigated for defamation. Prime minister Matteo Renzi commented: "As a government, there's not a lot that we can do. It's mainly a cultural battle – also a social and political battle. Our commitment is to try to do everything we can... Violence against women is not an ineradicable phenomenon."

There is much to unpick there. Some of Renzi's words are infuriating, but they reflect the way the world is responding to the epidemic of violence against women and girls. "There's not a lot we can do – but we have to do everything we can" seems to be the well-meaning motto that renders us all safely impotent. We can wait until tragedy strikes and then wring our hands – but we don't want to act until the moment of urgency has passed.

I suspect everyone in Italy is talking about Cantone's death because millions of Italians feel guilty and complicit. How many were entertained and titillated by her video?

But there IS a lot we can do. We can start by looking at the way we consume and share media, and think much more carefully about where it all comes from and who wants us to see it. I suspect everyone in Italy is talking about Cantone's death because millions of Italians feel guilty and complicit. How many were entertained and titillated by her video, happy to judge her for making the very thing that they were enjoying? Perhaps it's only now that the viewers are realising how they objectified her, and the damage that is done when women are objectified. How chilling it is when you can only appreciate a woman's humanity after she has ended her life.

Cantone could be any one of us. Who hasn't taken an intimate picture or made a video? And who has longed to, only to be so terrified that an expression of their sexuality would fall into the wrong hands that they have stopped themselves, because it's better to shut up and deny yourself some fun than to risk being called a slut?

We tell teenage girls "don't sext", that they are vulnerable, boys can't be trusted, that they shouldn't be bullied into showing their bodies. We don't talk about the fact that women often want to be sexual – and we need to enforce our rights to be sexual on our own terms. 

We don't need protecting from our own actions – we need protecting from the millions of people who think they have a right to our bodies for entertainment value. This might mean reassessing our own attitudes, too. If we shared and gossiped about that Jennifer Lawrence photo leak, we're participating in the culture that killed Cantone. I'll never forget seeing Amanda Holden smirking over Tulisa Contostavlos's sex tape during an X Factor live show. I was angry and horrified on Contostavlos's behalf, before remembering that Holden has swallowed exactly the same bullshit that made the tape national news in the first place: we must always look sexy, but being sexual is a source of shame. Good girls don't get caught.

This is an emergency. We have to act immediately to give women back their sexual agency. We need the lawmakers to demonstrate clearly and unambiguously that our bodies are not currency or collateral. We shouldn't have to wait for a tragedy to address the fact that the sexual shaming of women is at epidemic levels. I truly hope that Cantone's death forces us all to address this. Yet I worry that we're too far gone to fix it.

@NotRollergirl

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