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Anorak | The ex-girlfriend who took on the world of revenge porn – you all need to read this

The ex-girlfriend who took on the world of revenge porn – you all need to read this

by | 8th, May 2013

holly jacobs The ex girlfriend who took on the world of revenge porn   you all need to read this

HOLLY Jacobs is the face of revenge porn. She was just another body in a mucky video until she set about turning the tables on her nemesis. She stepped up and filed a criminal case against a revenge porn distributor. She doesn’t know who that it, but she thinks it’s an ex.

This is her story:

ON a drizzly evening in Tampa in 2006, 23-year-old Holly Jacobs was enjoying a typical date night with Ryan Seay, her boyfriend of a few short months. As the time to head home approached, he walked her to her car and reluctantly kissed her goodbye. She clung dreamily to the sweater Mr. Seay had given her earlier in the evening, when she’d said she was cold. As her car pulled out of Mr. Seay’s driveway, she noticed it: a little heart that he had traced in the raindrops collected on her rear windshield.

Years later, when they’d finally broken it off for good, Ms. Jacobs, now 29, says that Mr. Seay did the unthinkable: He uploaded naked photos of her to the web. Photos that she’d sent to him in confidence. He allegedly posted them to scores of revenge porn sites, online hubs where scorned exes publish intimate photos without their former lovers’ consent. She says he attached her name, email address and a screenshot of her Facebook profile to the nude photos along with commentary about what a slut she was. Knowing that she was working as a teaching assistant at a local university, he allegedly uploaded a video of her masturbating with the title “Masturbation 201 by Professor Holli Thometz.”

Ms. Jacobs, who legally changed her name from her birth name “Holli Thometz” following the abuse, is just one of an untold number of women who have been victimized by revenge porn. But victims, at first afraid to speak out, are beginning to fight back against the distributors, proprietors and site hosts who comprise the revenge porn economy. In January, more than 23 women signed on to a class-action suit in Texas against the revenge porn website Texxxan.com and its host, GoDaddy.com. In Florida, where Ms. Jacobs lives, a law was recently proposed that would make the distribution and hosting of revenge porn a felony before last-minute amendments were tacked on and the bill was sidelined to temporary postponement, according to sources familiar with the situation.

To date, New Jersey is the only state with a viable revenge porn law on the books, and it stems from the infamous 2010 case of Rutgers student Tyler Clemente. The statute, 2C:14-9, makes it illegal for anyone to “disclose any photograph, film, videotape, recording or any other reproduction of the image of another person whose intimate parts are exposed or who is engaged in an act of sexual penetration or sexual contact, unless that person has consented to such disclosure.”

On Thursday, April 18th, Ms. Jacobs became the first person in Florida to sue an ex for their alleged distribution of revenge pornography, according to her lawyer, Patrick McGeehan. She filed a civil suit in Miami-Dade County against Mr. Seay for invasion of privacy, public disclosure of private facts and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit (embedded below) alleges that Mr. Seay “published pornographic images and a video of the plaintiff as well as the plaintiff’s name, occupation, details about her schedule and other personal and private facts about the plaintiff on various websites.”

Lawyers and victims across the country are looking to her case as a model in the ongoing legal battle against revenge porn. After years of hiding in shame after her naked body was splashed across the web without her consent for strangers to ogle, she is finally coming forward to speak about her experiences. And for the first time, she’s using her real name.

***

On New Year’s Day 2009, Ms. Jacobs received a call from a friend who frantically told her she needed to log on to Facebook and change her password: someone had changed her typically harmless profile picture to a naked photo of her. When she logged on, the photo was gone. Emotionally rattled, she called and accused Mr. Seay, since he was the only person she had sent nude photos to, but he flatly denied it.

“From that day on, I Googled my name regularly just because I knew he was capable of this,” she said.

Several months later, Ms. Jacobs was Googling herself at Florida International University, where she was working as a statistical consultant, and came across a cache of her naked photos on the website amihotornotnude.com. “I must have just turned white,” she said. “My stomach just dropped and I felt ill and I told my boss, ‘I have a personal issue that I need to go take care of’’ and I ran out of there.”

This time, her full name had been published alongside the photos. And there were tons of them.

***

Images kept cropping up, even as Ms. Jacobs scrambled to have webmasters scrub the photos from scores of sites. Even stranger, they seemed to multiply, as if he was Photoshopping and cropping the images to make it appear like there were more of them. Then the threats began.

Someone created a Yahoo address in her name and emailed her a collection of her photos. “Get in touch concerning your pictures. Theres also a nice video,” the person wrote in an email timestamped 6:50 a.m. “Have [they] seen them?” Pasted below were the email addresses of Ms. Jacobs’ co-worker and boss. Ms. Jacobs was terrified, but decided not to respond and eventually fell back to sleep. At 8:16 a.m., Ms. Jacobs received another email: “It’s 8:15 where you are. You have until 8:37 to reply. Then I start the distribution.”

That day, the anonymous person who had established an email address in her name sent the photos to her boss and co-worker. Three days later, he had uploaded them to scores of revenge porn sites. Her photos went viral.

Ms. Jacobs enlisted the help of a local counsel named David Seltzer, but the anonymous individual, whom Ms. Jacobs believes to be her ex, continued to torture her. Someone anonymously tipped off the university’s HR department that “a professor is masturbating for her students and putting it online,” explained Ms. Jacobs. The call landed her in the dean’s office to explain the embarrassing incident. The aftermath eventually led her to quit her job.

Though she’d called the local police when the abuse first started, they told her that because she was over 18 when the photos were taken, there was nothing they could do for her. The campus police at her university took a report and sent it to the state attorney’s office, but they refused to pick up her case. So Ms. Jacobs worked tirelessly to try to scrub the images of herself from the web. She filed DMCA takedown requests and created sites with positive information about herself in an attempt to push her pictures lower in search results.

“I worked like a dog getting all of them down,” she admitted. “I got them all down except for some of the torrents. Within two weeks they went right back up on other sites.”

***

By February 2012, Ms. Jacobs had had enough. She had lost years of her life fighting to erase the online pornographic trail her tormentor had created for her without her permission, and she was done. “I realized—this is what he wants me to do,” Ms. Jacobs told Betabeat via Skype. “He wants me to spend all of my time taking down my Google results instead of moving on with my life and being free and being in a good relationship and getting my Ph.D. So I essentially said, ‘Fuck it.’”

“I felt like the only thing I could do was part from that identity that had been completely defamed and I wanted to just get on with my life,” Ms. Jacobs said.

One night the idea struck her to create End Revenge Porn, an online hub for victims and advocates to discuss revenge porn. She connected with women like professors Mary Anne Franks and Danielle Citron, former politician Charlotte Laws and lawyers Erica Johnstone and Colette Vogele, experts in the field who helped her hone her message. She also formed an unofficial support group with two other victims, Hollie Toups and Jane, the pseudonymous woman behind Women Against Revenge Porn. Now Ms. Jacobs’ site, End Revenge Porn, is one of the most prominent platforms for resources for revenge porn victims, and Ms. Jacobs is working on establishing it as a nonprofit. Through the site, she’s also collecting donations to help fund her anti-revenge porn efforts.

But the reign of terror continued for Ms. Jacobs even as her taste for activism grew. In August 2012, she was supposed to present her thesis at a conference for the American Psychological Association when someone—she believes it was Mr. Seay—published the date, time and location of the conference, alongside her naked photos. “They even had a summary of what my presentation was going to be on,” she explained. “They said something like why don’t you go check her out and see if she’ll have sex with you for money because she’s obviously out of a job.”

For Ms. Jacobs, that was the final straw. She backed out of the conference, saying her safety was in danger, and was possessed with a renewed fervor to have her case picked up by the police. She and her mother charged Senator Marco Rubio’s office, a move that eventually led her to meet with the Florida State Attorney’s Office. “I went to that meeting and there were six people around the table and I just started crying because I was like, finally somebody is going to do something about this,” she said. “And it was just a huge wave of relief.”

A few weeks ago, Ms. Jacobs received word that a state attorney would take the case and charge Mr. Seay with cyberstalking, the first time a victim has ever filed a criminal suit against her ex for distributing revenge porn. Mark Cox, chief of investigations at the Florida State Attorney’s Office, told Betabeat that the agency has filed a case to charge Mr. Seay with one count of stalking, two counts of harassment by use of personal identification info and one count of unlawful publication. The case is set for arraignment on June 3rd, and Mr. Seay faces a maximum penalty of four years in jail. Mr. Seay declined to speak with Betabeat, but his attorney, Charles Arline, said Mr. Seay denies all allegations and maintains he is just as much a victim in this as Ms. Jacobs is.

“I’m coming out because I’m tired of hiding,” Ms. Jacobs said. “I’m tired of not knowing which name to give to who in my life. I want to live an honest life.” As the first person to file a criminal complaint against her ex, Ms. Jacobs will undoubtedly become a lightning rod for the controversy revolving around revenge porn, and she wants to set an example for other victims who are struggling to find a way to put their lives back together.

“The fact that Holly is able to experience what she’s experienced and use that to fight struck me as impressive,” Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami who specializes in cyberharassment, told Betabeat by phone. ”The experience is so disturbing and depressing, I can’t imagine she could have the energy and courage to do what she’s doing.”

Still, Ms. Jacobs has a long way to go. She’s been working with lawmakers in Florida to pass a bill that would make publishing revenge porn without a victim’s consent a third-degree felony. The bill received an initial onslaught of support, but its debate in the House has been temporarily postponed. Ms. Jacobs hopes coming forward will help give lawmakers the extra push they need to put a revenge porn law on the books.

“I hope that I’ll set an example and show this is how you overcome this: by coming forward,” she said. “You’re not exposing yourself—you’re already exposed on the internet. Instead, you’re exposing what is happening to you. Everybody’s going to see me naked, and everybody’s going to see me do things I never wanted anybody to see except the person I was with. But if it’s in the name of the cause and to change the laws about this, then I’m happy to do it. We’re all naked underneath our clothes.”

If you want to contact Holly about her story, you can reach her at endrevengeporn[at]gmail[dot]com.

 First published at BetaBeat.com



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