Since Burning Man 2013, images of a mysterious hand grabbing various women’s breasts have gone viral. The photographs were anonymously distributed, but photographer Dong Xiao has identified himself as the culprit (although his claim is unverified). Although they have since been taken off of many sites by Burning Man, the damage done by this photographer leaves a mark: these women’s privacy has been violated.
Burner sociologist PJ Rey has some words to say about the posting of these images as well as the response they’ve garnered. Many on the burner websites have shrugged off the question of consent, noting that the women are having fun and smiling. But we all know that the issue of consent is far more complex than “she looks like she’s happy.”
When Rey interviewed his fellow burners, a few of them had come across the photographer, and he was less than clear about his intent to distribute the images. He explained that he was taking pictures of women for a school project, and when they agreed to be photographed, he mumbled, “The tricky part is, I have to be putting my hand on your boob in each photo.” The women confronted felt uncomfortable. One woman explained that the photographer simply stuck his hand out and asked that she walk towards him, creating the illusion that he was groping her.
Even if these women consented to be touched and photographed, he did not disclose that the photos would be published online. One legal expert told Rey, “Informed consent would require a release, really, as this would be considered sexual enough in nature that you would want to be damn sure everyone was over 18 and aware these photos might end up online.”
The image has triggered a disgusting array of slut-shaming comments that suggest that the women are at fault for using the event to express their sexual agency. An event that’s meant to be a forum for sharing and living communally without judgement! Instead of blaming the photographer, Rey notices a distinct pattern of victim-blaming.
The actions taken by this photographer and any who chose to distribute the image stigmatize any form of sexual expression or public nudity for women. They break the trust that is necessary for an event like Burning Man. As Rey puts it, burner or not, “We can do better.”
Images via Society Pages