A cyber-culture of care

Consent, respect, and the distribution of intimate images

In a culture where sharing intimate images with friends and romantic or sexual partners through social media has become more commonplace, a discussion on consent and respect in cyber spaces must be held. How can we create a culture of care in the case of intimate images?

The first important thing to note is that the non-consensual distribution of intimate images is illegal in Canada. In practice, this means that if someone is in possession of an intimate image of someone else, they are not legally allowed to share or publish this image in any capacity without the explicit consent of the person in the photograph. Even if someone has consent to keep the photo, they are not legally allowed to share it. The law states that someone who shares an intimate image without taking the necessary steps to obtain consent from the subject of the photos is guilty of this crime. Consent in the case of the distribution of intimate images, like in all cases of sexual interaction, must be given clearly and freely, and can be revoked at any time.

However, it is equally as important to note that, regardless of the law, what happens to someone’s intimate images should be decided by that person alone, and these decisions should be respected by those in possession of intimate images. It is important to be respectful of those who choose to share these images with us, not just because it is illegal not to, but because it is a part of fostering a culture of care between people. If someone tells you to delete a picture after a breakup – or anytime, really – listen to them. If you are in possession of an intimate picture of someone after you are no longer in contact with them, consider whether or not this person would want you to keep this picture, and delete the picture. We are not entitled to someone’s intimate images forever just because they once wanted us to have them, and therefore we should behave respectfully.

A culture of consent, care and respect must exist in all spaces, both in real life and online – that means taking into consideration the wishes of those with whom we connect intimately. In the case of intimate images, this means not distributing or sharing these images without the consent of the person in the photos. In order to create a culture of care, we must think beyond just legal boundaries in order to consider what being respectful of others entails.

If someone has distributed intimate images of you or is in possession of those images without your consent, or you have questions around consent in online spaces, please get in contact with SHARE through email at share@mta.ca to report these incidents and discuss your options.

Jilane Buryn
Jilane Buryn is a contributor to the Argosy.