A cyberstalker has been circulating a photoshopped image of Andrea Ng for years, but she says the authorities haven't helped her.
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Andrea Ng was 16 years old when she uploaded a selfie she took getting ready for a high school dance to Facebook. It was innocent enough; she and her friends were having fun putting on makeup and posing in front of the bathroom mirror.
The girl from Richmond, British Columbia, didn't think much of the photo at the time and had forgotten all about it until three years later, when it came back to haunt her. She has since spent two years of her life fighting to have it removed from the internet.
The whole thing started in May 2013 when Andrea's friend sent her a link to a Facebook account that was using her name and the school dance selfie. Except the photo had been doctored to make it look like she was topless. The pink dress she was wearing in the original image was erased and breasts had been superimposed onto her chest.
And to make matters worse, the impostor was on a mission to add as many of her friends and family as possible.
"Whenever it happened, I was so upset I couldn't sleep. I didn't even know how to make it stop," Andrea told me recently. "I kept waking up in the morning, worried it could happen again."
Andrea, now 21 and a public relations student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, has been trying to stop her unidentified cyberstalker, who has since circulated that photo on social media using multiple fake accounts.
She got some relief when Facebook removed the fake account after she reported it in 2013. But this February, the image cropped up again, this time on Tumblr. And it went viral. She says the photo has been reblogged on hundreds of other pages. After Tumblr took down the original page, Andrea thought the whole ordeal was really over for good.
Then in April, Andrea's boyfriend called her at work and told her the topless photo had made its way onto Twitter. Her stalker had created a Twitter account with her name and was following her colleagues and the companies she had been applying to for internships.
Andrea was in full panic mode and tried the RCMP again, still to no avail. She says an officer told her they couldn't investigate further, partly because she didn't appear to be suicidal over the situation.
"I was pissed. I was speechless," she told me. She thought of Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old from nearby Port Coquitlam who committed suicide in 2012 after a cyberbully threatened to post a topless photo of her online, and wondered why her case wasn't taken seriously.
Canada's new anti-cyberbullying law (Bill C-13) came into effect in March and makes it illegal to share "intimate images" of anyone without their consent, but it's unclear how this provision will apply in cases like Andrea's, where the image is fake.
Now Andrea has decided to take matters into her own hands, and put her public relations skills to work. Earlier this month, she wrote a blog post detailing her entire experience. "Sometimes you can't explain why some people in this world have so much time on their hands, to want to try to sabotage your life through cyberbullying," she wrote.
In the blog, which has been viewed more than 16,000 times, she posts the real photo next to the fake one, blurring the nudity for fear of being charged with child pornography ( a pretty reasonable fear). She cites cyberbullying statistics (police reported 1,441 cybercrime cases of a sexual nature in 2012, a quarter of which resulted in criminal charges), and describes her interactions with police and social media companies.
"Now, the person can no longer spread the image, because the truth is out there, they would just look dumb," says Andrea. "I had to say something about it. Then, maybe, this person can no longer hurt me."
And she was right. Andrea says her cyberstalker has finally stopped circulating the photo online. "I feel like I'm in control of my life, that this person can no longer hurt my feelings." She says she would still like to find out who the perpetrator is, but hasn't heard anything further from the RCMP.
I reached out to the RCMP in Richmond about Andrea's case and spoke to media liaison officer Corporal Dennis Hwang. He wouldn't speak about her or her case, citing privacy concerns. But, he did ask me whether my "spidey senses" tingle when I'm approached with these types of stories. He also wouldn't answer whether it's practice for RCMP to tell cyberbully complainants their cases won't be taken seriously unless they are feared to be suicidal.
In an email, Hwang said the RCMP "treats all cases of bullying very seriously. It is a national concern. Each case is unique and will be examined as such by the investigator."
Since she published the blog post, Andrea says she has heard from many other women who are also being cyberstalked, and even though she says she hasn't received help from police, she still tells others to call them. "Maybe the more cases they get, the more they will see how serious and widespread this issue is and deal with it," she told me.
"In the meantime, if people need help, they can contact me. I've got their back."
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