In March, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on sex crimes and rape conviction, three years after the first allegations against him were thoroughly listed in the article Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades published by The New York Times.
Among the most recent allegations, those coming from former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and actress Jessica Mann were crucial for the conclusion of this trial and for paving the way for a new kind of test in sex crime trials, as claimed by The Washington Post.
While the verdict—which was widely celebrated among those who have followed the #MeToo movement—managed to break through our current COVID-19-related media filter, little attention was given to the pivotal role that Mann’s testimony played in the popular trial and beyond.
During the three-day trial, Jessica Mann described in detail the several occasions in which, throughout the 5 years they have known each other (from 2013 and 2017), Weinstein sexually assaulted her. One of the assaults, which was described to have taken place at the Doubletree Hotel on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, was the main argument for charges of first and third-degree rape in the case against Weinstein. The second main accusation took place in Los Angeles at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. According to Mann’s testimony, on this second occasion, the producer also tried to make a sex film with his phone staged up on a table facing them.
Mann’s testimony was a difficult one to hold accountable, as among the two times she was allegedly raped by the Hollywood producer, they had numerous consensual sexual encounters, both before and after the abuse. Messages and emails Mann sent to Weinstein were presented in court and showcased her praising him for helping her with her career as well as her personal life. By looking at the exchange of content, some of the juries could have argued that the two had a romantic relationship, which was exactly the argument the defence lawyers used to discredit Mann’s allegations. Mann’s story also had several inconsistencies, making her an easy target for the defensors, and more generally a weak testimony for a sexual assault case.
Mann was labelled as an opportunist by many and her account was harshly discredited by Weinstein’s defence attorney Donna Rotunno. This isn’t a treatment kept exclusively for Mann, but is a wide-spread argument used against women who have come forward accusing powerful men of sexual assault.
Having previously been on friendly or romantic terms with the abuser, the state of soberness of the victims, and the time gap between the assault and the accusation are just a few of the several arguments used by both defenders and the public opinion to disprove the victim’s account in order to protect the reputation of someone accused of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. For a long time, when it came to sexual abuse allegations, a widespread misconception made people believe that rapists had to be a stranger, someone outside of the victim’s network.
Prior to this, testimonies such as the one Mann made on Harvey Weinstein’s crimes were rarely considered by the jury, making her braveness and Weinstein’s consequential sentence not only a victory for this case specifically but a hopeful shift in how sexual assault cases are handled.
The rise of the teledildonics industry, also known as connected sexual pleasure products, creates new fun ways for us to pleasure ourselves and our partners, with inventions such as vibrating Wi-Fi-enabled butt plugs and webcam-connected dildos. But teledildonics, just like everything else in our modern age it seems, are another privacy nightmare ridden with security flaws. Since 2018, there have been a number of reported hacked sex toys, and the most recent case makes me wonder: should we go back to good old non-connected sex toys just to avoid them getting hacked mid-sesh?
Evidently, I’m not the only one. Most recently, a woman had her butt plug hacked and controlled while she was presenting on stage. It later turned out to be a stunt designed to demonstrate to the audience just how susceptible these devices are to getting hacked. This incident sparked a frenzy as people feared it would happen to them. Not only would having your vibrator hacked be very strange, but it would also be done without your consent—just like the data-collection techniques that are used by Facebook, Alexa, and most technologies.
In 2017, a man called Alex Lomas walked around Berlin and had to use only his phone in order to pull up a list of Bluetooth discoverable Lovense Hush butt plugs, ready to be hacked, just to manifest how easy it was. Last year, SEC Consultants looked at sex toys from Vibratissimo and demonstrated how they could be broken into by hackers not only to “remotely pleasure” people, but also to access owners’ account details. Even more worrying, a Wi-Fi-connected dildo’s internal camera was found to be easily accessible.
What can be said about hacking sex toys and consent laws? Because these are quite uncharted territories, we don’t know just yet what to do when someone hacks a sex toy or its data. In some countries, such as the U.S., laws that define what constitutes sexual harassment or assault vary from state to state. In many countries, the law is still vague about the definition of assault and sexual harassment. In the U.K., sexual harassment is defined as: “unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which violates your dignity, makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated, and creates a hostile or offensive environment.” The lack of precision surrounding sexual harassment and assault laws prevents us from taking concrete action in the event of a sex-toy hack. Worse yet, we don’t even know whether our data can be hacked into and stolen in the first place.
While the aim of this article isn’t to inspire anxiety and ignite a global wanking paranoia, it should force you to sit back and ask yourself, “What are the privacy implications of using a Bluetooth-connected sex toy?” Last time we ignored such concerns we ended up with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Trump as the President of the U.S., and a moronic Brexit. Even though hacking sex toys isn’t yet defined as assault or sexual harassment, it may very well be regarded so once lawmakers start tackling the issue. In the meantime, maybe it’s worth dusting off the old non-connected sex toy hidden under your bed and relieve the stress with some alone time, if you know what I mean.