Woman fighting back after nude photos leaked online - KCTV5 News

Woman fighting back after nude photos leaked online

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Alicia Clemmons had just become one of thousands of women who would become a victim of a form of intimate invasion that is legal in Kansas and Missouri. (KCTV5) Alicia Clemmons had just become one of thousands of women who would become a victim of a form of intimate invasion that is legal in Kansas and Missouri. (KCTV5)
Nude pictures, taken as Alicia Clemmon was coming out of the shower, were posted to Myex.com. Her name, age and city were on the site, along with Facebook and LinkedIn photos, providing a way to contact her. (KCTV5) Nude pictures, taken as Alicia Clemmon was coming out of the shower, were posted to Myex.com. Her name, age and city were on the site, along with Facebook and LinkedIn photos, providing a way to contact her. (KCTV5)
TOPEKA, KS (KCTV) -

It was a week after Valentine's Day in 2014. Alicia Clemmons was Alicia Crain at the time. She had just gotten engaged and was planning her dream wedding when a message in her e-mail inbox turned her life upside down.

The e-mail came from someone calling himself Jay Shaft. The subject line read, "Someone did something nasty to you on myex.com.”

Clemmons had just become one of thousands of women who would become a victim of a form of intimate invasion that is legal in Kansas and Missouri.

“My mind can’t really ascertain what I am about to see when I click this link,” said Clemmons.

The link brought her to nude pictures, taken as she was coming out of the shower. They were posted online for all to see. Her name, age and city were on the site, along with Facebook and LinkedIn photos, providing a way to contact her.

A wave of fear and disbelief washed over Clemmons as her inbox and phone began filling up with one message after another from men who saw her photos and wanted more.

“Within I would say two hours, I was probably contacted 100 times where they were wanting a real live show and would pay for it,” said Clemmons.

She collapsed on the floor, sobbing. After she got up, she got online to answer the questions nagging at her.

"How is this even possible? How is this legal? What is going on?" asked Clemmons.

She said she’s seen victims of domestic violence being manipulated into not reporting crimes via the threat of posting photos, and though she got past her fear and shame to become an avenger, she worries immensely about younger women, college aged women, who are less resilient and could be pushed to harm themselves or even take their own lives.

“Whether you gave consent to [taking or possessing] the photos or not, it was never Okay to be humiliated in this fashion,” said Clemmons.

Twenty-six states have laws making what happened to Clemmons a crime. The terminology varies as do penalties. Some laws consider it disorderly conduct, others harassment, and others invasion of privacy.

Neither Kansas nor Missouri has one on the books. Both states introduced bills last year, but both bills stalled in committee.

Two Kansas lawmakers, who each proposed separate bills in 2015, have now joined forces to resurrect one of them.

"The pain that people go through whenever their lives are torn apart like this, and it isn't something that anybody can imagine," said Rep. Sydney Carlin, a Democrat from Manhattan, when asked what motivated her.

She’s teaming up with Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Republican from Overland Park.

"That victim has not just had their privacy violated. They are in danger of attack. Oftentimes they receive rape threats from strangers," Clayton points out.

Clayton and Carlin say they initiated separate bills, unaware of each other’s efforts. This year Carlin set aside her efforts on her bill, HB2062, in order to push for a revised version of Clayton’s bill, HB2080. The bill is currently set for a committee hearing on February 8. The committee chair, Rep. John Barker, has the ultimate authority to decide whether to call for a vote.

Clayton worries about teens and young college students falling victim to what is commonly known as "revenge porn."

The American Civil Liberties Union says the motive behind the new laws is noble, but worries they open a dangerous door.

"They criminalize a certain type of speech rather than addressing the behaviors that are creating the problems in the first place," said Micah Kubic, the executive director of the ACLU of Kansas.

He cites an example of a love letter. If, in fact, the issue is public circulation of something meant to be private, an intimate love letter should also qualify. It doesn’t, which means that nude images are placed in a special category for criminal regulation.

“While I think this sort of behavior is particularly awful, we can’t distract from the fact that subjectivity is still in play here, and any time government comes in and tries to be the decider on what constitutes humiliation or embarrassment or not, we are getting into a very difficult and very thorny place that is definitely going to lead to abuse,” said Kubic. “Every time government tries to be the arbiter, the decider, of what type of speech is good and what type of speech is bad, we get into that sort of place.”

Kubic said the behaviors that are motivating advocates on the new laws are already covered by existing laws, such as those criminalizing stalking, threats, theft and blackmail. He also points to existing grounds for civil suits for things like harassment, loss of income and emotional suffering.

However, those lose laws often don’t apply to sites like MyEx.com. By and large, if the person submitting the photos doesn’t make direct contact with the victim, they’re usually off the hook.

For example, stalking, the criminal form of what most consider harassment, requires that the person charged make direct and repeated contact. Instead, the instigator can make a post that results in repeated harassing and frightening contacts, but if each contact is one message from multiple people, the instigator can achieve the goal without contacting the victim even once.

Consider Clemmons’ case. She believes it was her ex-husband who posted the photos and sent her the email, but she could never prove it. The email came just a week after a court hearing she attended to get a renewal on a protection order. She received multiple protection orders against him over the years.

She said the Cass County Prosecutor at the time, Teresa Hensley, told her the posts would not qualify as violations of the protection order because they did not amount to direct contact. The email could have but when the prosecutor obtained a court order for the IP address used, they discovered it was what's known as a "ghost IP address." In other words, whoever sent the email was hiding behind the anonymity that certain electronic channels offer.

That made Clemmons take a novel approach.

"Copyrighting the pictures,” she said. “That’s the only way to do it."

Clemmons filed paperwork with the U.S. Copyright Office, which meant sending copies of the offending photos along with a fee.

That gave her the legal firepower to demand the site have the photos removed.

Still, she had to scour the web daily for re-posts and new posts, something she still does almost monthly. Furthermore, copyrights are typically available only for “selfies,” where the person depicted is the one who took the photo. Clemmons’ case involved many complexities that created an exception.

She said victims like her deserve a law that holds offenders accountable.

“To utilize free speech to terrorize, to hurt, to cripple, that’s no longer speech,” said Clemmons. “That’s abuse. And that’s where we as a society should draw the line.”

The Kansas law is scheduled for a committee vote next week on Feb. 9.

The Missouri representative who proposed a bill last year, Rep. Kevin Engler, said last month that he had no intention of revisiting the issue this year. The Farmington, MO, Republican said committee leadership did not want to take it up last year because they didn’t think it would pass.

When asked why there was not enough support, Engler referred to “questions about the authenticity of the anecdotal experiences presented.”

“They didn’t want to set members up for ridicule,” Engler said by phone. “They felt there was no need to provide fodder for the press if it was not going to pass.”

There is also a federal bill in the works. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat in California, began working on the matter in 2014. It is currently in draft stage.

Copyright 2016 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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