Nude Student Photo Website Hard To Control, Prosecute

May 18, 2017

Womens advocates are seeking tougher laws against anonymous websites that exploit women.
Credit Devon Buchanan / Creative Commons

Anonymous websites like Anon-IB that post nude photographs of women are difficult to control because the law has not kept up with the technology that makes these sites possible.

Bloomington High School was among 67 Illinois high schools in which images of female students purportedly appeared on the Anon-IB website.

The site was the subject of a months-long investigation by NBC-5 TV in Chicago. The station discovered photographs of students from schools across the state, including four Catholic schools. 

Most of the photographs were of underage females, and were posted without their knowledge or consent.

"People have been collecting and trading these photographs as if they were trading cards or baseball cards," said cybercrime expert Shelly Clevenger, a criminal justice sciences professor at Illinois State University.

The site allows a viewer to search for images by state, then county, then by a specific school.

It is a crime to post a person's photograph on the Internet without consent. Illinois is one of more than 35 states that have so-called "revenge laws," making it a crime to publicly disseminate embarrassing and intimate content without permission.

Speaking on GLT's Sound Ideas, Clevenger said it is difficult to shut down sites like Anon-IB, or prosecute those responsible.

In the case of Anon-IB, it is even more difficult since the site appears to emanate from an overseas server and there could be a question of jurisdiction.

"A lot of these sites, even if they do get shut down, might just pop up under another name," Clevenger said.

Cases like this seem to be proliferating on the Internet. Earlier this year, the Marine Corps shut down a private website where Marines were posting nude photographs of female soldiers unknown to the women.

In other high profile incidents, a murder streamed live on Facebook, as did the sexual assault of a Chicago teenager.

Clevenger said websites like Anon-IB draw in viewers by posting pictures of females that their users might know.

"Part of the allure is that these are real people whom they may know. If you want to find somebody who went to your high school or who lives in your community and you want to see what they look like naked, this website would give you that opportunity."

Clevenger said there is a danger is that the site's users could then "potentially access these women if they wanted to."

People who view these sites often argue they aren't hurting anyone, Clevenger said.

"Young men see these women as sexual objects. They don't think they are doing any harm looking at these pictures. They don't have any empathy or sympathy for what that woman would experience by seeing her naked body on line," Clevenger added. 

"It's seeing women as objects and not seeing them as people having value beyond their attractiveness and their bodies. Part of this is societal. We often value women for how they look."

District 87 Schools Superintendent Barry Reilly told GLT that school officials had no idea Bloomington High School students were on Anon-IB. He called the site "deplorable."

Shelly Clevenger, left, receives a teaching award recently from ISU President Larry Deitz, for her work on cybercrime and sexual assault and abuse.
Credit Illinois State University

Clevenger said school officials -- and parents -- often don't learn about such incidents until they they hear about them directly from students

Clevenger said she advises women not to take "selfies" or allow themselves to be videotaped when they are naked, and not to share nude photos with others.

"I always tell my students not to victim-blame because no one takes one of these pictures thinking it is going to go up on the Internet."

She said even if women don't share these photos, there is the possibility that a phone or computer containing these images could be accessed by someone else.

Anyone whose photo appears without his or her consent should take a screen shot of the image with the date and time it was captured, as well as the user name or number of the person who posted it if that is available, and contact law enforcement, Clevenger said. 

Schools have worked to reduce cyber-bullying, she added, but now need to address the placing inappropriate content of a sexual nature on the Internet and social media sites.

"The problem is anything having to do with sex, the schools don't want to discuss or address. And parents don't want to discuss this topic either," Clevenger said.

"People need to understand this is not just a picture on a screen but a real person who is probably suffering because their picture is out there."

A petition is circulating to get the Federal Bureau of Investigations to shut down the Anon-IB B site, alleging it promotes child pornography and violence against women

Clevenger said Facebook, Google and Instagram have confronted similar issues with inappropriate content, but are increasing taking steps to remove those images as quickly as possible

One of the problems, Clevenger said, is that so much content is posted, those companies cannot react quickly enough.

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