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Unwelcome exposure: Website's 'wins' are nude selfies of NH girls

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News

December 16. 2017 10:31PM
Seeing someone they know -- or themselves -- victimized online is traumatic for many young women. (Illustration: Tom Lynch/Sunday News/ISTOCK IMAGE)



The message came from a high school friend: "Have you seen this? This is seriously messed up."

When Tyler Crews clicked on the link, what she found was "sickening," she said: nude and semi-nude photos of girls she had grown up with in Bedford - the kind of photos teen girls send to their boyfriends, never imagining they could end up posted online someday.

But there's a shadowy website where users, apparently mostly men, post and request sexual images of young women - they call them "wins." They trade images of former classmates the way previous generations of boys traded baseball cards.

There's a "catalog" where you can search for girls from particular high schools, and there are images from communities across New Hampshire: Bedford, Salem, Concord, Raymond, Laconia, Nashua and Manchester.

The men posting on this "image board" are anonymous. The women they're targeting are not.

Crews, 18, a freshman at New York University, wrote a column about the website for her college newspaper. She said she worried that writing about the site would only send more people to it, but, she said, "I thought girls had the right to know."

"I have people that have been very close to me that were terrified, texting all the boys they ever sent pictures to, terrified they would see themselves on there," she said.

"For me, it's just an issue of values and morality," she said. "The biggest thing is it's how men view women. The way they were talking about them was absolutely despicable."

The "rules" posted on the site prohibit images of underage girls or posting last names. "Don't be evil," it states.

But in many cases, girls' real names are posted with their photos - or are used by men soliciting such photos.

"I know there has to be some of M- D-. I'll dump K- S- if I see M-," one recent post said.

Another proposed, "Let's get a Hinsdale thread going. I have T- B-. Would love someone to post S- B- or M- S."
Reader Poll
  • Have you ever shared a nude selfie or allowed someone to take such a photo?
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It's a crime

Posting such photos violates a state law passed in 2016 that makes "nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images" a felony. A conviction could result in 3½ to 7 years in state prison.

The website is on the radar of law enforcement agencies here that focus on cybercrime. And some are putting together criminal cases.

Sgt. Thomas A. Grella, a detective with the Portsmouth Police Department, is commander of the New Hampshire Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.

The images would come to his task force's attention if they are of children younger than 18, Grella said. He said his investigators have looked into about 20 such cases in the past two years.

Grella said so far the managers of the site have been "accommodating" to law enforcement requests to remove posts.

And he said they have also provided the IP addresses of posters on request. "That is one step closer to removing the anonymous posting of it," he said.

Sgt. James Gardiner of the Littleton Police Department said he has several "open investigations" into images posted of young women from his town.

His first tip about the site came from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, he said. "They got a report that there was child pornography on it," he said.

Gardiner, who is a member of Grella's task force, said he has confirmed that at least two of the images were taken when the girls were minors. And some images may date back even before the girls were in high school, he said.

Gardiner has since become an expert on the subject. He explained that users post what they call "wins" and then trade for photos of other girls. "Sometimes they'll just put their pictures up for a short time and then delete them, and sometimes they delete it because we take action."

Cooperation

Gardiner said it's not clear where the site originates. But its web address ends in ".su," he noted.

That used to mean the Soviet Union.

"But since the Soviet Union doesn't technically exist, there's some question where the '.su' sites are," Gardiner said.

"I suspect you can get a domain there without having to prove anything," he said. "I suspect it's probably somewhere in the U.S."

The site administrators did not respond to an email from the New Hampshire Sunday News seeking an interview.

But Gardiner said he has had luck getting records from administrators, "which may help me in the very near future."

He has interviewed some women whose images were posted and said "the majority of them can tell me who they initially sent their pictures to." He said he is "very serious" about prosecuting individuals who are posting photos of New Hampshire girls "if I can finally catch one."

New Boston Senior Patrolman Stephen Case said the website came to his attention when a young woman reported to the police department that her image had been posted there without her consent. He said the site administrators provided information that led to a suspect, and the case is actively being investigated.

Until recently, Case said, the website had operated mostly underground. "But with the courage of the victims that have come forward, we've been able to get started on a process of figuring out, one, how to delete the content on the website and two, how to bring charges against those who did not have permission to post those pictures."

Case, the father of an 18-month-old girl, said he finds the matter "incredibly disturbing."

"Ultimately, our victims entrusted somebody," he said. "Or if they didn't entrust them, somebody got the picture without their permission, and without their knowledge, this is posted on line. That's the most disturbing part."

Prosecution

Case vowed to pursue cases against those posting images of local girls, even if that means working with other jurisdictions to bring charges against offenders.

Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, sponsored the bill that became the new law about disseminating sexual images without consent. At the time, he said, it was meant to curb "revenge porn," a reference to individuals posting compromising photos of former partners to blackmail or humiliate them.

Woodburn said the "dark corners of the web" are constantly evolving and it's tough for laws to keep up. He said he never imagined what's going on with the anonymous website, but believes the new law would apply to photos posted there.

"If the person did not consent to this ... then it should be a violation of the law," he said.

Nicole Thorspecken is an assistant county attorney for Hillsborough County and heads that office's cyber-crime unit.

Thorspecken has not looked at the site herself, but said she would be "very interested" in prosecuting those who post images under the new law.

And, she said, "If they're trading (lewd) pictures of high school students who are under the age of 18," users could face a possible prison sentence of 10 to 20 years under a state law against distributing child sexual abuse images.

Bedford Police Chief John Bryfonski said he's concerned that publicizing the lewd website could revictimize the women whose images appear there - by attracting other viewers to the site, including sexual predators.

"It causes great harm - socially, mentally, physically and tragically in some cases," he said.

And Bedford Detective Matthew Fleming, who works with the ICAC, said the postings have traumatized young women in that town. "There are a lot of victims ... who are really struggling socially right now because of it," he said. "These kids made mistakes. Why should they have to continue to pay for them publicly?"

Bryfonski urged women who believe their images are on such websites to contact their local police departments. "These are priority cases for the ICAC and Bedford Police Department, and have been for a while," he said.

Manchester Police Lt. Brian O'Keefe learned about the website from his college-age daughter. He said despite all the warnings, young people still don't grasp the dangers of technology. "Kids have to understand that even on Instagram and Snapchat and things that may seem to disappear quickly, it's as simple as a kid screen-shotting that 3-second piece," he said.

And, he said, "Once it's out there, it's out there, and people can use it for nefarious activities such as a disturbing website like this one."

Grella said the best solution is prevention. "We can't stress enough: Don't take a picture of yourself and send it to anyone. Even if you know that person."

And Gardiner says it's critical to get that message to younger students. "You send anything on the internet and it's there forever," he said. "Then things like this happen and it really drives it home."

Crews said she's never sent compromising photos of herself to anyone. But, she said, "It's a generational thing."

"It's something a lot of girls and guys do," she said. "Guys are sending them to girls, too, but you don't see girls passing those around."

The girls she saw on the site had no idea their pictures were online, Crews said. "And the guys that had been posting them, because they had access to it, they were guys that went to high school with them. Guys they thought they trusted."

She hopes the men who are posting photos in New Hampshire will be charged. "There has to be a way to find justice for this somehow," she said.

swickham@unionleader.com


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