Revenge porn websites taking advantage of weak privacy laws

Revenge porn websites taking advantage of weak privacy laws

SEATTLE -- She was a flattered college sophomore. He was a cute senior. Their flirtation lead to the exchange of pictures.

When she sent him some racy photos, he responded with racy photos of his own, showing off his privates.

"I was like, 'Oh, an older guy, I'm interested'," said Tea, a fictitious name we've given her because she wants to remain anonymous.

But then it got too much. She said she was repeatedly getting pictures of his privates multiple times a day. She said no more.

"I told him I do not appreciate this, I don't want to sleep with you, I'm sorry but you have to stop," Tea said.

His calls did stop, but others began. She got phone calls and text messages from random people.

That's because the senior had posted her racy pictures on MyEx.com, what's often called a revenge porn website. There are several on the internet and their business model is one of extortion.

"They were saying all the things I would do to you, there was allot of grunting," Tea said.

The senior had also posted her phone number with the comment, "Here you go, text her, Facebook her, whatever, give her Hell."

Women and men are learning the hard way that a flirtatious nude or semi-nude photos can become featured material on a revenge porn website.

"It's a form of humiliation and degradation," said Candice Christensen, a Utah-based sex addiction therapist.

She said people who post revenge porn feel a deep sense of rejection when they don't get what they want from the relationship.

"They are feeling powerless, and this is a way they feel power and control," said Christensen, who believes posting revenge porn is a form of payback.

A 2012 Pew Research survey says 15-percent of all adults have received nude or nearly nude photos and videos of someone they know. That's potential profits for revenge porn websites like MyEx.com, which charge upwards to $500 to remove the offending photos, if they ever do at all.

"You have a huge uphill battle," said attorney Colette Vogele, co-founder of Without My Consent, an organization helping victims of online harrassment to navigate the legal system.

"We've learned that over time, there are avenues to justice through the legal system, but they are very limited, very challenging for victims," Vogele said. 

She said one reason is that revenge porn operators are very good at hiding their identities. According to Internet records, the MyEx.com website is hosted in the Netherlands, registered in Hong Kong and removal payments are sent to a company in the Philippines that repairs online reputations. 

An email returned by the operator of that company says MyEx.com is client.

"Ultimately, its very, very difficult to remove the content from the sites," says Vogele.

She says copyright and privacy laws provide some protection, but it gets extremely hard to enforce when website operations are overseas. The unfortunate reality for victims is whoever takes the picture owns the copyright, which can make it harder to take down even if the victim is the one naked in the photo.

There's now a move in Washington State to change that.

In January of 2014, the House Technology & Economic Development Committee will be presented with a package of bills that include outlawing revenge porn websites and protecting the privacy of Washington State citizens.

"To have that type of picture out there, you're part owner of that and you have the right to control what happens to that," said Rep. Jim Morris who's chairman of the committee.

Only California and New Jersey have laws similar to what will be proposed in Olympia.

"We want to simplify it so that people can request something be taken down," Morris said.

He wants protection that says the poster can't upload pictures considered racy by the average person without the consent of the person who is in the picture.

For Tea, it's too late.

"When you Google my name it was like the first thing that came up," she said.

She's afraid an employer, a potential boyfriend, even her family will see the same thing.

"Having those pictures out there, it's just, I don't know what to do," she said.