Montreal

'A way to ruin someone's life': Photos of Montreal woman among hundreds on anonymous porn site

Images distributed anonymously, often without knowledge of women

Bonnie Hannah

Bonnie Hannah, 30, was shocked to discover photos of her nearly nude body were posted on an anonymous message board soliciting naked photos of Montreal women. (Sylvain Charest/CBC)

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Bonnie Hannah had no idea there were revealing photos of her posted publicly on the internet until CBC News contacted her for this story. Her nearly nude image is among dozens being traded by strangers.

Anonymous people speculate about her ability in bed. One offered cash to anyone who could snag a photo of her completely naked.

Hannah's personal email address is even posted beneath photos that showcase her cleavage.

Her face blanched when she was told what was posted online.

"Why? Why would they want to do that?" she asked.

"It's not fair. It's not right."

Posting nude images dubbed 'wins'

Hannah is one of dozens of women in the Montreal area whose pictures are posted on this message board, apparently without their consent, for anyone to ogle and download.

In all, 238 images have been posted — some in which the women are naked, some almost naked — over a period of six months.

CBC News is not naming the website to avoid driving up traffic.

The Montreal thread is one of many Canadian threads. Most major cities in Canada — as well as some campuses, including McGill University — have similar message boards, where those who go to the site are encouraged to post pictures of local women.

McGill

A McGill University thread exists to solicit suggestive images of women who attend the institution.

Those posting the photos use their own vocabulary — language that reflects their lack of regard for the women depicted in the photos.  

Posting nude images — or "wins," to use the board's nomenclature — is discussed by users as though it's a sport.

In some posts, people ask for photos of specific women the person posting claims to know personally. Others say they'll "dump" their archive of pictures if others do the same.

"[Name redacted] I went to school with her," says the writer of one post. "Hoping for a win on her or her friend [name redacted]."

In response to a semi-obscured nude picture of another woman, another post reads, "Any clear topless frontal of Elyse P??? Or just those?"

Photos swapped as 'some type of currency'

The image-based bulletin board was launched in 2006, with the goal of anonymously posting leaked or stolen nude images of women. It has been shut down and reopened a number of times since then.

Internet law expert Elisa D'Amico has worked with victims of this particular website.

"They'll start trading the photos of these women as if it's some type of currency," she said.

Although the posts are already anonymous, there's another, more untraceable option for people hoping to leak nude photos.

Most local pages have a corresponding Vola page, where users can anonymously upload images that are automatically deleted after 48 hours, but can be downloaded before that.

'These are people's lives. This is a way to ruin someone's life.'  - Bonnie Hannah

The more explicit pictures and videos are posted on Vola pages.

Full-frontal selfies of women, sex videos and masturbation shots are among what's been posted on the Montreal Vola in the last two weeks.

'I would just like it to stop'

Hannah can't prove who is behind posting her photos and soliciting more, but she said an ex-boyfriend has been harassing her for more than a year.

The first post naming Hannah appeared on the Montreal message board in June. 

"This is the next step he's choosing to do, more pictures are going up without any consent," she said. "I would just like it to stop."

Victim of cyber harassment vows revealing photos will not ruin her life 0:24

Despite all of it — the frustration of being unable to prove who is posting her photos and harassing her and the stomach-churning thought that her photos are being traded publicly on the message board — she's resolved not to let this break her.

"This is a way to ruin someone's life," she said.

"I'm very fortunate — it hasn't. And it won't. And I won't let it."

What can be done?

From a criminal law perspective, police have tools at their disposal to track online activity. A 2014 law gives police additional power to investigate cyber intimidation cases.

The law makes it an offence to share nude or sexually explicit images without the subject's consent. Anyone convicted could face five years in prison.

However, police still face challenges investigating online cases, says privacy law expert Karen Eltis. While online activity can be traced, criminal law requires proving mens rea — or criminal intent — which is not easy.

Cyberbullying bill, C-13

The cyber intimidation law, C-13, was introduced in 2013 by the former justice minister, Peter MacKay (centre), shown here flanked by the ex-public safety minister, Steven Blaney and Lianna McDonald, head of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

There are other Criminal Code provisions under which online harassers could be charged — not necessarily cyber-specific.

But police need to take these complaints seriously, said Eltis.

She laments what she calls "a 'sticks and stones' attitude, where this is Facebook and people just post whatever they want."

"These myths need to be dispelled, be it with police, educators or anyone else."

'Crucial' for cyber harassment complaints to be taken seriously 0:22

There are other challenges in investigating online cases, said Eltis, because tracing online activity to a particular computer doesn't necessarily indicate who is doing the posting.

Victims might have more luck suing the person responsible for putting up the photos or videos, if they know who it is.

There are precedents, including a 2016 Ontario case where a woman won $141,708.03 in damages after her ex posted to a porn site a video of her masturbating.

That decision was recently set aside, but the lawyer representing the woman says the framework established by the judge to assess damages could still be used in future cases.

Police mum on investigations

After obtaining the link from CBC News, neither the RCMP nor Quebec's provincial police would confirm or deny they're investigating this particular website.

Sûreté du Québec Sgt. Daniel Thibaudeau warns that some of the women whose images are posted might not actually be from Quebec, although CBC has verified that at least seven women on the website do indeed live in Montreal.

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