Cyberstalkers, revenge porn creeps, and other tales from the World Wide Hate

California Attorney General Kamala Harris had exhilaration in her eyes as she publicly announced in late 2013 that her eCrime Unit finally had shut down one of the most notorious revenge-porn websites in the world. The men charged were innocent unless proved guilty in court, but the website of stolen, pornographic and debasing photographs was something no one should have to endure, she said.

The website was considered so disgusting and destructive that a couple of detectives in two different countries had begged me not to mention its web address for fear of further humiliating and endangering the women whose naked photos had been posted by vindictive ex-lovers or “friends.”

Eventually, the police pulled the plug on the site, but what I saw before that happened is hard to forget: thousands of photographs — more than 10,000 it turns out — of women, teens, and underage girls captured in revealing positions never meant for prying eyes; of youthful drunken group sex; and of confident women in revealing lingerie whose partners would one day turn their personal information and photographs over to strangers as part of their hateful revenge campaigns. I cried the first time I found the site, plastered with the smiling, unsuspecting faces of girls and women, along with desperate pleas for mercy from the victims and their families alike.

“PLEASE HELP! I am scared for my life! People are calling my workplace, and they obtained that information through this site! I did not give permission for anyone to put up those pictures or my [and]. I have contacted the police, but those pictures need to come down! Please!” reads one post, which is now entered as evidence in an extortion case.

In another message posted to the now defunct website, a new husband begs the owner to show a semblance of humanity for his devastated wife. When her nude photograph — taken years earlier at a party — was posted, he said she lost her teaching job, which also hurt her students, who loved her. They fled their community after locals turned against them. (No word on what happened to the two naked men in the candid photograph.)

Revenge-porn victims around the world no doubt rejoiced when they heard Kevin Christopher Bollaert, a 27-year-old San Diego man, had been arrested in connection with the site. In court documents, police alleged Bollaert had set up a callous criminal scheme to capitalize on men’s desire to humiliate or harm women. Internet technology makes it easy for the angry, the vindictive, the mentally ill, and the intoxicated to shatter lives. There are many more sites online that routinely post stolen intimate photographs and videos, often of underage girls, but this particular site had an additional grim twist, police say.

He posed as a ‘good guy’ running a scrub website; in exchange for hundreds of dollars, he removed the very same photographs he’d solicited and posted

Bollaert allegedly got help from family and friends to set up the extortion website, through which he asked for images, but also personal details of the victims: full names, ages, addresses, telephone numbers, and [and] accounts, which, police say, he then made public. The scheme was to allegedly get other people to join in the harassment and tormenting of the targets. The more people harassed and stalked the victims, the greater the odds that they’d unwittingly turn to Bollaert. Why? Because he’d allegedly also set up a sister website, called changemyreputation.com. There, police say he posed as a “good guy” running a scrub website; in exchange for hundreds of dollars, he removed the very same photographs he’d solicited and posted. Police shut that one down, too.

Pleas for help from the women, like the ones that made me cry, were also entered into evidence by the California prosecutor: “I have gone to the police, I’ve had a restraining order put in place because of this site [and] my phone has been going off EVERY 2 MINUTES with strange men sending inappropriate things to me.”

Another woman posted: “It’s disgusting. Also, I’ve had to … have a sexual harassment charge put in place in court because of this. I don’t know what gets you off about ruining people’s lives, but I was underaged in the photos posted of me so, yes, you are showing child pornography.”

In the media, Harris announced 31 felony counts against Bollaert, and made it clear that she was on the warpath for more arrests. But minutes after Bollaert’s arrest flashed across the newswires, I checked the notorious site; it was “parked” on the French server, Gandi. So, it was still there, lying low, on standby. The website’s documentation shows Bollaert appears to have used his own name when registering both websites in 2012, and that he’d applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a site trademark.


It’s remarkable that Melissa Nester will even talk about the last few years of her life spent in the Web net of an adult cyberstalker who cost her the career she loved, all her money, and the sense of security that comes from growing up in a privileged American family. Ironically, all Nester had wanted to do was share her good fortune with a woman in need. “No good deed goes unpunished, right,” she says when I reach her by telephone in northern California.

Nester’s nightmare began when the divorced mother of two, who at the time was working at a charity fundraiser, joined an online forum where women shared tips about kids, food, books, love, and life. “Mary” quickly came to the group’s attention. “She was kicked out on the street, had no money, said that she was starving, that she has no jewelery. She had these pets that were her only thing keeping her alive that she loves so much, and that her husband would beat her … and basically she might as well end it.”

Nester and other forum members stepped up, sending Mary cash and gifts, beginning in 2010. Nester’s court documents show she spent thousands of dollars to help, even renewing the woman’s American Automobile Association membership when she called from the road in a panic.

The group wanted to put the spotlight on Mary’s plight, so Nester offered to create a short video to show what was happening. Within a few minutes of meeting Mary, however, Nester — who has a doctorate in psychology — says she knew something was “off.” By the time the interview was over, she feared Mary was a woman in need of psychiatric help, not a starring role in a documentary.

“How could I have made such a mistake?” she recalls thinking. “There were hygiene and mental-health issues, and probably drugs, because her teeth were really bad. She hadn’t showered and smelled bad.” Nester’s stomach sank as she began to suspect she’d been conned by a woman with serious borderline personality disorder. She kept her word, though, and finished the shoot before quickly heading home with the crew.

Mary created dozens of websites, falsely accusing Nester of being a sex addict who slept with [and] and stalked the celebrities she met through her [and]

Then, all hell broke loose. Mary called demanding money and control of the documentary film, which by then was most certainly not going to happen. Nester offered her all the footage for free, and told her, “I can’t give you any more money. You need to get help.” Mary’s response, she says, was swift: “ ‘You pay up or I’m going to ruin you.’ ” When Nester refused to be blackmailed, Mary kept her word.

Within less than a month, and continuing for some two years after, Mary, and whoever helped her, created fake email addresses and dozens of websites, including one called AnotherHollywoodCockroach.com,” on which Nester was falsely accused of being a prostitute, a drug pusher, and a sex addict who slept with married men and stalked the celebrities she met through her fundraising work. Multiple websites and fake social media accounts sprang up, littered with more false accusations: that Nester was impersonating a psychologist, and that she was “a slut” who was writing bizarre sex notes that included details of waxing pubic hair and other intimacies.

Since online posts are public and permanent, and most websites are loathe to censor “free speech,” Nester wound up with no job, no credibility, and an ongoing public shunning. “It was horrific. You could tell some people either believed it all, or concluded I must have done something to attract all the negative attention, when nothing could be farther from the truth.”

American researchers such as San Diego State University professors Brian H. Spitzberg, Gregory Hoobler and William R. Cupach report that stalking victims suffer “elevated levels of fear, anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, distrust, paranoia, frustration, helplessness, and physical injury,” in part because of the sheer length of abuse. Nester says she experienced all of those reactions.

Since her cyberstalker seemed violent, and Nester was living alone with her two children, she had an alarm system installed and bought a gun. The police told her they were helpless against the ongoing stalking, so she spent $50,000 to hire a private investigator and a “reputation defender.”

On the hunt then for a new job, Nester was relieved when a Catholic charity wanted to hire her immediately after the interview. “I got the call that they wanted to give me an offer and they were really excited and could I come in?” Soon after, says Nester, the phone rang again and the same woman was apologetic: “I’m sorry, we Googled your name.”

Fighting frustration and building panic, Nester says she told the charity executive, “I’m so sorry. That’s all untrue. I have a woman who’s cyberstalking me and I’m in the middle of a lawsuit and, hopefully, that will all be gone soon.” The charity didn’t want to take the risk of it being targeted, too, a risk that proved to be real.

National Post

Excerpted from Extreme Mean. © 2014 Paula Todd. Published by Signal Books, which is a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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