It’s Not Just Body Shaming; It’s Sexual Violence

A Playboy model is making headlines for a scandalous photo, but it’s not of her.

by Lauren Landau

Playboy model Dani Mathers was in her gym’s locker room when she decided it would be a good idea to take a photo of a naked, older woman—who does not have the body of a former "Playmate of the Year"—and send it to a friend. Using the social media platform Snapchat, Mathers instead shared the image with all of her followers. Captioned “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either” and followed by a selfie of Mathers feigning shock, the snaps sparked outrage and condemnation. 

photo © Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com

photo © Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com

Mathers later apologized, claiming she didn’t mean for the post to be public and that she knows body shaming is wrong. But the damage was already done. LA Fitness banned her from using its facilities and reported her to the police. She lost work. Internet hellfire reigned down upon her pretty head. 

One Twitter user called Mathers “the kind of ugly Photoshop can't fix.” On Facebook, a woman promoting body positivity posted a photo of her own naked self in all its, “194lb lumpy, bumpy glory.” Mathers was accused of fat shaming, bullying, and despicable, invasive behavior. All of that is true (not to mention ageism), but most of these articles, tweets and blog posts are missing two key words: “sexual violence.” 

Body shaming is not a crime, but in some states surreptitiously taking a photo of someone’s naked body and sharing it without their permission is. In California, where Mathers snapped her way to infamy, it's a misdemeanor offense. According to The National Institute of Justice, "sexual assault covers a wide range of unwanted behaviors," including voyeurism and "public display of images that were taken in a private context or when the victim was unaware." The Video Voyeurism Act of 2004 made it a crime to capture images of someone's "private area" on federal property without their consent. 

It is easy to identify this fit blonde woman as a bully. It is more difficult for people to associate Mathers’ actions with something out of an episode of Law & Order: SVU, and that’s likely a combined result or who she is and what she did. She is not a creepy, older man taking upskirt photos, she didn’t touch anyone, and she didn’t get any kind of sexual pleasure from snapping the photo. But that doesn’t change the fact that she committed a type of sexual violence. 

As we work to change the conversation surrounding rape culture, we must remember that sexual assault exists on a spectrum and that perpetrators are just as diverse as the crimes they commit. Some are religious leaders. Some are wealthy white men. Some are idolized college athletes. Some are beloved television personalities, and some are beautiful, young women.