A debate has sparked in Sudbury, Ont., over an alleged Instagram conversation about the sharing of explicit photos after several men apparently boasted about being able to ruin lives with screenshots that women sent them.

Posts showing the private chat were uploaded to Facebook, but they have since been taken down. 

While some people reacting to the story say it is common to see intimate selfies shared amongst groups of people, others are raising concerns about how consent plays a role in the discussion. 

"I was very upset," Thorneloe University professor Laurel O'Gorman said. "It's a serious problem."

O'Gorman told CBC News she found out about the alleged Instagram conversation last week when one of her students used it as an example to highlight the difference between how women and men are treated differently over sexting, and how women are often victimized.  

'Never the victim's fault'

"We're saying why did you take these photos? Why did you send these photos? That's not the question we should be asking," O'Gorman said. 

"It is never the victim's fault ... it is the fault of the people who are sharing these images."

Laurel O'Gorman

Laurel O'Gorman teaches women's gender and sexuality studies at Thorneloe University. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

The normalization of sharing sexual images without consent is a form of what O'Gorman calls rape culture. 

"When people are sexually assaulted the first thing you say is were you drinking? What were you wearing? Why were you walking alone at night? It seems like the very same situation is happening here," O'Gorman said. 

"I would say that if somebody has taken an image, a sexual image and shared it without their consent — that is an act of violence against women."

Women have 'right to live freely and fully'

Some people have questioned why women send intimate photos to men. 

"My response is who cares? They want to belong. They think they can trust," said Gaetane Pharand, the executive director of Centre Victoria pour femmes — a non-profit assisting Francophone women dealing with violence.

"We have as much of a right to live freely and fully without always believing that we will be attacked."

Gaetane Pharand

Gaetane Pharand is the executive director of Centre Victoria pour femmes, a non-profit assisting Francophone women dealing with violence in Sudbury, Ont. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Pharand praised Chanel Mathieu, the young woman who spoke out against the men who appeared to be part of the controversy. 

"If we can at least bring about a discussion around this, then this is very important," Pharand said. 

CBC has reached out to all the people said to be involved in the alleged Instagram conversation.

None of them have addressed the allegations against them, but one man allegedly posted an apology on his Facebook page.

He wrote that he was "truly sorry" and "would never intentionally hurt someone or try to ruin their life."

Poon Platoon apology

An alleged Facebook apology posted by one of the members of the alleged Instagram conversation.