Will Giving Kevin Bollaert 18 Years in Prison Finally End Revenge Porn?

States like California are ramping up prosecution of the men behind sites that post images of naked women, sometimes along with their names and contact information.

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Apr 6 2015, 7:40pm

Photo via Flickr user black_claw

On July 12, 2013, a woman emailed the ringleader of UGotPosted.com begging for help.

"I am scared for my life," she wrote. "People are calling my work place and they obtained that information through this site! I did not give permission for anyone for anyone to put up those pictures or my personal information. I have contacted the police but these pictures need to come down! Please!"

Kevin Bollaert was apparently unmoved. After all, he received about a hundred such messages a day, and even though he would later claim in an interview with investigators that the desperate emails were overwhelming to the point of "ruining his life," Bollaert could be motivated to take action only in certain circumstances. When women agreed to pay around $250, their pictures would come right down.

On Friday, a San Diego judge sentenced the 28-year-old to 18 years in prison. A joint investigation between the Department of Justice and the California State Attorney's office found Bollaert ran a site that posted women's nude photographs alongside their real-life contact information, and a second site called ChangeMyReputation.com that made him about $30,000. Women testified that they had been disowned, become homeless, and lost their religious faith on account of Bollaert's actions. He was found guilty of six counts of extortion and 21 counts of identity theft; on top of his hefty sentence, he is also expected to pay back $450,000 to his victims.

It's starting to seem like revenge porn will soon be a thing of the past. Although there's no federal law against it, the government is coming up with creative ways to stop people like Hunter Moore, the inventor of the genre, who was arrested in January on hacking charges related to the now-defunct IsAnyoneUp.com. Soon after Moore was indicted, the Federal Trade Commission told Craig Brittain, operator of IsAnyoneDown.com, that he was never allowed to run a similar site again.

States are increasingly devising laws specifically directed at curbing the practice. Some, like Utah, have sent people to jail, and although California has proven to be one of the toughest on people who break it. Back in December, 36-year-old Noe Iniguez became the first person sentenced under its revenge porn law. He got an entire year in jail and 36 months of probation for posting a topless photo of his ex online. California is also the first state to go after a site operator, and the state's attorney general shows no sign of slowing down when it comes to squashing people like Bollaert.

"Today's sentence makes clear there will be severe consequences for those that profit from the exploitation of victims online," California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement. "Sitting behind a computer, committing what is essentially a cowardly and criminal act will not shield predators from the law or jail. We will continue to be vigilant and investigate and prosecute those who commit these deplorable acts."

Her next target is Casey E. Meyering, also 28. He was the operator of a site called WinByState.com and will go to trial on five counts of felony extortion in June. Although it's been taken down, archives show that WinByState was once "a community where you [could] trade/upload/request adult pictures and videos of your ex-girlfriend, your current girlfriend, or any other girl that you might know."

So what's next in the fight against revenge porn now that California is throwing the book at operators like Bollaert and the feds got Hunter Moore to plead guilty to charges that carry at least two years in jail? First, it's necessary for more states to pass laws, and for those laws to be specific. In September, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit over a revenge porn law in Arizona that they argued could theoretically criminalize people selling art books, and lawmakers are currently revising the bill.

Adam Steinbaugh is legal blogger who used to work as a security abuse specialist for MySpace. The revenge porn watchdog says that after all the kinks are worked out in various state laws, most of the dedicated sites will shut down. At that point, a lot of the policing will move toward removing revenge porn from Facebook rather than places like UGotPosted.

He pointed us to the only active revenge porn site he knew of with the request that its name not be publicized. (Who.is records show the site is registered to the British Virgin Islands.)

"I don't think anything that's being done in the US is going to be able to stop them," he said. "Unless they wanna go try and pick up the guy who's running it."

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

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