KCTV5 Special Report: Frightening consequences of cyber revenge
Posted by Chris Oberholtz, Multimedia Producer - email
FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV) -
Editor's note: Because of the danger she still faces, KCTV5 has concealed the identity of the woman at the center of this story. She has agreed to use the name "Sue."
Online attacks launched to destroy the reputations and lives of former boyfriends and girlfriends is happening more and more these days.
The painful and frightening consequences of cyber revenge is something Sue knows a lot about.
"I think that he wants to find me and kill me," Sue said.
Sue is talking about the man with whom she once had a romantic relationship - a man who was later sent to jail, convicted of committing aggravated assault and blackmail against her.
"He used to put his hands on my throat and tell me it'd be so easy," Sue said.
No longer behind bars or under court supervision, Sue said that man is free to hunt and stalk her. But instead of making physical contact, she said the attacks are being carried out online.
"What he posts is disgusting," Sue said.
For those who might not know better, it appears Sue is the one behind the posts.
She showed KCTV5 a series of fake or imposter Facebook pages created in Sue's name.
While pretending to be her, the poster mentions sexually explicit acts and claims to have sexually transmitted diseases. Other dangerously personal information has been posted for all to see.
"He posted my social security number, my driver's license, and where I used to live," Sue said.
The imposter pages include intimate pictures taken when Sue and her cyber attacker were in a relationship. Those photos were never meant to be made public.
"When I was with him and I said leave me alone, he said you wouldn't even be able to get a job cause I'm going to do Facebooks (sic) in your name and you're going to have all these pictures and no one's going to want to hire you then."
The practice of jilted exes posting private and often embarrassing photos has become so common it has a name: revenge porn.
And more victims, like 32-year-old Texan Hollie Toups, are stepping forward to talk about the online attacks.
"I was at a store one day and someone was like, 'Oh hey, you're the girl from that website,'" Toups said.
Until that awkward encounter, the teacher's aide said she had no idea those pictures had been made public.
"It was humiliating to say the least," Toups said.
Toups and 25 other women are now suing the website where her photos appeared.
According to former FBI agent Jeff Lanza, there really is no way to avoid unflattering online posts.
"With the internet it's just so easy to do so many things to hurt people," Lanza said.
The first step in fighting back, Lanza said, is figuring out what sort of information is posted.
Lanza suggests people type their own name into search engines like Google and Bing once a month. Then, if they find hurtful postings, they can fight back by reporting the abuse directly to the website where it has been posted.
"You can repeatedly take those sites down if you find out about that through Facebook and other social networking sites," Lanza said.
When that's not enough, Lanza suggests taking the complaint to police. There are cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying and simple harassment laws on the books that could apply in situations like this. But people need to be prepared to make their case.
"It's always best if you see something online that you want to prove to somebody that has been there, take a screen shot of it right away cause it may not be there when you go back," Lanza said.
However, none of those steps have created a permanent solution for Sue. The one legal option available would be filing for a protective order.
"I think the protective order would be the gateway for him to get to me," Sue said.
Sue would not be able to get a protective order without revealing to the court, and in turn her online attacker, the jurisdiction where she now lives.
Sue said she has worked too hard to keep that information a secret from the man she's been trying to escape.
"The only thing I can think of is you know, run away from everybody and everything," Sue said. "I thought the system would be more helpful and now I know why rape victims don't report it. I'm just a statistic. I feel I'm being punished over and over again."
Victims like Sue are begging law enforcement and legislators alike for tighter regulations to keep an intimate memory from becoming a weapon.
Right now, New Jersey is the only state with legislation criminalizing so-called revenge porn, but Florida could soon follow.
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