Gabrielle Union has written an essay on the Hollywood hacking scandal for America’s Cosmopolitan magazine, describing her horror when she was included on the list of targeted celebrities just a day after her wedding.
The actress found out her intimate personal pictures had been stolen from her cloud storage account shortly after she married sports star Dwyane Wade in August. In the essay, Union reveals the stress the scandal caused her.
Read the essay below.
A day after I got married this past August, rumors spread on the Internet that my name was on a list of more than 100 women whose private photos had been stolen off Apple’s iCloud. I had been so happy that week, thinking about my wedding and honeymoon with my new husband, Miami Heat basketball player Dwyane Wade. But suddenly, I felt paralyzed.
Nude photos of dozens of stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton were flying around the Internet. The shots had appeared on a website called 4Chan, where people can post anonymous comments and pictures. The site said more photos were to come, including mine. And so it began. It felt like The Hunger Games: You’re waiting to be attacked. Friends are assuring you that this will pass and people will move on to the next thing. But in this case, the next thing means the next victim — the next woman to have her naked body exposed to strangers against her will. And the crowd in the arena is going wild. People are critiquing and judging, cheering for more. They’re shouting, “Next! Next!”
My honeymoon was plagued by thoughts of when I would get hit. It was always in the back of my mind: Will today be the day my life gets ruined? I thought about my family and everyone the scandal would affect — my mom, who teaches classes about Catholicism to kids, and the three boys I had become a stepmother to when I married Dwyane. My husband, meanwhile, would always have to wonder who had seen intimate photos of me that only he was supposed to see.
The hit came three weeks later. I was on the final night of a beach retreat with Dwyane and the kids in Turks and Caicos. We had just given the boys a big lecture on how to protect themselves online, telling them to be careful what they post and what they say. Friends contacted me with the news: A photo of me had surfaced online. I clicked on the link and felt a flicker of relief: The picture was not very revealing — my body was covered. It was a flirtatious shot I had sent to Dwyane three years ago. I had zapped it to him and then told him to delete it right away, as he has a habit of losing phones. He deleted it, and so did I.
I knew there would be more to come. I wondered how a photo that was shot and deleted three years ago could be found. Sure enough, later that night, more pictures started popping up, one after another. All of them had been shot and deleted years ago. Yet there they were, online for the world to see. I felt extreme anxiety, a complete loss of control. I suddenly understood that deleting things means nothing. You think it’s gone? It’s not. What is the point of even including a delete function on a phone if it doesn’t really delete? I had deleted the photos from my phone, but apparently they had remained on some server somewhere, unbeknownst to me, where hackers could find them.
I called my reps and attorneys, pleading, “Get the photos taken down.” They said it takes time — the shots were spreading fast, to some 50 sites within the first few hours. Nude pictures of other celebrities were appearing in this second wave too, including Rihanna and a new round of Jennifer Lawrence shots. I thought, this is a targeted attack, a hate crime against women. Photos of my friend Meagan Good showed up as well, and that really hurt — she’s like my little sister. We had become close while filming Deliver Us From Eva. She’s married to a pastor. I wanted to protect her from the inevitable character assassination. She was the target of a crime and did not deserve to be attacked.
I felt an urgent need to speak out — I didn’t see silence as an option, and my inner circle supported me. I started working on a statement the night my photos surfaced. I’ve been a longtime advocate for women and girls, and a few years ago, President Obama named me to the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women. I didn’t like the public perception of this scandal — that we were just a bunch of narcissistic, sexually deviant celebrities who got what we deserved for being dumb. No one deserves to have a private moment stolen, whether it’s a photo, text, or email. Everyone has intimate parts of their life they don’t want the public to see.
Some people say the publicity surrounding the photos helps our careers. We don’t need this kind of press. Jennifer Lawrence is the face of two billion-dollar franchises. It’s not a career boost — it’s a new form of sexual abuse. Other people think that they are entitled to know everything about us because we are celebrities, in the public eye. No. If I show my husband my naked body, it doesn’t mean everyone gets to see it. And people sometimes argue: But you wear skimpy bikinis — what’s the difference? The difference is that you are the one who chooses whether to show your body. When billions of people on the Internet can see you naked without your consent, it’s a crime.
It was not the first time I had been violated. When I was a college student, a stranger raped me one night when I was closing up shop at a summer job at a Payless shoe store. People rallied around me with sympathy and support, but I didn’t want to feel like a victim. I helped get the rapist prosecuted. I finished college. I started my career. And later, I spoke out about the attack, even though it made me feel physically ill to do so. It still does. But it’s important. I was raised to speak up.
The first draft of my statement was pretty furious — somewhere between Louis Farrakhan and Gloria Allred. I finessed it and released it with my husband that night. I said, among other things, “I can’t help but be reminded that since the dawn of time, women and children, specifically women of color, have been victimized, and the power over their own bodies taken from them.” For black women targeted in this attack, there’s an added dimension. Throughout history, our bodies have been open for public consumption, as in the days of slavery, when black women were taken into the town square to be sold. They were paraded around naked, to be inspected and critiqued for future sale and sure abuse.
The next morning, I didn’t want to leave my hotel room. I just wanted to hide. I had a wave of fear, thinking everyone had seen me naked. Then I thought, wait a minute, to hide is to act like a guilty person. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I went downstairs with my family and had breakfast. I ate some amazing bacon. I braced myself for battle.
We packed up for our trip home, and I prepared myself for crude remarks and rude glances. I had to fly through Miami on my way to Los Angeles for work. What I found surprised me. People in the Miami airport know me since I live in the city, and they said things like “Stay strong, girl!” In LA, the photographers were waiting, but not to attack: They actually high-fived me. “We’re on Team Gab,” they said. They said the hacking was wrong. When the paparazzi tell you something is bad, you know it’s really bad. Dwyane and I also had to explain the scandal to the boys, two of whom are in their teens. We told them the photos were private pictures between the two of us, photos we had deleted, and that criminals had found them anyway.
My lawyers started sending “cease and desist” letters to sites that were running the stolen photos. Legal bills began rolling in. Every time the lawyers managed to remove photos from one site, the shots popped up on another. People simply take screen grabs and pass them around. It’s an insane battle. I also started working with the authorities to try to find the culprits. We still don’t know how more than 100 women were hacked in this crime. There are a lot of theories. But I do know that you should change your passwords often, make them complex and varied, and sign up for two-step verification on your accounts.
Apple has said the celebrity accounts were compromised by a targeted attack on user names, passwords, and security questions, and that iCloud was not to blame. I’m not so sure about that. I want to know more. I also want to know: Where are all the women’s groups, the feminists, demanding justice in this case? The silence is deafening. Any time you lose control over your body, it’s a violation and a crime. In addition, some of the stolen photos reportedly depict women when they were underage — that’s child pornography. I hope people think about all these things when they consider clicking on these private images.
I am adjusting to my new reality. Everything feels tainted. On Instagram, people tell me they’ve seen me naked. Walking into my favorite pizza place, I wonder who has seen the photos and what they are thinking. It’s part of daily life now. Some people have told me, “On the bright side, you look amazing in the photos.” I know they mean well, but this is a criminal act, a gross violation. It reminds me of the time someone asked me if my rapist was “cute.” That kind of misguided thinking lessens the severity of the crime and the horror of the experience.
Here’s the way I choose to look at it: Bad things happen to people every day. It’s what we do with them that counts. If someone betrays your trust, such as a former boyfriend who posts photos of you online, you might feel like you’re alone on an island. You’re not. Talk to people who care for you. Just keep going. Whatever your dreams were before, they still remain. You might feel like nothing will ever be the same. And that’s true — nothing will be the same. Take that and change things.