A Tale of Two Sexual Assaults on Jennifer Lawrence

The first assault against Jennifer Lawrence was heavily discussed in the news and on social media. It resulted in an FBI investigation, subsequent prosecution, and an upcoming sentencing.

The second assault has received similar coverage, but more as a human interest piece than anything else. The legal ramifications of this second incident are practically nonexistent.

The overall response to the first assault was outrage. The response to the second was indifference.

What were these two incidents? The first, as you may have guessed, was the 2014 iCloud hack in which private/nude photos of several female celebrities, including Lawrence, were stolen and published online. The second incident involved the filming of Jennifer Lawrence’s first sex scene (for the sci-fi movie Passengers). Let me set the stage by sharing three similarities between the photo hack and the sex scene.

First, in the aftermath of the photo hack, Lawrence experienced anxiety. “I was just so afraid,” she later said. “I didn’t know how this would affect my career.”

Similarly, when dealing with the sex scene in Passengers, Lawrence experienced anxiety—before and after the shoot: “I got really, really drunk. But then that led to more anxiety when I got home because I was like, ‘What have I done? I don’t know.’”

Second, in the aftermath of the stolen photos, Lawrence reached out to one of her parents:

I promise you, anybody given the choice of that kind of money [for making The Hunger Games] or having to make a phone call to tell your dad that something like that has happened, it’s not worth it.

In the aftermath of the sex scene in Passengers, Lawrence once again reached out to one of her parents—this time, her mother:

[I]t was…my first time kissing a married man, and guilt is the worst feeling in your stomach. And I knew it was my job, but I couldn’t tell my stomach that. So I called my mom, and I was like, “Will you just tell me it’s OK?”

Third, in response to the stolen photos, Lawrence experienced intense grief. “I was outside crying,” she said, “and [my dog] Pippi jumped up on my lap and started licking up all my tears, and I couldn’t put her down for hours. And I mean, hours.”

Likewise, Lawrence experienced grief over the sex scene in Passengers. As evidenced by the quotes we’ve already looked at, her grief was shown in the coping mechanisms she used to eliminate distress, sorrow, and regret.


It is true that there are some obvious differences between the stolen photos and the sex scene. For example, the first incident took place against Lawrence’s wishes, whereas the second took place with her consent. I point out the similarities above, not to prove that the situations are identical, but that they are both morally problematic. The scenarios may not be the same, but they both are serious.

For the purposes of this article, let’s summarize the differences this way: the photo hack was a violation of Lawrence’s will, while the sex scene was a violation of Lawrence’s conscience.

In our individualistic society, violence to a person’s will is quickly labeled as evil—and rightly (if not sometimes inordinately) so. That’s why no reputable news source attempted to explain why the hacked photo incident was no big deal. It was a big deal. In the words of Jennifer Lawrence herself, it was “a sex crime…a sexual violation.”

When it comes to violations of conscience, however, our hypersexualized culture is not so quick to respond. We’ve become acclimated to sex as an entertainment tool, not realizing that mainstream actors are routinely coerced and manipulated into performing sex and/or nude scenes. In the face of overwhelming societal pressure, they often submit to things they otherwise wouldn’t do.

As I have researched the pornification of our entertainment over the last few years, I’ve come across more and more stories from actors (mostly women) who describe their experience filming sex scenes with words like “embarrassing,” “mortifying,” “humiliating,” and “terrifying.” In fact, there’s an eerie similarity between how movie stars feel and how porn stars feel about shooting nude and/or sex scenes. Their feelings matter little, however, in the face of producers, directors, and audiences who don’t know and/or don’t care about their plight.

This objectification of human beings made in God’s image is a prevalent evil affecting all types of films, from Fifty Shades of Grey to The Wolf of Wall Street. It encourages us as a viewing audience to dehumanize actors in our minds, if even only unconsciously.

Going back to Lawrence’s experience in Passengers: it is clear she felt guilty about sexually acting out with a married man. Her conscience fought her during the process. Even so, she was able to later summarize the experience by saying, “[E]verything was done right; nobody did anything wrong.” (She even publicly joked about the experience shortly before the movie’s release.)

So what happened there? How did she go from guilt to acceptance? How did she go from thinking something was horribly wrong to thinking nothing was wrong? One of two things happened.

Option #1: She gained some maturity; her conscience was strengthened.

Option #2: She lost some of her innocence; her conscience was seared.

I’m going with option #2. Lawrence’s conscience, tethered to a society consumed with its own entertainment, was dragged through the mud. It then got up, wiped itself off, and followed the culture’s cues by denying there was ever any mud to begin with.
No one person attacked Lawrence during the filming of her first cinematic sex scene. The assault was a group effort. We as a culture are the perpetrator.


Based on Lawrence’s public statements, the photo hack of 2014 was likely the toughest thing she has yet experienced as a celebrity. It traumatized her with grief and shame. It made her feel vulnerable and fearful.

Similarly, the sex scene in Passengers was, by Lawrence’s own admission, the toughest thing she has yet experienced as an actor. It traumatized her with grief and shame. It made her feel, as she put it, “the most vulnerable I’ve ever been.”

How does our society react to statements like that? With a yawn. A shrug. A blithe wave of the hand. We’re too enamored with the entertainment provided for us on the backs of burdened consciences. We’re too secure in the reality that what we don’t know, or don’t fully understand, won’t hurt us. We’re happy in our ignorance.

Sure, many of us are not acting with ill will. But make no mistake: our ignorance is not Jennifer Lawrence’s bliss.

Update: I’ve published a follow-up piece that answers some criticism I have received: Why Compare the Filming of Sex Scenes to Sexual Assault?

Update #2: since its original publication, this blog post has received some minor edits in order to eliminate some needlessly controversial verbiage and to enhance its rhetorical efficacy.

photo credit: jenlawfilms via flickr, CC


Cap Stewart said…
The first assault against Jennifer Lawrence was heavily discussed in the news and on social media. The second has received comparatively little fanfare. The first incident resulted in an FBI investigation, subsequent prosecution, and an upcoming sentencing. The legal ramifications of the second incident are practically nonexistent. The overall response to the first was outrage. The response to the second was indifference.

[This obligatory comment is designed to make Facebook recognize my article’s content. Thanks for your understanding.]
Charity said…
I think there's an Option 3: it still bothers her, but she chooses to put on a public face of indifference, because society sees nothing "wrong" in her actions.
Cap Stewart said…
I agree, although I think that fits well with Option #2.
Jim said…
Well, Charity's Option is probably more like an Option 1.5. Let's hope her conscience has become neither sophisticated nor burnt to a crisp. Her only hope is in a conscience that continues to trouble.
Al said…
My wife made a good point about her issue with the "Passengers". dilemma.

She's JLaw. One of the top actresses today - she could have called the shots and said no. Further, these show people want to make a difference and this would be a really important area. Someone at her level could make a real difference for actresses without the clout she has to stop this kind of oppression going on.

In one big way, I am glad she's struggling with it and hope the Lord uses it for her good in spite of the pain.The sign of struggling indicates life.
Cap Stewart said…
Good point, Al. It's not that JLaw acted without any sense of agency--and, in fact, a person in her position may very well have been able to put her foot down. So while she, like many other actors, is a victim of societal pressure (as I have tried to point out), she still shares some culpability (a point which I really didn't address, and which might have confused some readers).