On Monday, numerous media outlets (including Mic) reported that a private sex tape featuring Claire L. Evans and Jona Bechtolt, the couple that make up the indie band Yacht, had leaked onto the internet. In response to the alleged leak, Evans and Bechtolt issued a statement on the band's Facebook page, saying that their privacy had been violated and urging their fans to resist the urge to watch the video.
"We hope you understand that this is not a delicious scandal," the couple wrote at the end of the post. "This is an exploitation."
As it turns out, however, it might not have been either.
According to Anna Merlan at Jezebel, she was forwarded an email one of her colleagues received that was dated April 6. The email indicated that the sex tape "leak" was, in fact, a hoax intended to promote Yacht's new music video. "For the upcoming music video for our song, 'I Wanna Fuck You Til I'm Dead,' we're faking a sex tape leak," the email reportedly read.
The email went on to detail the band's strategy for what it would do after the "leak," which they appear to have followed to a T: '[W]e're going to pretend we were hacked, share and delete confessional social media posts on the subject of our privacy, then try to 'get out in front of it' and sell the sex tape, fake a server crash, etc."
The Internet has responded to the claims with outrage:
In response to the controversy, Yacht issued a statement on its Tumblr explaining the motivation behind posting the "sex tape," an artily shot clip that can now be viewed on Pornhub. In the statement, the band explained that the "project" was intended "to play with science fiction, the attention economy, clickbait journalism, and celebrity sex tapes all at once." The band also addressed the criticism that the stunt exploited victims of sexual abuse:
There is one dark note we want to address. We never make light of victims of any form of sexual abuse. Frankly, it's disturbing to us that press outlets could make the incredibly irresponsible leap from "celebrity sex tape," which is the cultural trope this project explicitly references, to "revenge porn," which is unfunny, disgusting, morally repugnant, and completely unrelated. Even within the fictional narrative we created, there was no violence or exploitation. It was always about agency and proactive empowerment.
Yet the band's statement — one cannot even generously read it as an apology of any sort — is disingenuous at best and totally amoral at worst.
By claiming, in their original Facebook post, that they had been "exploit[ed]" by a "morally abject person," Evans and Bechtolt were not referencing the "cultural trope" of the celebrity sex tape (as if that were even a "cultural trope" at any time other than the early aughts). They were claiming they were victims of revenge porn.
By doing so, the band did a disservice to the many victims of revenge porn and, frankly, to the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have experienced similarly egregious violations of their private sex lives.
To understand precisely why the Yacht hoax is so dangerous, one need look no further than the brief yet traumatic history of revenge porn, a term used to describe the process of a person (usually a disgruntled ex) posting humiliating naked or sexually explicit photos of another person without their consent.
Although revenge porn is a relatively new phenomenon, the "trend" of sharing nonconsensual sexual images is on the rise, according to UK police force figures. Unsurprisingly, revenge porn disproportionately affects young women, as two-thirds of the victims were women under the age of 30. Although 31 U.S. states have since passed laws criminalizing revenge porn, the laws have been slow to adapt to technological advances, which has led to thousands of people's lives left in their wake.
In addition to ruining people's employment prospects, the psychological torment inflicted by revenge porn cannot be overstated. "I oscillated between panic and persistent anxiety," revenge porn victim Annmarie Chiarini wrote in the Guardian in 2013. "I would wake up at 3 a.m. and check my email, my Facebook page, eBay, then Google my name, a ritual I performed three times before I could settle back down."
While 2014's Fappening, or the leak of nude photos of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, brought attention to the havoc wrought by revenge porn, there was a victim-blaming sentiment that arose on the internet. The arguments were that Lawrence and Upton shouldn't have taken private nude photos to begin with, that they were somehow complicit in their shame. These brought to light the incredibly complex and problematic feelings we have toward victims of sexual abuse.
"Taking someone's nude or sexually explicit images without their consent is a form of sexual abuse."
What we fail to realize is that taking someone's nude or sexually explicit images without their consent is a form of sexual abuse; it is taking someone's sexuality — arguably the most intimate, private parts of themselves — and broadcasting it for the world to see, for the sole purpose of humiliation. Often, the end result can bring on untold psychological consequences, and in some cases it can be too much to bear: Merlan cited the much-publicized case of Rehtaeh Parsons as an example of a revenge porn victim who took her own life, but there are untold numbers of teenage girls like Parsons who have suffered similar fates.
We should not live in a world where people's sexuality is used as a weapon against them. Yet unfortunately, we do, and we also live in a world where we tend to blame people — women in particular — when that weapon goes off, or completely disbelieve them altogether. That's why it is so common for people to argue that rape victims are making the whole thing up, even though only an estimated 2% to 10% of sexual assault allegations turn out to be false.
By reportedly falsely claiming that their privacy had been violated, the members of Yacht have, whether they realized it or not, added another drop in the bucket of our rape culture. As a result, the next time a teenage girl comes forward and says her nude photos were posted online without her consent, or a teenage boy comes forward and says he was raped, we will be less inclined to believe them as a result.
In the name of hipster media trolling, Yacht has made it that much easier to disbelieve victims of revenge porn and survivors of sexual violations. It's a stunning feat, really, considering our culture was already inclined to disbelieve survivors and victims anyway.
May 10, 2016, 3:37 p.m.: This post has been updated to address the band's first apology.
May 11, 2016, 1:37 p.m.: Yacht has posted a second statement on the hoax, this one to their Facebook page. In it, they address their "shitty non-apology yesterday," as they described it, saying: "There's no justifying it. We clearly didn't get it then. We get it now."
Read it in full below.
Correction: May 10, 2016