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Former Debutante Wages War Against ‘Revenge Porn’

By Christian Boone
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Never underestimate a former Buckhead debutante.

Atlanta native Charlotte Laws, who now lives in southern California, has made it her mission to torpedo the relentlessly grim world of “revenge porn,” in which private photographs are uploaded, without permission, to the Internet.

The photos are typically accompanied by identifying information about the subject, including names, workplaces, social media accounts and emails, all designed to humiliate.

Laws’ crusade exposed her to a nihilistic subculture far removed from the genteel cotillion balls she once enjoyed at the Piedmont Driving Club.

“It’s about hatred of women more than anything,” said Laws, 53, noting that at least three women have killed themselves after discovering explicit photos had been uploaded to revenge porn sites.

She’s already taken on revenge porn kingpin Hunter Moore, dubbed “the most hated man on the Internet” by Rolling Stone magazine.

Laws’ persistence led to criminal charges being brought against Moore, who faces up to 42 years in prison if convicted.

Now, more than a dozen states, including Georgia, are considering legislation that would make it a crime to publish such photos on privacy grounds. The “Intimate Harassment Bill,” proposed by state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, seeks to close a loophole that allows people to post embarrassing images without consent.

“Most people feel this is already illegal, but it’s not,” said Tanner, whose bill targets anyone who electronically transmits an image for the purpose of harassment. House bill 838 was passed by the House Thursday.

“Years ago, you’d have a Polaroid of someone but only so many people would see it,” he said. “Now you’re seeing people’s lives ruined by this.”

A similar law in New Jersey was used in the prosecution of Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi, charged with violating the privacy of his roommate, Tyler Clementi, after he recorded him having sex with another man. Clementi committed suicide after discovering the video had gone viral.

Despite its name, revenge porn is not always personal. For example, an Atlanta woman discovered images of her bloody and bandaged breasts, hacked from her doctor’s computer, on Moore’s website, “Is Anyone Up?” Laws said.

Laws got involved after her daughter’s nude “selfies” were hacked from her email in January 2012. Nine days later, the pictures turned up on Moore’s site, which has since been shuttered.

The 27-year-old web entrepreneur seemed to revel in his infamy. Being hated, said Moore — charged last month with hacking and conspiracy to hack following an investigation by the FBI — was good for business.

“People threaten me with lawsuits every day, which is funny, because it fuels the site,” he told the The Awl website in 2011.

“The people that get mad hate my site and want to take it down. They send me all this crazy stuff, but at the same time they’re just building content for my site, which just makes me more popular.”

Laws, a former Los Angeles City councilwoman, discovered this first-hand when she sought to have her daughter’s photographs removed from Is Anyone Up?

“When you’d send him legal letters, he’s send back pictures of his private parts,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If you sent him a heartfelt letter, he’d post it online. He’d never pass up an opportunity to ridicule.”

Moore hid behind a law that protects social media sites from getting sued for what its clients publish. Most of his victims, already humiliated, were afraid to come forward and those that did often received the cold shoulder from law enforcement, Laws said.

When she and her daughter reported the hacking of her photos to Los Angeles police, a detective told her, “Why would you take a picture like this if you didn’t want it on the Internet?” Laws said.

“That only emboldened me,” she said.

She then contacted the FBI, which at first didn’t seem interested in pursuing a case.

“So I told them, you’ll help (actress) Scarlett Johansson when she gets hacked, but you won’t help my daughter,” Laws recalled.

Meanwhile, the former private detective started her own investigation, interviewing other victims and sharing their accounts with federal agents. She also contacted Moore’s publicist, attorney, Internet Service Provider and advertisers demanding action.

“My goal was to apply pressure from every front,” she said.

Moore eventually sold Is Anyone Up? to the owner of an anti-bullying website who purchased it just to shut it down. But as many as 800 similar sites remain online, Laws said.

She did not escape unscathed. Laws said Moore’s acolytes have repeatedly harassed her, sending threatening emails, computer viruses and even death threats.

“I was not prepared to enter this underground world,” she said. “You hate to think such hatred exists out there.”

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