So... your sexts have gone viral

Celebs aren’t the only ones to fall victim to nude-photo scandals. Without a publicist or a lawyer, what the heck would you do?

Even though it’s not likely your personal email account would be targeted by a hacker, as both Christina Aguilera’s and Scarlett Johansson’s have been in recent years, there are still plenty of ways for your intimate pictures to go public. Case in point: according to a Cosmo poll, 77 percent of readers have taken a naked photo of themselves and then emailed or texted it to a guy.

So what happens when, say, the relationship fizzles and your ex decides to share those photos? Is there any way to fight back and/or contain the fallout? While Christopher Chaney – the man guilty of offending against Christina and Scarlett – was sentenced to a 10-year prison term and reportedly ordered to pay $74,000 in restitution to the victims for his crime, the reality of what might happen in your case may make you want to duct tape over your smartphone’s camera lens.

The limits of the law

Sadly, privacy laws don’t help. “There is no such thing as ‘invasion of privacy’, that’s just a flippant term people use, which counts for nothing,” says Susan McLean, a former police officer and founder of If a naked photo is posted of a person under 18, the law is clear: the image is classified as child pornography and serious action will be taken. But if the person is over 18, it becomes trickier to pin down the crime.

There are laws that relate to sharing and publishing objectionable content, and regarding the misuse of communication devices – such as the internet or mobile phones – to menace, harass or cause offence. “Effectively, if you have been offended or harassed by the publication of an image, the person who posted it could be charged under those offences,” McLean explains.

As the law isn’t clear-cut, many of these cases never see a courtroom. Not only is the process expensive and embarrassing, but women don’t report it because they have no confidence in the process. It’s also likely those who do seek help will be told incorrectly that nothing can be done.

“We still have a problem in Australia where the majority of police are dealing with this inadequately and not taking it seriously, because they don’t have the knowledge,” explains McLean. However, this is something we can change by encouraging women to report these incidents. By reporting and raising awareness of the problem, the government will be forced to take action and put new laws in place.

Until that time, the first step of survival: get it taken down.

Take it offline

If the image is on Facebook, Twitter or another mainstream social-media site, you have a good chance of getting it removed. “Facebook and Twitter are good corporate citizens. They have policies, procedures and guidelines in place, and they do act,” says McLean. Contact the website as soon as you see the image. For Facebook, it’s as easy as hitting the “report” button.

Unfortunately for most people, it doesn’t end there. “It’s very rare that the photo is in just one place,” says Eric Menhart, a solicitor specialising in technology law.

Even if the original post does get taken down within seconds, quite often it has already been reposted, copied or saved somewhere else.

Reputation recovery

“With social media, we’ve all become somewhat public figures,” says PR expert Lisa Elia. Her tip? Address it, but don’t dwell on it. When Glee star Heather Morris had uncensored nude photos leaked in March 2012, a friend said Heather had laughed it off, saying, “Well, it could be worse! At least I look good.” This confidence is key in helping friends (and future BFs) forget about it.

And future employers – how do you approach such a situation if it gets brought up in a job interview? “Say that it was a mistake you’ve learnt a lot from, then steer the conversation back to your list of qualifications that make you suited for the role being offered,” recommends careers expert Amanda Haddaway, author of Destination Real World: Success After Graduation.

Finally, take steps to make sure you have complete control over your pictures. “Protecting your personal photos is the same as using condoms. It’s just a new factor in safe sex,” says Menhart.

Send safe sexts

If you’re feeling frisky but not “listen-y”, and just have to send a steamy photo to your dude, consider using the app Snapchat. It allows you to send pics programmed to automatically vanish from his phone after a set amount of time (anywhere from one to 10 seconds). The app also notifies you if the recipient tries to take a screenshot. Bottom line: the only way to avoid a naked photo going public is to keep it to yourself.

Words by Casey Gueren.