Revenge porn site leaves trail of innocent victims

Lisa M. can’t walk around her hometown without wondering who has seen her naked.

The 28-year-old from Gardner, Mass., was only 17 when her then-boyfriend snapped a couple of topless photos of her when she wasn’t looking. She loved him, trusted him and had no idea he even owned a camera. Years later, the pictures would surface online and spread all over her tiny hometown.

“To see those online was just like a total betrayal of trust, and on top of that, there’s nothing you can do about it — it’s just there, and you can’t take it down, and you don’t know who’s seen it,” she said.

The pictures had been posted to the Web site “Anon-IB,” a k a Anonymous Image Board, one of the world’s main online promoters of revenge porn — intimate photos that are uploaded typically by a former sex partner and without the subject’s consent.

Anon-IB is where naked pictures of Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence surfaced in 2014 and where dozens of male Marines posted illicit photos of female comrades earlier this year. And it’s the site where thousands of other women — including underage girls — are exploited daily for twisted reasons ranging from perversion to revenge to financial gain.

Nearly 40 US states have battled the odds to enact laws to combat revenge porn.

New York has yet to join them.

“There just simply isn’t the interest or passion about New Yorkers’ sexual privacy and dignity,’’ Brooklyn lawyer Carrie Goldberg lamented. “The majority of the country cares. New York doesn’t.”

Anon- IB at first appears to be a typical porn clearinghouse with the usual complement of categories: “lesbian,” “milf,” “ebony.” But a closer look reveals other headings, such as “drunk/passed out” and “peeping toms” — and features nude images of sleeping women and “upskirt” pictures of others taken in dressing rooms or bathrooms.

Some of the postings even appear to involve possible molestation and rape.

Recently, the top of the site boasted a collage of young women with their breasts exposed. They easily looked preteen, even though such a posting would be a crime.

There are links for each US state, as well as 22 countries, and site users can post requests for nude pictures of women — from specific towns, colleges and high schools.

They ask for certain graduating classes and often provide the names of women, even if it’s against the rules of the site.

Anon-IB has a special four-letter word for photos that are scored — “wins.’’

“Anyone got any wins of . . .” a typical post reads, followed by ellipses and then typically a high school and graduating class or a specific name from either.

The users often trade “wins,’’ offering photos they’ve found in exchange for the ones they’re seeking.

New York cybercrime expert Philip Rosenthal said such sites are able to operate in virtual anonymity because of the murky way they are set up.

“Think of it as a stage with 50 levels of curtains, and every time you draw back one curtain, you gotta go run around and search for the string to pull back the next curtain,” said Rosenthal, who has worked with everyone from the FBI to US Secret Service to root out cybercrime.

Kateri Gasper of the Queens District Attorney’s Computer Crimes Unit would tell The Post only that Anon-IB is owned by a company in Panama.

‘People I barely knew or people I thought were friends would come up to me and chat me up about my body and say things like, “I saw you naked.”‘

The warped Web site has proven to be a moneymaker. Anon-IB gets close to 50,000 unique visitors per day and nearly 170,000 page views daily, according to Alexa, an Amazon company that monitors Web traffic. That equates to an estimated $1,500 a day in advertising revenue, giving it an estimated site value of more than $700,000.

That revenue comes mostly from ExoClick — a Barcelona-based advertising company that hosts Anon-IB’s ads. They’ve been recognized as one of the fastest growing private companies in Europe by ­Inc. 5000 Europe and they won The Business of the Year award in 2016 from the European Business Awards.

But in 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported they’re a frequent advertiser to illicit file-sharing Web sites that host pirated movies and TV shows. The Annenberg Innovation Lab at University of Southern California ranked it among the worst offenders of ad networks that display ads on illicit file-sharing sites. ExoClick did not respond to requests for comment.

Rosenthal believes Anon-IB is connected to high-level criminals with “deep pockets.” He said the law-enforcement agency that has the best chance at bringing down Anon-IB and other similar sites would be the FBI — but only “if they really wanted to,’’ and that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“If the director of the FBI’s picture showed up [on one of the sites], you bet they’d get shut down tomorrow,’’ he said.

An FBI spokesman said the agency “will decline comment.”

The victims’ tales can be heart-wrenching.

Imogen R. from Sheffield, England, was 16 when she decided to send a nude picture of herself to her boyfriend, who was in a band and traveled often.

She sent the photos to her beau and never thought much about it until five years later, when an old friend from high school called her out the blue and said he needed to talk with her.

Screenshots of user comments from a revenge porn website talking about victim Imogen.

“He said he’d been on [Anon-IB] and seen some naked pictures of me, and I felt really sick, and I was just in shock,” said Imogen, who is now 24 and living in London. “I . . . went straight on the Web site and saw these pictures, and I knew exactly when I took them . . . Straight away, I knew it was my ex-boyfriend.”

Soon, the photos were being sent to her friends and former classmates. When she’d go out, she was approached by people who recognized her from the photos.

“People I barely knew or people I thought were friends would come up to me and chat me up about my body and say things like, ‘I saw you naked’ or . . . ‘It was a shame that was passed around but you got a great body,’ ” Imogen said.

Paige Rines, 23, of New Hampshire said her own nightmare began when “a former school mate found me on [Anon-IB] and messaged me.”

“I was mortified,” said Rines, who was about 16 or 17 in the nude photos posted by her ex.

“Others I knew who were on the site had tried [to get the photos off], only to be told no way.”

Rines gave The Post her full name because she’s at peace with her life and wants to make sure women like her get the help they need to fight this and survive.

She said she was in college studying to be a counselor or therapist when the pictures were posted — but soon believed her dream was no longer possible because of them.

Paige Rines

“If anyone looked up my name, no one ­would let me work with children,’’ said Rines, now working as a barista while studying to be a makeup artist. “I wanted to be a counselor for troubled teens. No way that would be allowed if any potential employer saw those.”

Rines said she was harassed on social media after she was exposed.

“I was anonymously messaged hateful things. Some of those people even threatened my life and told me I should never have kids,” she said.

In fact, revenge-porn victims can suffer long-lasting trauma, according to an analysis published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law last year.

They must cope with feelings of “anger, guilt, paranoia, depression or even suicide’’ the article says, while remaining “engaged in a lifelong battle to preserve their integrity.’’

One in 25 Internet users, mostly between the ages of 18 and 29, has been a victim of revenge porn over the years, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

Still, legislation targeting revenge porn only gained steam after a massive celebrity nude-picture dump occurred in 2014.

Stars including Lawrence and Rihanna had their iCloud accounts hacked and nude pictures disseminated, publicizing the issue to the point that states finally acted.

New Jersey and California were among the first states to enact anti-revenge-porn laws. Since then, they have been joined by 36 others including Pennsylvania and Connecticut, as well as Washington, DC, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

The laws vary by state. New Jersey’s revenge-porn law, for example, falls under its invasion of privacy statute. Perpetrators are guilty of a third-degree felony if they share explicit photos or videos of someone who did not authorize the sharing. Penalties can range from 3 to 5 years in jail and up to $15,000 in fines.

But victims in the remaining 12 US states, including New York, still have no protection.

Legislation was proposed in Albany, but the bill has languished for the past three years.

In New York City, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) introduced a bill to make revenge porn at least a misdemeanor. A vote could come by the end of this month.

Until then, authorities acknowledge there is little they can do.

“These are real victims that we don’t have a tool on the books to actually assist, or to help directly,’’ Oleg Chernyavsky, the NYPD’s director of Legislative Affairs, said at an April council committee hearing.
Many revenge-porn victims don’t go to cops for this reason, experts say. Goldberg notes another factor.

“There’s so much shame involved” that many victims just try to forget about it, she said.

Lisa M. and Rines said they didn’t go to authorities because they didn’t think it would help. It’s unclear whether their photos are still posted.

Imogen did contact her local police in England.

But she said they told her there was nothing they could do about it, even though she told them “I saw a lot of girls I knew, and a lot of them were 15 years old.”

Five years later, Imogen’s pictures are still online.