INVESTIGATORS: Revenge porn - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

INVESTIGATORS: Revenge porn

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There will be no chocolates or red roses for some couples this Valentine's Day. Instead, there's a world of hurt triggered "revenge porn," an action some prosecutors say should be against the law in Minnesota.

The bloom on the relationship is long gone, and went things went bad, they went really bad.

"He posted it on a blog page he had created," one revenge porn victim told the Fox 9 Investigators. "I felt panicked and trapped."

When romance gives way to the ruthless, a digital camera can quickly become a weapon -- and every smart phone has one.

"In the wrong hands, this can be a weapon that hurts as much as a gun," the victim said.

For the social media generation, the multi-use devices found in every pocket are now an extension of being -- and that is changing the way people make love connections.

"A friend of mine said to me, 'You really need to make it clear to him that you're interested in him romantically. You need to send him a sexy photo," actress Whitney Cummings said on the Tonight Show. "I decided to take a picture of my boobs."

That technologically-facilitated flirting is not a Hollywood-only habit.

"This is just part of the reality of sexuality and relationships in this age of technology," Cordelia Anderson, an advocate for victims of revenge porn, said.

Yet, it can have devastating consequences.

"It was just something I did on the spur of the moment," one Twin Cities woman said, explaining that she took an intimate picture of herself and shared it with a boyfriend.

When the relationship soured, her ex posted the image on the Internet with a blistering commentary.

"It was just basically saying that I was a whore, that I was ruining his life," she recalled.

That is what investigators have come to see as a typical case of "revenge porn."

"Once the relationship is over, they just want to cause as much problems for their ex as they can," Sgt. Paul Cottingham, of the St. Paul Police Department, explained.

Cottingham investigates those sorts of cases, and in one interview he conducted with a man accused of posting nude pictures of his former girlfriend online said, "I was just mad at her. We were fighting. This is the first girl I ever dated."

In that instance, she had e-mailed him the photos after he asked her to when they were together. When she dumped him for another guy, those photos then turned up online with her name tagged so that anyone searching for her would find those images too.

Dylan Bendix tried to argue that he could do whatever eh wanted with the photos.

"Once she sends me these photos, are they not, like -- is she not giving away consent to what is done with them? They are no longer hers," he said.

Prosecutors charged Bendix with criminal defamation, a law that is 50 years old and requires prosecutors to show he not only intended to embarrass the victim but also cause extreme degradation. That's a tall order, but the case never went to trial. Bendix pleaded guilty and declined to speak with the Fox 9 Investigators for this story.

Yet, prosecutors are seeing more and more cases, and some believe Minnesota needs a new law to address the specific nuances of revenge porn.

"I'd like to see a law that understands, that doesn't sort of presuppose that because you consent to sharing that information for one purpose that you consent to sharing it for all," said St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing.

The Internet is full of websites where jilted lovers can post images of their ex for the world to see. Some sites allow visitors to search by name, state or city -- and some even want $500 to remove a victim's name and photos.

"I've had victims who have contacted me and said, 'I've already spent close to $2,000 trying to get my pictures down," Annmarie Chiarini, a member of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

Chiarini was a victim of revenge porn prior to joining the lobbying group that urges state to criminalize the practice.

"I myself attempted suicide when I felt so hopeless," she admitted.

Research from CCRI shows 87 percent of victims are female, but men are also targets. Victims range in age from the early teens to people in their 50s, and Anderson said the problem is symptomatic of an America that looks at pornography as being normal.

"Where it ends is a million-dollar question," she said. "I can't separate the behavior of an individual from a culture that encourages this behavior."

Anderson works to prevent sexual exploitation, but it's anyone's guess how many victims are out there. There are certainly thousands if not millions -- and the consequences can be devastated.

"Victims are losing money, they're losing jobs, they're being kicked out of school," Chiarini said.

In some cases, the compromising pictures aren't even theirs. Rather, an ex will photo-shop their face onto another body. Advocates realize that the Internet is too vast for the type of abuse to be eradicated entirely, but they do hope new laws can slow it down.

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