How Should We View The Victims Of The Ashley Madison Hacking?


A guest blog by Jon Kuhrt, blogger at Resistance & Renewal.

The fall-out from the Ashley Madison hacking continues to claim victims. There are lots of stories emerging about politicians, teachers, church leaders and others who hold positions of responsibility being exposed as being registered to, or using, the site. Many relationships have already broken up and there have been reports of suicides in connection to the disclosures.

In addition, Noel Biderman, the CEO and founder of Ashley Madison has resigned, and the legal claims against them are beginning to mount up. Business experts are questioning how Avid Life Media can survive such a catastrophic breach of their security and the unique situation it has created.

Bringing people together

A number of people have contacted me since this story broke, including the BBC, because of a campaign I started a few years ago against a similar UK-based affairs website, and its adverts that appeared on billboards. 

It’s important to say that I am a big fan of dating websites — I have been to three weddings of friends who met through Christian Connection, and I would always recommend them as a good option. This is because they do what good dating websites should: they bring people together. The repugnant thing about Ashley Madison, and other similar sites like Marital Affair, is that they do the opposite. They make money from breaking up relationships. What we are witnessing with the Ashley Madison case is just a concentrated example of what websites like this continually do in helping undermine relationships: they profit from causing misery.

Making money from bringing people together is a great business to be in. Making money from splitting them up is a disgrace.

‘A tsunami of unhappiness’

Since the AM situation happened, some media outlets have been keen to hear from people (especially Christians) who would give those exposed by the hacking a judgemental “reaping what you sow” type of message.

But I don’t think we should be judgemental towards those affected. Rather, I think we should just be deeply sad about the situation that is being unveiled. As one commentator put it recently, this information will “unleash a tsunami of unhappiness” across thousands of households, as the behaviour of spouses and partners is disclosed. Trust will be irreparably broken and many people will be damaged.


The dating industry needs to fully recognise that websites like Ashley Madison are toxic: they lure naïve customers in by selling a false world of beautiful people enjoying carefree, commitment-free sex and then going home to their families with no harm done.

But the reality is far more ugly. Unfaithfulness destroys families and ruins lives. It creates poverty and mental health problems. It deeply scars the children affected. 

And, as many have known for ages, more often than not the whole premise of websites like this are intrinsically deceitful: with many men wasting hundreds of pounds being strung along by a huge number of fake female profiles which are designed to keep them parting with their cash. It has been fascinating how the analysis of the leaked data has proved what a big con the whole AM website really was, with such a pitifully low numbers of women actually using the site. The dating industry needs to be far tougher about its transparency and the standards it sets – the practices exposed by the AM situation damage everyone.

Ripped off

Humans, and especially men, will always be willing to pay money to chase sexual gratification. And whole industries, whether on the streets or online, will always emerge to profit from these tendencies. 

It reminds me of when I used to be a manager of an emergency shelter for young homeless people in Soho, central London. A number of the female residents were involved in selling sex — but most also were adept in the equally dangerous practice of “clipping”. This is where you make a deal with a potential customer but use some form of distraction to run off with their cash without giving any services in return

Often they would run back to the shelter and frequently our night staff would have to deal with extremely angry men who chased after them demanding their money back.  In response to their protests, our staff would suggest that the men could always phone the police to report a crime. Funnily enough, this advice was never appreciated.

The brokenness of our world

The Ashley Madison debacle is compelling example of the radical brokenness of our world. It shows how corporate greed is able to capitalise and feed off personal weakness, compounding destructive behaviour.

In his brilliant book Unapologetic, Francis Spufford writes about this brokenness. He argues that it is impossible for anyone to use the word sin anymore, because it is so indelibly linked to an archaic judgementalism. People just turn off when they read it because they assume it says nothing to them about their lives. Maybe reading the word just then had that very effect on you?

The replacement term that Spufford suggests is ‘The Human Propensity to Fuck things Up’ or the HPtFtU as he helpfully abbreviates it:

“What we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, ‘stuff’ here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s.”

Reconciliation and forgiveness

This is exactly what we are seeing unveiled in the Ashley Madison situation. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of people who know they have utterly screwed up and feel angry, embarrassed and deeply ashamed. I bet they wish like anything that they could turn back the clock and not have got involved. There is little better examples of the HPtFtU in action.

It is this tendency within humanity which creates the source from which all suffering, selfishness and injustice in our world flows. This is what often causes children to cry themselves to sleep because their parents are no longer together. This is what causes the practical and emotional struggles of a single parent who does not have enough support. Whilst we should not look down on others, we need to be honest about this reality. The HPtFtU is our human condition.

But this is not the end of story, the final word. For there is another, more powerful source from which forgiveness, reconciliation and healing love flows. The best thing we can do is point to God’s grace and help those who are broken find it for themselves.

By Jon Kuhrt

Jon Kuhrt works with people affected by homelessness, offending and addictions at the West London Mission. He, his wife and three children are part of Streatham Baptist Church and he is a member of the Christians on the Left. He likes football…but loves cricket.

A version of this article was first published on Jon Kuhrt’s blog Resistance & Renewal