Perspectives | Gender Equality

Blackmail falling through the cracks

By - 21.07.2022

Victims judged, aggressors praised, the oppression of women continues.

On the weekend of July 16-17, news portals, social networks and other online platforms were flooded with “news” about how the model Arta Nitaj allegedly asked a man, whose name we do not know, for 5,000 euros to spend the night with her.

This story originated from Teddy Grey, a British YouTuber who published on his Instagram account what he claimed were private messages between a man and Nitaj. The man says to Nitaj “I want another night with you or I will post the photo,” then the messages continue with “when you come to Kosovo I’ll be waiting for you,” “or you know what is going to happen.”

Most coverage, or at least what was predominantly discussed in the comment sections, was about the second message: “That night, you took 5,000 euros from me.” As a result, people on social networks praised Grey because he supposedly “exposed Nitaj’s immorality.” They launched a campaign of hatred and harassment against Nitaj, insulting her and writing messages on her personal Instagram account.

People started to screenshot these messages and send them to Grey, who would then repost them. An entire army, mostly men aided by online portals, gathered to crucify her.

Then, Grey, probably delirious from the attention and to the deafening roar of applause of an entire society, did his final act and published a nude picture of a woman, who he claims is Nitaj. To make matters worse, many portals republished the picture.

Grey became a kind of hero. The man whether he is the one who perpetrates the violence, or the one who justifies it is seen as a hero. Any guilt he had was overcome, while Nitaj’s guilt was built from nothing, was commodified and made ready for the marketplace.

What the man with the alleged text messages did has a name: blackmail.

This market includes countless news portals, comments sections, social networks, discussions in cafes and elsewhere. There, transactions are made with the life and the body of a woman. This continued to the extent that some joined in tormenting her, without knowing exactly what they were partaking in. It became important to be in line with the trend even if it involves harassment, insults and violence against women. This demonstrates the attitude towards the well-being of women in circles where gender-based violence is celebrated.

All attention was focused exclusively on Nitaj’s online trial, while people turned a blind eye to the men who participated in this.

What the man with the alleged text messages did has a name: blackmail. Blackmail is a crime, a criminal offense. He told a woman that if she doesn’t spend a night with him, he will publish her photos, without her consent, without her authorization the definition of sexual blackmail. Apparently the photos he claims to have taken, he took to use as bait for this precise reason. As for Grey, he only helped him in carrying out the blackmail.

There are questions to be raised about a society that makes jokes at the expense of women. What is expected of women? That they should agree with their potential rapist? To say yes to them? To say yes to all men who feel like they should be in control of women’s bodies? Today he blackmails you with a picture, tomorrow with another, the day after tomorrow with another. Then with a slap, with some strangling, with the barrel of a gun. So where do men’s rights end and do women’s rights ever begin?

If a woman has said yes to a man once, must she say yes to him all her life? As the writer Katherine Angel says when criticizing the control over women’s bodies, “If a woman says ‘yes’ to something, she can no longer say ‘no’ to anything.” Women are expected to say yes even to the extent of violating themselves, their bodies, their lives. For what? To look good from the outside? To look good in the eyes of the untouchables who are placed on a moral pedestal by society, to those who point fingers all the time? And from the inside, to submit to the demands of men, their potential abusers.

This important discussion has started from the wrong place, just as is often the case when it comes to harassment, stalking, sexual blackmail — that is, violence against women.

When it comes to violence against women, there are always people and institutions that close their eyes to the things that matter and focus on things that are completely irrelevant.

Everyone turned a blind eye to the first message from the man in the screenshot that Grey published. He blackmailed Nitaj, threatening that if she doesn’t spend another night with him he will post her picture. Perhaps, in the name of strengthening a narrative where the woman is to blame, they willfully ignored that fact. Or, no one bothered to read the original message, because after all, blaming a woman is a routine, habitual, normal activity.

Apparently, a woman is a victim only when she is killed. Other cases are not suitable victims. Society seems to have fixed a profile of the “acceptable” victim. The victim must be in the right place, at the right time. They should be threatened in the right place. They must be blackmailed in the right place. They must be raped in the right place. They must be killed in the right place and circumstances. The right circumstances are mainly related to her appearance, her clothes, the time she goes out, the drinks she drinks, the people she hangs out with, the number of followers she has on social media, the type of photos she takes.

It is men, apparently, whose whims are absolute, unassailable, unquestionable.

It seems that a model does not quite fit the profile of the perfect victim. So she cannot be a victim. Why? Because she allegedly spent a night with this man and now she has to fulfill his needs forever. A woman who once slept with a man (let’s hypothetically say that it is true), should be ready to sleep with him always, whenever he wants. A man who, hypothetically, has paid 5,000 euros to sleep with a woman, has a perpetual right over the woman’s body?

It is men, apparently, whose whims are absolute, unassailable, unquestionable. Only their will should be acknowledged, while the woman’s response to these whims are the subject of social judgment. She must know how to protect the man’s ego, as Katherine Angel says: “Women owe men sex, if only in order to forestall the violence that may come their way if they withhold it.” So women must give men what they ask for, so that men don’t violate and destroy women’s lives lives that, it seems, society has given to men.

Women are expected to act so as not to offend men. What offends a strong, unbeatable man the most is when a woman says no. That’s it. Because a woman’s agency is not recognized enough for them to say no. Women’s agency isn’t recognized enough to say to a man, “I don’t want to be with you anymore.”

Even our blackmailer, the man behind the messages, and Grey, don’t recognize her right to say no. The blackmailer, in this case, as in many others, is quite typical, ordinary. It is not even original. It works in the same way as other blackmailers and violent men operate “either do what I want, or I will destroy you.”

Instantly, a man like this can destroy you. As we can see in this case, no one listens to the woman, no one thinks about her. Everyone, like worker bees, stands by the man.

You can hear hundreds of stories of men who expect everyone to say yes to them. Even if that man is crazy about you, the best way to find out the truth about him is to say no to him. How many times have you heard stories from women, harassed and followed by men on the street saying, “Let me touch you, what a beautiful body you have” and the moment the woman turned to him saying “go away” or “shut your mouth,” he retorted with “whore” or sometimes with physical violence? How many times have you heard a woman’s confession that after she had said no, he raped her.

This is the fundamental course of events. A woman says no, a man continues with his actions. This is how, step by step, women are raped or killed.

In the case of blackmail against Arta Nitaj, as in most sexual blackmails, we are dealing with a man who cannot accept rejection. This is a man who thinks that a woman owes him sex and a society that upholds the man’s sexual desire as sacrosanct. The woman’s body becomes a battlefield.

This time, Arta Nitaj became a battlefield. The fact that she is a public figure seems to have given people a feeling that they had a right to participate in her crucifixion. The fact that the 5,000 euros were mentioned has made her circumstances even more ruthless. No one has hesitated in their response and it seems they feel a moral obligation to participate in this persecution.

Those who are ready to torment yet another woman should remember the names of the countless victims of this crime around the world.

Arta Nitaj and other women who are blackmailed do not even qualify as victims in the eyes of many and yet they pay the highest price. As long as society follows the trends of violence and instead of calling for justice for victims, glorifies people who behave like Grey, then we will be condemned to live in this cycle of violence. Grey has been encouraged to continue his blackmail, meaning that a way has been opened to all men who have blackmailed a woman at some point in their lives. What is worse, this shows to other men that anytime they have a whim, they can blackmail a woman.

A simple internet search of the phrase “threatens to release pictures” can show you how this form of blackmail has ruined women’s lives. The fountain of desires men express in exchange for women’s submission is endless. “You either come back, or I’ll publish the photos,” “give me 1,000 euros, or I’ll publish the photos,” and so on.

Meanwhile, women are pushed into a corner, where everyone is ready to attack them. No one stops to wonder if the women’s hands are in fact clean, if they are isolated, abused by their families, excluded from society, and oppressed. They become the whores that no one loves.

Those who are ready to torment yet another woman should remember the names of the countless victims of this crime around the world. The only act that would have to happen is for the prosecution to find the blackmailer, who everyone celebrates as a hero, and bring him to justice. This celebration, which is being done at the expense of women, must end.

 

Feature Image: K2.0.

 

 

The regional program ‘RESILIENCE: Civil society action to reaffirm media freedom and counter disinformation and hateful propaganda in Western Balkans and Turkey’ is implemented with the financial support of the European Union by partner organizations SEENPMAlbanian Media InstituteMediacentar SarajevoKosovo 2.0Montenegrin Media InstituteMacedonian Institute for MediaNovi Sad School of JournalismPeace Institute and Bianet.

This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Kosovo 2.0 and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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