ABC 17 News Special Report: Experts warn of revenge porn

Current Missouri laws do not keep up with...

ABC 17 News Special Report: Experts warn of revenge porn

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Years ago, love letters were a way to share intimate feelings in a relationship. That has all changed in today's digital world.

Within seconds, someone can send a personal text or picture to the person they love. But what was once a flirtatious exchange can now be used as a tool for public humiliation.

ABC 17's Kristie Reeter looked into emerging cyber crime and found it is happening across the country and even here in Missouri.

Cybercrimes detectives said if you don't want a private, nude photos of yourself getting out, do not take one in the first place.

Officials say you have little chance of ever getting it back and it's a trend that current laws do not address.

Cybercrimes experts and victims are dubbing it, "revenge porn." There are even several websites that are dedicated to the effort of getting back at an ex.

"I clicked on the first picture and as I scrolled down it was almost a dream or a nightmare," said Hollie Toups, a victim of revenge porn.

Most of the illicit photos were originally sent consensually, but after a breakup, one ex wants to get revenge. Some victims don't even know their personal, sometimes nude, photos are out there.

Other victims are devastated that something so private has now become so public.

"I think for a lot of people they think the quick, easy answer is don't take a photo, but it's bigger than that because there are people who were posted on there that did not know they were being photographed," said Toups.

Toups told ABC 17 News that while she did send some photos of herself to an ex-boyfriend, investigators are still trying to find out who posted them to the website,

She is one of dozens of women who are taking action against that website.

Kristie Reeter talked with Toups and her lawyer, John Morgan, via Skype.

"My first duty is to try and get these sites shut down and to make sure my clients' images and info is not sent to other sites," said Morgan.

Last week, they were able to do just that. If you head to, the site is no longer working.

Morgan is continuing to work on a class action lawsuit against the site's owner for invasion of privacy.

Revenge porn is not the only problem that can pop up when photos get into the wrong hands.

Cybercrimes detective Andy Anderson said they have seen several cases of what they call "sextortion."

"(This is) Where they got those sexually graphic photographs and then they extort the victim in those photographs with whatever they want out of them," explained Anderson. "It can be money, it can be 'do this for me.'"

Kristie Reeter headed to the University of Missouri campus and within ten minutes found two women whose friends had been through a similar situation.

"I've had a friend where she was threatened," said Kristine Dvorack. "And she actually had to contact the family and it just got really messy."

Another woman said her friend wasn't so lucky and the photos were made public.

"Through phones people would send it to each other and it just got really bad," Delaney Dougherty said. "One of my friends in particular, everyone in school got it and it was just a bad situation."

Most victims want to keep the situation quiet and are embarrassed more people will find out.

However, Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight said victims of revenge porn or "sextortion" can get justice.

"I think the reason we might have not seen these cases is because maybe victims don't understand that this is a crime in Missouri," said Knight. "We don't really have a specific crime for this cyber-type of situation, but harassment is something that seems like it could fit. It's not the best possible option in my mind."

That's because Missouri's laws are not staying ahead of new cybercrimes.

For a prosecutor to file harassment charges in a case of revenge porn, he would have to prove the suspect caused emotional distress and that the victim suffered.

The harassment charge would be a Class A misdemeanor, meaning the suspect could face up to a year in jail if found guilty.

Cybercrimes experts say it is important to note that if the victim in this type of case is 17-years-old or younger, it becomes a child pornography investigation. The charges for that crime are more severe.

Other states though are making greater strides in fighting cybercrimes.

In Florida, lawmakers are taking steps to make this type of crime a felony. The legislation specifically states that a person cannot knowingly post nude photos or videos with personal identifying information to online social websites.

Knight believes a law like that in Missouri may help victims.

"It looks like they might have the right idea there because it seems to me like it's reasonable that this should be a criminal offense," Knight explained. "It seems like our laws in Missouri aren't tailored for these types of crimes."

Searching through bills filed in Missouri the last several years, there are few that even deal with cybercrimes. Currently, there is no legislation in the works that would tackle the issue of crimes involving nude photos.

While laws are tying to catch up with the crimes, many say education is key.

"Parents speaking out saying 'thank you, we didn't know this was an issue,'" said revenge porn victim Toups.  "And, 'we've spoken to our daughters and warned them about this, we've spoken to our sons to not be that guy.'"

Since many victims are not stressing prevention, ABC 17 News checked in with schools to see what education officials are teaching kids about cybercrimes.

School officials said it is integrated into their curriculum and every student has to sign a technology use agreement.

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