Why I Fight

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/angie-varona-14-year-unwillingly-internet-sex-symbol/comments?type=story&id=14882768#.TrvgumBuFp8

My father sent me an email this morning:

“go to abc news night line wed. (11/09/11) go to the Angie Varona story. dad”

I knew it would be somehow connected to my case and the lobbying efforts I have begun, so I Googled it and read her story.

This is why I am fighting. While there is debate over her intentions – she uploaded the pictures to a public site (Photo Bucket), the pictures were in circulation for three years – the bottom line is this, she is a victim. What started as an all-too-common practice, a very sad practice that is destroying our adolescent girls, of showcasing her body via electronic means, exploded into harassment, stalking, exploitation and victimization.

That’s what matters. That is the only thing that matters. A young girl, following a dangerous yet wildly popular social trend, in that adolescent mindset that believes they are invincible, has been tortured.

And it seems that laws couldn’t help her. I say seems because I haven’t researched the full story to learn what legal means she has pursued. My uneducated guess is the current legislation failed her.

Stop judging. It’s time to protect our girls, our women and not only teach them that their behaviors are self-exploitation, but also enact legislation to prosecute the people who are perpetrating this harassment and further exploitation.

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I Got a Meeting

I received an email today from a Legislative Aide who works for my State Senator.  She is willing to meet with me to discuss new legislation to protect victims of online stalking. I’ll be going to DC on November 8th to get the legislative ball rolling.

I am ready. I have been researching new legislation in other states and have found that New York, Texas and California have enacted laws that make impersonating someone online a crime.

There has been a case in New Jersey I’ve been following that is similar to a part of my case: http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011311030018 What is significant is that a judge felt the defendant’s actions were criminal enough to go to trial even though New Jersey doesn’t have an impersonation law in place.

I feel honored to have the opportunity to speak for the rights of so many victims of online stalking and harassment.

Small Victories

The past couple of weeks have been difficult. This post-traumatic thing I got going on weighs me down. Some days, I sink in to the sadness because I just can’t escape the fear and hopelessness. Other days, I stare at things around me blankly, disassociated from feelings and experiencing nothing.

It sucks.

Mercifully there are little events that pull me from my macabre reverie.

Trooper came through for me once again. On Monday he emailed me to let me know he followed up with the state police in my stalker’s town. The sergeant there thought my case significant enough for further action that he forwarded it to the prosecutor’s office. I should hear something next week. The gesture of keeping me informed felt warm. I held my hands to the warmth as I used to hold them to the coal-burning stove in my childhood home and enjoyed the comfort of having someone on my side.

Yesterday my copyright certificate arrived in the mail. Reading the certificate flushed me with empowerment. I now have legal ownership of those images, which gave me a renewed sense of ownership of self. I feel less helpless. No one can do anything with those images without my permission. I am, once again, the gatekeeper of my body. I put my foot down and outsmarted him. My intelligence and strength saved me.

Small victories. Delicious strength. Today I’ll line my eyes with kohl black, warrior style, and smile at everyone I see.

 

Enter the Government

I’ve been drafting a bill to propose new legislation that would make it a crime for people to harass and stalk others online – this includes impersonating someone online “with the intent to [harass/alarm/annoy]” (CR-3803). The research I have done so far has revealed many holes in the current legislation, so my bill proposes to close those holes and provide protection to victims of this harassment.

I contacted my State’s Senator and requested a meeting. Into the belly of the beast go I.

I can expect a reply in 2-4 weeks – Senators are busy people, after all. But that’s just fine with me. The better prepared I am to ask for support of my bill, the better my chances of getting the support.

In the meantime, Trooper has contacted the police in my stalker’s town. He is going to ask them to pay my stalker a visit and order him to leave me alone. If they don’t agree to help, he is going to contact the State police and ask them. I can’t imagine that any law enforcement official would deny this request…then again, law enforcement officials have been less than upstanding thus far.

The past two days have been crushing. I’ve cried a lot and have felt utterly hopeless. Slowly I am regaining my desire to fight. The request to my Senator was a big step. It proved to me that I possess an ember of hope.

At his Mercy

Trooper called. The State’s Attorney can’t do anything. The 1-year statute of limitations is law. There is no way around that. So Officer G- completely dropped the ball. He failed miserably to both protect and serve. As a result, no criminal charges will be pressed. My stalker will get away with harassing and exploiting me.

I am devastated. Hopeless. Tired.

It is astounding that someone can assume the identity of another and harass, exploit and put that person in danger and it is not considered a crime. Perfectly legal to torture another human being.

That will change. Once I recover from this disappointment, I’ll continue the process of bill writing and getting new legislation passed. But for now I need to shut down.

Dare I open myself to faith?

I’m having a hard time moving today. My puppy and I are on the couch, curled around each other protectively. I’m waiting to hear what the State’s Attorney (SA) has to say about my case. If I have a case, that is.

Trooper, that darling man, that consummate professional, emailed me this morning to FYI me that he left a message with the SA and is waiting for a call back. That simple courtesy is so wildly comforting. He kept his promise.

It’s an awful feeling to be let down by law enforcement officials. I am in the midst of grappling with the massive understanding that I am a victim.  It is a raw, vulnerable position. Officer G- violated me almost as much as my stalker. His lack of action last year was almost as exploitative as when my stalker posted the nude pictures of me. Both men took advantage of my vulnerability and their power.

Shortly I’ll push myself into the shower and make a list of goals to accomplish today.

And I’ll wait. And let wisps of faith move me.

County police didn’t do their job

When this nightmare started almost two years ago, I did the first thing all victims are encouraged to do – I called the police. At 2 AM, with my children sleeping upstairs, an officer arrived at my home. He looked down on me and my distress when I asked for help because my ex-boyfriend was threatening to post nude pictures of me online and said, “there’s nothing I can do.” When I went to a local precinct the next day and sat down with an officer, I received the same disinterested, “There’s nothing the police can do” response to my plea for help.  Finally, after leaving messages, sending an email and filing a formal report, I had hoped someone could help me. It seemed that Officer G-, the County officer who took my report, might be able to do something. He didn’t. He, as did all the others, dismissively said, “There’s nothing I can do.” I gave up trying. No one would help me. I was exhausted from calling lawyers, District Attorneys, hotlines, sending emails, leaving messages. I was ashamed and thoroughly helpless.

On 19 September of this year, when my stalker began harassing me again, I immediately went to another local precinct. I was calmer, less panicked and ready to fight. I was scared, yes, but able to abate my tears and compose myself. When I walked into the sunny, high-ceilinged lobby, of the police station, behind the desk was Officer G- from last year. He remembered my case, I remembered him.   And I was absolutely sure he’d take me seriously and do something this time. This time he would protect and serve.

To his credit Officer G- made a feeble attempt to find a crime my stalker committed. He even called out his supervisor who thumbed through the Crimes Index book (not the real name, but you get the idea) and sighed heavily, one can only guess his sighs were due to the inconvenience I was inflicting upon his morning.

This time, they both looked at me and agreed that there was no crime committed. That there was nothing they could do.

They were wrong.

After meeting with the State Trooper from the Computer Crimes Unit on Monday, I learned that my stalker had committed at least three misdemeanors, one with several counts, each carrying a jail sentence.

But there is nothing I can do.

The 1-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors had passed.  My stalker is going to get away with the harassment again because that damn county cop didn’t do his job a year ago. None of them did.

How is it possible that a county law enforcement office is unaware of a state law enforcement unit?  Why didn’t one of those men suggest I contact the State police? Why didn’t one of them contact the State police?

The answer is simple. None of them did their jobs.  And because of their complacency, I have to dwell in fear and anxiety.

Luckily, my Trooper isn’t giving up on me. He is going to talk to the State’s Attorney Monday and ask if a judge might waive the statute of limitations because I did try to get help. He is also going to research other possible crimes that we can charge my stalker with. It’s a very comforting feeling to finally have someone in law enforcement on my side, working for me.

In the meantime, on my Trooper’s advice, I unblocked my stalker from my email accounts in the hopes that he contacts me. Then we can establish a pattern of harassing behavior. What I’m really hoping for is for him to issue a death threat because then the feds can go after him.

Perhaps the most bizarre moments in recent weeks have been when friends and family have sincerely, earnestly said to me, “I hope you get your death threat!”

I hope so, too.

The State Police Have Arrived

Oh, me of little faith…however warranted the having of little faith is, I must say a small mia culpa.

12 days after leaving a message, I received a very apologetic return call from a Sergeant in the State Police Computer Crimes Unit (SPCCU) today.

“Clearly,” he stated confidently after I gave him a quick down-and-dirty of the events of the past 21 months, “you’ve been harassed.” Typically a comment like that would receive a snarky reply from me along the lines of, “no shit,” but he wasn’t being condescending. Sergeant SPCCU was confirming that I have a clear case of harassment. And that he would get an officer to work my case.

I have a case. A Sergeant in the Computer Crimes Unit of the State Police acknowledged that I have a case.

This is tremendous.

He promised an officer will contact me tomorrow.

With all good news, though, there has to be a taint – he reminded me that this State is very liberal (which I never considered a bad thing until now) and as such, the computer crimes laws are not very strict. For example, child pornography is a misdemeanor in this State.

A misdemeanor. Sergeant SPCCU didn’t hide his disgust. Neither did I.

I am ashamed to admit that I never paid much attention to local elections.  Politics has never been of any interest to me. And, as the story often goes, it is not until I need politics and politicians to help me that I am becoming interested. Very interested. So, in the interest of my new interest I will find out who my local senator/representative is and get in touch with that person.

Watch me go.

The beginning

I didn’t do enough the first time this happened.

I was panicked, embarrassed, afraid and ashamed. And while I still feel many of those same emotions, I also feel anger, hate, and fury both at him and at the pathetic law enforcement in this area.

Posing nude was never high on my to-do list in my relationships. But this guy was special – he was my have-to-have. We fell in love while I was in high school. We almost married, but I went off to college and he went off to pursue a music career. Shortly after our separation, we lost contact. Shortly after that I received a phone call that he had died in a car accident. This was long before the Internet or email. No one I knew had a computer or email. And on my college campus only the super-computer literate knew how to work email. And they only communicated with each other.   I mourned deeply.

16 years later we reunited. He sought me out, and I fell for him all over again.  The story of his death was a lie. We picked up where we left off 16 years ago – deeply in love and planning our wedding. I trusted him implicitly. I allowed him to form a  relationship with my children. He was the model of a future stepfather, husband, partner.

But exes are exes for a reason. And even though he loved me deeply and truly, his definition of love was vastly different from mine. He saw his role as my lover that of a possessive, protective man.  He saw his beloved as a thing to be controlled. His abusive childhood shaped this approach to love. I understood. I knew I could help him heal. I gave it every effort I could.  But, in the end, he was abusive, and I had to get out.

He was not going to take this break up gently. He was, as he put it, going to destroy me for breaking my promises and lying to him.

He created an Ebay auction. The item up for bids? My body. All 88 pictures I had let him take over a 6-month period. He posted the link to the auction on Facebook pages of my place of employment. After he went into my email account and copied my address book, he emailed links to the auction to my ex-husband, babysitters, and friends. He mailed a printout of the auction page and a CD of the images to my son’s kindergarten teacher at the Catholic school he attends. He mailed the same to the chair of the department where I teach.

My horror, mortification, emotional distress and pain were unbearable. I attempted suicide a couple of times. I yelled at my therapist of two years, begging her to make the hurt go away. I deftly hid it all from my children.

I have not had contact with him in over 14 months. I blocked his and all his friends’ email addresses and phone numbers. I thought of him and what he did to me every day, but the pain was steadily lessening.

Then, on 19 September, 2011, I received an email at work that a profile was made of me by someone acting as me that featured naked pictures of me. It was him. It had to be.

The profile featured my full name and the details of my place of employment. It made me a target. The tagline on the profile read, “Hot for teacher? Come and get it!” A solicitation. I was terrified.

I reported it to the web hosting site, and it came down in three days. It had been active for 15 days and had over 3,000 views.

I also had the images copyrighted in my name. I now own them. They are my intellectual property.

The FBI can’t do anything unless he issues a death threat. The County police are too stupid to know what to do. The State police’s computer crimes division won’t return my calls.

I had to go on medical leave from work for 12 weeks. I am so afraid of who will come find me as a result of seeing the profile, that my hands tremble from anxiety.  I have Type I Diabetes, and the stress has affected my blood sugar levels. My levels skyrocket then plummet leaving me dizzy and disorientated. Stress and Type I Diabetes also exasperates depression and thoughts of suicide.

During these 12 weeks, I will be moving through the process to see new legislation come to pass that protects victims.

I plan to lobby for online harassment, stalking and impersonation to be a crime with considerable penalties.

The law, as it is written, states that since the victim gave consent to have the pictures or videos taken, no crime was committed.

Consent to have them taken does not also imply consent to have them published. That is the crime.

That is where innocents are exploited. That is what I am fighting for.  To see the end of this exploitation.