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KD Investigates: Are Revenge Sites Legal?

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(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Andy Sheehan Andy Sheehan
KDKA-TV Investigator Andy Sheehan began his broadcast journalism...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – They call them revenge sites – the posting of sexually explicit pictures by spurned lovers and worse.

Posts on one local site accuse people of being prostitutes, drug addicts and pedophiles – regardless of the truth.

And some ask: are these sites legal? And are the targets of these attacks powerless to stop them?

One local woman was the recent target of one of these sites.

In order to protect her privacy, we’ll call her Heather, but a few months back, her picture and her real name were posted on a website – accusing her of doing horrible things.

“He posted that I do drugs and other things and it couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Heather said. “None of it’s true.”

Heather had become one of hundreds of people that have been targeted by “Butler Trash” – technically a blog that accuses people of being drug addicts, sex addicts and pedophiles. Her reputation was ruined with the click of a mouse, so Heather confronted the suspected operator.

“And he threatened me,” she said.

When asked what he said, Heather says his reply was, “You don’t like that, see what happens next.”

And soon, pictures of Heather’s children began appearing on the site. In fact, the blog routinely posts pictures of children, saying her son has emotional problems because his mother shot heroin during pregnancy.

“It is despicable,” she said. “It’s offensive, but it’s beyond that.”

Heather and a group of the blog’s targets went to District Attorney Richard Goldinger, who was horrified at what he saw.

“You have pictures of children, which is the most offensive to me,” Goldinger said. “Leave the children out of it. If you want to cast stones, leave the children out of it.”

But Goldinger had bad news for them. Some states have passed laws against websites like it, criminalizing so-called “revenge porn” when people post sexually explicit pictures of someone else without their consent. But Goldinger told them that’s not the case in Pennsylvania and he can’t prosecute the site’s operator.

“We tell them that we don’t agree with the site,” Goldinger said. “We find that what’s contained in the side is offensive, but there’s nothing we can do because what’s found on the site is protected free speech and we can’t prosecute a crime for free speech.

KDKA went to the home of the suspected operator’s apartment, but no one came to the door. KDKA also attempted to contact him by phone.

“People are upset that you’re posting this stuff online,” KDKA’s Andy Sheehan said. “You’re calling people whores, pedophiles, drug addicts.”

He denied being the site operator, but called it a legal operation, saying the post came from other people.

“Why would you put children’s pictures on the web like that?” Sheehan asked.

With that though, he hung up – free to continue operating his site and without his own identity being exposed.

“It is frustrating and I feel bad for the people who are listed on there,” Goldinger said.

Pictures of Heather and her children continue to be posted and she doesn’t know where to turn.

“I believe in freedom of speech,” she said, “but when you tell something that is not true and you try to hurt people any way you can, something should happen to you.”

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