After an NBC 5 Investigation revealed details about a website sharing nude photos of high school graduates, one alleged victim has come forward saying her photo was shared to the site years ago –showing her as an underage student.
Twenty-five-year-old Stephanie watched the recent NBC 5 investigation about users on trading nude images on the anonymous website, but as she learned more, she said her stomach sank.
“It scared me to know that something that happened (to me) four years ago has spread,” Stephanie said.
NBC 5 Investigates discovered online threads on the site, Anon-IB, listing at least 67 high schools in Illinois and the Chicago area, where members ask for women’s photos by name and graduating class. The threads appeared to go back to at least 2014.
But Stephanie, a former student of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, said she found her underage, intimate photos splashed on Anon-IB back in 2013.
“I was either 15 or 16 (when the photos were taken),” said Stephanie. “I sent them to somebody that I confided in, that I went to church with. He went to family events with me.”
Stephanie found the photos three years after she left Homewood-Flossmoor High School. She said her images, along with several other former students, were filed under a thread for her high school.
“I saw quite a few girls that I knew or I went to class with. It was just very embarrassing,” Stephanie said.
Stephanie said she notified the other women, then contacted the Homewood Police Department, only to be “victim-shamed.”
“I’m bawling my eyes out, and they’re just screaming at me for something I had no control over,” Stephanie said. “(Homewood Police) told me I couldn’t press charges. That if I did, the state was going to prosecute me for distributing child pornography.”
This response is not at all surprising to veteran Naperville police Detective Rich Wistocki.
“We need to train our police officers,” Wistocki said.
According to the detective, many law enforcement officers don’t know how to properly investigate cyber-crimes.
“We have to have (police) sensitive to these kids who are victimized,” said Det. Wistocki, who also runs a firm that specializes in cyber training for police, parents and kids called Be Sure Consulting. “Law enforcement needs to be taking those reports and acting appropriately to stop that assault on our children.”
Wistocki said he is pushing a bill, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Connelly, in the Illinois General Assembly that would require cyber-crime training for new police cadets.
According to Senate Bill 1410, the program would train law enforcement officers to “identify and investigate issues relating to crimes arising out of the use of personal technology devices on social media, internet communication, cell phone applications dealing with child exploitation, sending or receiving of sexually explicit messages, computer tampering, financial fraud, harassment and stalking through electronic means.”
“Crime is changing with the advent of these new technologies,” said Sen. Connelly. “A lot of municipalities and law enforcement agencies in other parts of the state will say, ‘We don’t have this down here. It’s a big city thing,’ when in fact, it’s all over the state. We’re trying to train that next generation of law enforcement personnel to be prepared to investigate and solve these crimes.”
SB 1410 has passed out of the Senate and is pending approval in the House. If the House does not act before Wednesday’s deadline, Sen. Connelly said he hopes to get an extension on the bill to the end of the year. Otherwise, he plans to reintroduce the bill in the future.
Stephanie said Homewood Police missed an opportunity four years ago to make an example of Anon-IB and its perpetrators.
“When I went to the police with this exact website, they just brushed it under the rug, acted like it didn’t even matter,” Stephanie said.
Homewood Police confirmed Stephanie filed a police report with the department in August 2013.
“The Criminal Investigations Unit worked diligently to get the images of (Stephanie), and other classmates she named, removed from Anon-IB website. That was an ongoing process as some images that were deleted, were reposted at a later date,” Homewood Police said in a statement.
Regarding Stephanie’s concerns about the investigation, Homewood Police said “we are always available to discuss and review the case with her and would encourage her to contact us directly.”
Homewood-Flossmoor High school administrators recalled Stephanie’s case.
“Although she reported this several years ago, the assistant principal remembers working with her and recalls the difficulties encountered by the local police department as the website she reported was international in origin,” Superintendent Dr. Von Mansfield said in an emailed statement. “Unfortunately, the case you mentioned was of a former student – who was legally an adult at the time of reporting in 2013 – so that may have limited the legal options available to law enforcement authorities.”
Mansfield also said the school educates students and holds parent and guardian seminars about the hazards of social media at the beginning of each semester.
“We diligently work with our students to help them understand the dangers of social media and instruct students to never take compromising photos of themselves nor share any private photos with their peers,” he said.