Sunday, June 03, 2012

Malicious Exes - More Horrible in the Internet Age

by Kashmir Hill

After a break-up, it’s natural to feel hurt and angry. Hopefully you and your ex are able to vent those painful emotions by talking to friends, eating copious amounts of ice cream, taking up new hobbies, spending hours at the gym to negate the ice cream eating, and/or meticulously cutting each other out of one another’s digital lives through de-friending, deletion and detagging. Let’s hope your ex finds a healthy way to deal with his pain and doesn’t decide to go down the dark path taken by Shawn Sayer of Maine. After he and his girlfriend split in 2006, he harassed her for years, notably by crowd-sourcing his revenge. A court order from Judge Brock Hornby describes how he kept up his harassment after his ex moved to a new state in 2009:

[A]fter Sayer’s former girlfriend changed her name and moved from Maine to Louisiana to escape him, the defendant Sayer, still in Maine, created fictitious internet advertisements and social media profiles using [the victim's] name and other identifying information. The fictitious internet postings included [the victim's] address and invited men to come to her home for sexual encounters.

He wasn’t doing this to help her meet new people and start afresh. According to The Courier, these postings were in the “casual encounters” section of Craigslist, and included a photo of Sayer’s ex, “directions to her house and a list of sexual things she would do when interested individuals arrived.” Sayer didn’t stop there. According to the court order, he also “engaged in chats and e-mails with prospective sexual partners, while posing as his ex-girlfriend.” And you thought your ex was bad…

Sayer avoided getting caught, reported the Portland Press Herald in 2010, by “connecting to unsecured wireless networks at different locations… That way, when police issued subpoenas for Internet records after a fake personal ad was posted, the trail dead-ended at the owner of the wireless network.” From the court document:

The Defendant also posted video clips to several adult pornography websites depicting sexual acts [the victim] had consensually performed with him during their relationship. The Defendant edited the clips so they also displayed [the victim's] name and actual address. As a result of the Defendant’s actions, numerous men arrived at [the victim's] Louisiana residence seeking sexual encounters, terrifying her and causing her to fear that she would be raped or assaulted.

Luckily, Sayer’s ex was not assaulted (though she was groped one time). Another woman subject to this sort of treatment by an ex was not so lucky. A spurned former Marine took revenge on his ex-girlfriend by posting a “rape fantasy ad” to Craigslist on her behalf. A 27-year-old Wyoming man answered the ad for “a real aggressive man with no concern for woman.” Thinking he was corresponding with her (rather than her ex), he thought he had her consent when he went to her home and raped her. (Eek!) Both the ex and the fantasy fulfiller were sentenced to 60 years in prison in that case.

Since Sayer’s ex was not ultimately attacked, Sayer got off a little easier. Law enforcement finally tracked him down by getting their hands on surveillance video taken in areas where he connected to wireless networks that didn’t require passwords. In 2010, he was sentenced to 22 months for violating a protective order. But prosecutors also want to go after him for the federal crimes of interstate cyberstalking and identity theft (because he posted social media profiles posing as his ex).

Sayer tried to get the cyberstalking charge dismissed, pointing to a recent case that established our constitutional right to harass people on Twitter, which privileged a cyberstalker William Lawrence Cassidy’s right to free speech over a Buddhist leader Alyce Zeoli’s right to be free from harassment. Cassidy had criticized Zeoli’s looks, criticized Buddhism, described cinematic ways that Zeoli could die, and told her to commit suicide. A judge ruled that Zeoli was a public figure and that she could have avoided harassment by simply not looking at Cassidy’s tweets.

The judge in the Sayer case doesn’t think the cases are comparable, though, because Zeoli was a public figure (while Sayer’s ex is not) and because he was simply harassing his ex, not exercising speech worth protecting.

“What Sayer is alleged to have done involves no political or religious speech or the promotion of ideas of any sort,” writes Judge Hornby. “Instead, everything that Sayer allegedly said was ‘integral to criminal conduct,’ his criminal conduct seeking to injure, harass or cause substantial emotional distress to the victim.”

Thus, Sayer’s federal case will move forward. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

My friends, try not to let ‘obsessing’ over your ex enter criminal territory.

H/T Eric Goldman

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