Eleven women have told a jury about the consequences of their nude photos being posted online by the operator of a “revenge porn” Web site that demanded money in exchange for the pictures to be taken down.
Twenty more women were expected to testify after the extortion and identity theft trial opened Jan. 16 against Kevin Christopher Bollaert, 28, of Pacific Beach, who is accused of operating the now-closed Web site “You Got Posted.”
Most of the women testified they suspected a former boyfriend shared their nude photos, but the trial’s fourth witness said she wrote an online private blog with her nude pictures which were only available to certain women that she knew.
“I paid the blackmail fee of $350,” said the fourth witness before the eight woman, four man jury.
Bollaert’s attorney, Emily Rose-Weber, objected to the witness’ use of the word blackmail and was overruled by San Diego Superior Court Judge David Gill. Rose-Weber wanted it stricken, but Gill replied, “That’s her characterization which the jury can consider.”
The defense talked about free expression on the Internet in an opening statement and said this: “This case is about whether this is illegal. Is it illegal to host a Web site where bad things happen? Is it illegal … if you’re not taking the photos?”
Rose-Weber told jurors Bollaert “didn’t invent” the idea of taking down photographs for a fee, saying “many Web sites have a takedown service.” She said he ran it “as a business,” and urged jurors to find him not guilty of all 31 counts, which also include conspiracy.
Deputy Attorney General Tawnya Austin said Bollaert posted the names, ages, work and home phone numbers, home towns and other information of women and demanded money in exchange for the photos to be taken down.
“The victims clearly suffered. He tried to ridicule these people,” said Austin, adding the Web site was “not a bulletin board where ideas of freedom of speech” are debated.
Austin showed the jury the public comments that were posted underneath the women’s pictures. One person wrote one woman looked gay. The next comment said “gang bang this chick, line up behind me.”
Rose-Weber talked about her client providing “a blank canvas” for which people could post comments. It’s unclear as to whether others besides Bollaert could post the nude photos, but it was only Bollaert who could take them down for a fee on another Web site called changemyreputation.com.
All 11 women said their pictures on Facebook were hacked onto Bollaert’s Web site without their permission. Most said they didn’t know how he got access to their nude photos, and several said there were never any nude photos taken of them to their knowledge.
No men’s photos were posted on the Web site.
One woman said her Facebook photo was shown along with a photo of her vagina that she knew was not taken of her. Several cried as their re-lived the embarrassment and recalled crude comments made to them by strangers who even called them at work.
One woman testified a man sent a nude photo of himself to her. “It was disgusting,” she said. Another woman said she was at a party and something was put in her drink to cause her to pass out. Days later she discovered nude photos of her online with a male party guest.
Another woman testified she sent nude photos to her boyfriend who was deployed in Iraq years ago. The soldier’s e-mail account could have been hacked, and the photos ended up on the Web site. She said her boyfriend denied leaking the photos.
Family members of the women were contacted by strangers, apparently based on information from their Facebook accounts. One woman said a man called her supervisor at work and demanded she be fired.
“I ended up in a psychiatric hospital after I tried to end my life,” said another woman, adding that she lost her job and dropped out of college.
The Web sites were opened Dec. 2, 2012, and were taken down in September 2013 by the state Attorney General’s office. If convicted, Bollaert could face at least 10 years in prison. He remains free on $50,000 bond.