SAN DIEGO — At some point during their 23-year marriage, a husband playfully suggested to his wife that she snap a nude photo of herself and send it to him, a little digital flirtation to add a new spark to their relationship.
The wife laughed off the suggestion, until one day in November 2012 when her husband was leaving for a work trip and asked, “How about that picture?”
Again, she treated it like a joke, but that night she snapped a cellphone photo of herself and emailed the intimate image to her husband. Over the next few months, she took another racy photo. And another. And another.
Twenty-one in all.
“They felt sacred and beautiful because they were done in love, for a man I was deeply in love with,” the woman, who lives outside California, wrote in an email to U-T San Diego. (Her name is not being revealed in this story to protect her privacy.)
“They were my gift to him,” she wrote.
Months later, the woman got a call from stranger who told her that her photos were on a website called You Got Posted.
"Every time I would see a women’sfull name next to her city and state
postednext to the words
Ugotposted,not even entering this
site,I felt like crying deeply, each
time, feeling the horror, the terror of it all washing over me again and again.
It is like being raped and hung up naked and exposed in front of the entire
You want to take down your naked
pictures so badly, so desperately you want to tear them down before anyone you
know sees them, for they are a very private part of yourself that you only
meant to share with another whom you loved, not the many sexual predators who
came to this site.Each new comment
from these strangers who came across it, felt like being violated and another
stone being thrown into your heart.
feel ashamed and dirty.You never forget
it and live with that deep wound for the rest of your life.The site raped the heart and soul of many
women and men too, who loved these women.It will haunt us all, for the rest of our lives.I too, was posted on this horrific
It’s a practice commonly referred to as revenge porn, because photos are often submitted by spurned exes.
Last week, a San Diego jury found Kevin Bollaert, 28, guilty of more than two dozen felony counts related to
The case is being described as a landmark in California, the first conviction for an operator of a revenge porn website.
“Just because you’re sitting behind a computer, committing what is essentially a cowardly and criminal act, you will not be shielded from the law or jail,” Attorney General Kamala Harris said in statement issued the day after the verdicts.
The office’s eCrime unit was created in 2011 to investigate identity theft and technology crimes including cyber-exploitation, the term Harris has said is more accurate to describe this type of crime than “revenge porn.”
At least one of the victims in the Bollaert case would agree.
“FOR A GOOD TIME, SHE CAN BE FOUND AT THIS ADDRESS,” a commenter wrote on You Got Posted under the photo of the aforementioned wife, a mother of two teenagers who ran a daycare out of her home. The commenter typed her house number and street name. Her hometown was posted as well.
“This was not porn,” she explained in her email. “These postings were like hate crimes.”
The Attorney General’s Office prosecuted Bollaert in San Diego, and is preparing to go to trial in Napa County on a similar case involving Casey Meyering, who is accused of running a website called
Winbystate.com. It, too, featured nude photos that were posted without the subjects’ permission and required them to pay as much as $250 if they wanted the photos taken down, prosecutors said.
“We’re talking about large scale operators,” said Daniel Suvor, Harris’ chief of policy. “Going after the big fish is sort of the way that we’re thinking about this.”
In 2013, California adopted a law against cyber-exploitation, making it a misdemeanor punishable by fines and jail time. A dozen other states, including Arizona, Illinois and Maryland, have passed similar laws. New Jersey’s 2003 invasion of privacy law, enacted before the term “revenge porn” became prominent, is considered the broadest.
California’s law was expanded this year to including protections for “selfies,” photos taken by the victims themselves. The previous version only protected photos taken by others and it required prosecutors to prove the suspect had intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon the victim, both criticisms of the original law.
The American Civil Liberties Union had opposed the initial bill, citing free speech concerns.
The first person convicted under California’s revenge porn statute was Noe Iniguez of Los Angeles, who was accused of posting a topless photo of his ex-girlfriend on her employer’s Facebook page, along with several derogatory comments. He was sentenced in December to a year in jail and placed on probation for 36 months.
Experts say revenge porn, or cyber-exploitation, is a bigger problem than many people realize. Hundreds of sites exist on the Internet, each of which can attract hundreds of thousands of visitors.
In its first case against a revenge porn operator, the Federal Trade Commission announced late last month that it had reached a settlement with Craig Brittain of Colorado Springs, whose site was called Is Anybody Down. Brittain is now banned from publicly sharing nude videos or photos of people without their permission.
Last year, Hunter Moore, described in media accounts as a “revenge porn pioneer” and “the most hated man on the Internet,” was arrested for running the site
IsAnyoneUp.com, which at one point boasted up to 350,000 unique visitors in a day. Hunter was indicted in Los Angeles federal court along with Charles Evens on 15 felony counts including conspiracy and unauthorized access to a protected computer and aggravated identity theft.
Moore is accused of paying Evens to hack into emails to steal the sexually explicit photos featured later on Is Anyone Up. The site is now defunct.
According to a 2012 article in Rolling Stone, Moore contended his site was protected under the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996, which shields online service providers from legal action because of content posted by a third party.
“It’s the law that allows Facebook, Twitter and Yelp to operate…,” said Teri Karobonik, a staff attorney with the New Media Rights program at San Diego’s California Western School of Law. “You can see how it can get particularly dicey for a lot of sites when it comes to how they monitor content.”
The case is headed to trial in March.
Deputy Attorney General Tawnya Boulan Austin argued in the Bollaert case that the defendant wasn’t merely providing a forum for others to post content, but that he actively “curated” the images and comments.
He was convicted of 27 counts of identity theft and extortion, felony crimes that could land him behind bars for up to 24 years. He is now in jail, awaiting sentencing in April.
Some victims in the Bollaert case used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to try to get their photos removed from the website, claiming they — each of the individual victims — owned the copyright.
Karobonik said copyright law has helped some victims get photos removed from a website like
UGotPosted.com, but the photos often reappeared elsewhere on the Internet. “It actually becomes a whack-a-mole problem of trying to track down all of these sites,” she said.
The wife who took racy photos for her husband said her images have appeared on hundreds of websites since 2013. She contacted the webmasters and hosting companies, and most agreed to take down her photos within 24 hours.
Bollaert’s site was different, she said. It took much more effort, and hiring a lawyer, to get her photos removed.
“I went into hiding,” she explained. “I couldn’t go out. I thought, ‘I can’t meet anyone’s eyes.’ I was thinking they might recognize me.”
Her nightmare took a turn right after the verdicts, when Bollaert was taken into custody.
“I feel like I have a new life,” she said.
Staff librarian Merrie Monteagudo contributed to this report.