BullyVille in the Press
Revenge porn: caught in a web of spite
Article by: The Sydney Morning Herald
October 07, 2013

One morning last October, Tania* clicked on an email at her open-plan workplace. She saw a picture, taken by her estranged husband a few years before, of herself lying on a lounge in her lingerie.

The text graphically described sexual activities it said she ''and her man'' liked. It included her new postal address, personal email address and phone number. It said she hosted orgies and to go to her house whenever you wanted. It had been sent simultaneously to everyone in the business.

''You could see the reaction of people and their faces looking at me,'' she says. ''I went beetroot red and could have just died on the spot. I didn't know what to say or do. One of the other managers came over and said, 'You've got to leave the room straight away' and took me into the boardroom.''

Rebekah Wells.

"I knew by coming forward I would get my power back and that meant everything to me" : Bekah Wells. Photo: Supplied

Tania went to the police, who said that unless they had the IP address - where the email originated - they couldn't help, though they did take action about texts from her estranged husband, which breached a domestic violence order. Her workplace's IT department removed unopened emails from overseas branches in Britain and Canada, but not before 40 people had seen them.

Returning to work the next day was only the start. The police said it was highly possible her picture and details had been uploaded to the internet. She changed her phone and email details but spent weeks wondering if someone would turn up at her house. ''I just used to lock myself in at weekends.'' Luckily, she lives in a gated complex.

Tania was sacked not long after and thinks the email was the reason. ''I was in a senior management role. It was pretty difficult for them to look at me in the same way.'' She thinks the only reason her pictures did not go ''completely viral'' was that she is not on Facebook. ''I felt really isolated,'' she says. ''This is supposed to happen to 22-year-old girls, you know, who have no shame. This isn't supposed to happen to a 40-something mother.''

Tania is one of possibly hundreds of Australians - the overwhelming majority, women - who are victims of ''revenge porn'', where former partners post often intimate, sexual pictures taken during the relationship, on dedicated websites or circulate them to family and friends. The idea is to destroy their reputation when someone checks their web presence.

Just one site, which Fairfax Media has chosen not to identify, has dozens of Australians listed. Most of the shots - some viewed more than 10,000 times - are pornographic, often with vicious descriptions of the women and crude comments from visitors. You can pay $499 to have your listing removed. About half the Facebook links go to an inactive profile, suggesting the women are aware they are online, but their names still come up in Google searches. Two pictures show a skinny young woman whose forearms are red with blood from the cuts she has inflicted in self-harm. Another site considered revenge porn by activists has close to 400 pictures of Australian women - some clothed, some in lingerie, some nude - with their first name, the first letter of their surname, and the name of their town, with requests for more graphic shots.

''It's getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It's snowballing,'' says Bekah Wells, who set up the advocacy group Women Against Revenge Porn after intimate photos of her went online in 2010. She keeps having them removed, only to find them posted again. She is trying to serve a lawsuit against her former partner David Avedisian, who she thinks posted the original images, and is suing four websites that have hosted them.

''I wanted to throw up,'' Wells says. ''I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.'' She thought someone must have hacked her computer - Avedisian wouldn't do that. She then spoke to two other women in her home town of Naples, Florida, who were also on the site. They had all dated Avedisian. She also had to file an injunction against a police officer she had dated, Vito Celiberti. She says he threatened to circulate the photos from her case - after they had split up.

''To some people, I have a big scarlet 'A' on my chest,'' says Wells, 37. She decided to identify herself because she ''felt like I lost my power. I knew by coming forward I would get my power back and that meant everything to me. And secondly, if I didn't come forward, laws aren't going to change.''

The first revenge porn website, Is Anyone Down?, was set up in 2010 by an American, Hunter Moore, described by Rolling Stone as ''the most hated man on the internet''. He has said it received 30 million hits a month, and generated $13,000 a month in advertising. After multiple lawsuits, he sold it last year to anti-bullying site Bullyville, which closed it. But the model - humiliating pictures, personal details, all easily searchable - was taken up by other sites such as PinkMeth, Is Anybody Up? and UGotPosted.

They flourished like digital mushrooms in the dark. End Revenge Porn founder Holly Jacobs says her pictures went viral in 2011 and were on 200 websites within three days. Her problems began in 2009 after what she thought was an amicable break-up of a three-year, long-distance relationship. First her Facebook profile was hacked and a nude photo replaced her main picture. Jacobs, 30, confronted former partner Ryan Seay but he said the same thing had happened to him. Six months later, a handful of pictures he had taken found their way to a porn site. Three years after the split, pictures of her - with her email address and a screenshot of her Facebook profile - went viral the day after she posted a shot of her new boyfriend and her on Facebook. She is suing Seay, whose lawyer denies the allegations.

Jacobs received about 50 emails, and had to change her address eight times in one year. She says reading them was ''never pleasant … whether it's someone telling you they saw the pictures and they loved it, and they used it for their own personal pleasure … it's so disturbing, especially when they send nude photos of themselves.''

Jacobs has been using a take-down service to remove the pictures, which have spread far and wide. ''They've got a lot of it down,'' she says, ''but there are a lot of sites just digging their heels in … I don't Google my name any more. It doesn't do me any good to relive that trauma.'' She says she has had 1000 victims contact her site in the past year - with Australians the third-highest behind Americans and British.

The law can help, depending on what happened and where you live. Last year Ravshan Usmanov, of Sydney, received a six-month suspended sentence for posting nude pictures of his former partner.

David Vaile, from the cyberspace law and policy centre at the University of NSW, says some states have similar statutes against publishing ''indecent articles'', and there are also possible federal remedies. He thinks it is time for a breach-of-privacy law - first recommended by the Law Reform Commission in 2008. ''The long-proposed right to sue for serious invasion of privacy - this would be the absolute classic case of that.''

Criminal sanctions in the US are limited - Jacobs, Wells and others are pressing for new laws. Texas lawyer Jason Lee Van Dyke filed a suit against revenge porn site PinkMeth last December. When a court order closed it, it moved to war-torn Somalia, which has been without an effective central government since 1991.

Van Dyke petitioned authorities in charge of the country's .so suffix who closed it. ''Although I am not Muslim, I did research Islamic law prior to sending my request,'' Van Dyke says, ''and believe that their site violated statutory law as well as Islamic law''.

Hollie Toupe's pictures were posted to Texxxan.com. She is now in a class action suit against it with 24 other Texan women. ''A judge ordered the owners to shut it down, the administrators have been ordered not to post or share photos … We're in the deposition phase with trial set for January.''

Bullyville's James McGibney helped force UGotPosted offline last month, having won $250,000 for defamation from Hunter Moore. ''I'll always be proud of that [taking the sites offline],'' he says.

A judge ordered related revenge-porn domain names be transferred to McGibney's company over trademark infringement, awarding him $300,000 in damages plus costs - and finding UGotPosted's proprietors in contempt for breaking an injunction. McGibney now plans a class action on behalf of victims against them.

Revenge porn sites have also had to contend with hackers. One site owner tweeted in July that they were ''constantly under attack''. The infamous Anonymous collective has hacked and posted personal details online of site owners, including Moore. ''People,'' wrote one poster, ''Anonymous is a force for good, a force to fight exploitation. It's not just banks, big business and government agencies that exploit. It's assholes like PinkMeth as well … TAKE DOWN PINKMETH.COM AND KEEP IT DOWN!''

One way to stop revenge porn would be not to have intimate photos taken. But Jacobs says: ''If we did that, we'd never really let our guard down in a relationship - and what kind of life are you living if you can't do that?''

*Not her real name

If you have been the victim of revenge porn, visit endrevengeporn.com or womenagainstrevengeporn.com

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/revenge-porn-caught-in-a-web-of-spite-20131006-2v21q.html#ixzz2h66xs1MA
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