NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Sometimes the motive is revenge. Other times it's to brag.
In every case, women and girls become victims, finding out that private, intimate images of themselves are not, in fact, as private as they thought.
“He had convinced me: ‘I promise I won’t send these to my buddies. It’ll be something we have for each other,’” said Ace Huffman, referring to her now ex-boyfriend.
The 22-year-old told 13News Now she had been head over heels love with him. When he wanted her to send him naked photos of herself, she did.
As young love often does, it ran its course.
Huffman said the breakup was messy and filled with anger. The promise that her ex made quickly became a broken one, plunging Huffman into a nightmare.
“In that moment, it was like my heart, like, dropped into the pit of my stomach,” said Huffman, recalling when she found out her naked photos were online.
The images were uploaded to an underground website where people trade naked pictures of women as if they were baseball cards.
“When it first happened, and I was thinking about people who were saving these photos, doing whatever while looking at these photos…it was gross you know?” said Huffman.
Women’s names appear on the website, along with their exact locations. The goal for anonymous users on the site is to get as many “wins” as possible. A “win” is a naked photo.
“It was completely disgusting, completely just, I wanted to take a hot shower like three times and, like, scrub my body,” said Huffman. “Even though it wasn’t actually physically being done to me, it felt like it.”
With the click of a button, anyone, anywhere can post naked photos they receive, and it’s completely legal.
Attorney Mike Goodove told 13NewsNow that underground websites, such as the one where Huffman found her pictures, are able to operate because they aren’t producing the photos.
“They’re saying they’re not responsible for the content,” Goodove explained. “The people who are putting the pictures up are responsible for the content.”
In Virginia, “revenge porn” is a misdemeanor.
For Huffman and other women, pursuing legal action against someone who posts the intimate photos can be difficult.
Goodove explained the difficulty in trying to win a case in court.
“You have to do it with a malicious intent to harass, coerce or intimidate the victim,” said Goodove. “What a lot of individuals say is: ‘No, I was just sharing it with friends, with not having a malicious intent. They enjoyed looking at the picture and I was explaining to them what the picture was about.’”
Women are not the only victims.
“I’m not like a sex object, so it just makes me feel very uncomfortable,” said high school student Courtney Johannes.
Someone copied photos from Johannes’ social media profile and put them on the underground website. Johannes was clothed in the pictures, but the person who grabbed them asked users to post “wins” of her.
The situation is not uncommon. Anonymous users actively troll the website, fishing for naked photos of specific girls and women in our area.
Johannes said she was 17 years old when she took the photos. Because she’s clothed in them, they’re not considered child pornography.
“My picture is out there, and there’s going to be older men looking at it in inappropriate ways, and I’m not okay with that,” said Johannes.
In Johannes’ case, as in Huffman’s and countless other people’s, there is little legal recourse.
Goodove noted, “If you take a photo of yourself and you click ‘send,’ then you lose all rights to privacy, and you don’t have a right to get that picture back.”
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