After Cohen verdict, students discuss experiences of having their nude photos shared
A 19-year-old McGill student has been given complete legal absolution following his guilty plea in court last week.
Ezra Cohen was arrested in November for recording videos of himself engaging in sexual activity with three minors and distributing them to nine people over the course of several months in 2016. In court on Jan. 31, he walked away with no criminal record—only a year-long contact ban forbidding him from communicating with the victims.
According to the Journal de Montréal, the main reason he was able to walk away without facing severe consequences was because he pleaded guilty. The guilty plea prevented the three victims from having to testify in court. Cohen also had no previous criminal record.
In his trial, the defence emphasized a narrative that explained Cohen was heavily involved in school and his community. It was also noted that he apologized to the victims and came across as very remorseful.
Two of the three victims in the Cohen case stated in letters they wrote to the court that, when they found out the videos were circulating, they no longer wanted to go to school and were afraid to show their faces in public. They also wrote that they felt as if Cohen was only sorry he got caught, rather than actually remorseful for his actions. In her letter to the court, one of the victims wrote that no one would ever understand “the pain, the anger, the anxiety, the humiliation and the lack of respect they felt, and still feel.”
IT HAPPENED TO ME
Concordia student Vincent P.* was only in his first year of CEGEP when nude photographs of him were shared without his consent. A man he had been sexting sent his pictures to one of Vincent’s ex-boyfriends, who then sent them to someone else.
“It honestly felt like the end of the world,” Vincent said. “In the long run, it wasn’t, but it was that feeling of powerlessness and betrayal that just got me.”
He told The Concordian he feels that, when victims are portrayed as if they are at fault in situations like these, it “is a reductive argument that seeks to […] disempower people from making their own choices in their expression and explorations of their own sexuality,” and is “akin to victim-blaming.”
Samara A. is a member of the group Sans Oui, C’est Non at the Université de Montréal. The group’s mission is to prevent sexual violence of any kind within student communities. Samara said she is “upset that there were no consequences in [the Cohen] case,” but hopes the story will bring more awareness to the gravity of the situation.
“In the case of Cohen, [the victims] did not consent to having those videos shared,” Samara said. She highlighted that, even if someone were to choose to share pornographic photos or videos of themselves with one person, that does not mean the person consented to having them shared with anyone else.
“There are entire porn websites dedicated to ‘revenge porn,’ where people leak videos and pictures,” Samara said. “Some taken with the victim’s consent and some without.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, revenge porn or revenge pornography includes any “sexually explicit images of a person posted online without that person’s consent, especially as a form of revenge or harassment.”
MyEx.com was a former revenge porn website. It was extremely controversial because it provided a forum for individuals to post naked pictures and videos of their ex-lovers, along with their real names, without their consent. Initially, the website blackmailed its victims by making them pay a fee to have their photos removed, but it was taken down by the United States Federal Trade Commission earlier this year after they received complaints about it.
Montreal student T’Kanika P. was a victim of revenge porn herself just last year. After she left her ex-boyfriend, he distributed nude photographs of her to several of his friends to “get back at [her] for leaving him.”
“I had all his friends messaging me, asking me to hook up because of it,” T’Kanika said. “I felt absolutely violated. It felt like he had ruined my reputation.”
Even after blocking her ex-boyfriend and his friends on social media, she is still unsure about where the nude photographs of her have ended up. Despite what she has gone through, T’Kanika said she still believes she is not at fault.
“There’s an unwritten rule of confidentiality when it comes to showing anyone something vulnerable. Whether that’s something like your writing or sharing a secret […] There’s trust in there,” she said. “His choice to share [the nudes] with his friends is more reflective of who he is as a man than it is of my choice to send them.”
*Some last names in this article have been omitted for confidentiality purposes.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin