Michelle lives in fear that her children will discover an explicit photograph of her that she can't erase from the internet.

The St. Albert, Alta.-area woman, who shared her story with CBC News on the condition that her real name and identity be concealed, believes she is a victim of revenge porn.

Explicit images of her were posted to the internet in 2014, and they remain public in a disturbing online forum dedicated to this kind of vengeful harassment.

"On that website, do you know what it says? 'Whore," Michelle said, choking back tears.

"I am the farthest thing from a whore. Could you imagine if your kids saw that? I am a woman and I have been a good woman and I have never, ever done anything to harm anybody. I had a normal life."

'You feel worthless'

The woman, who is in her early 50s, believes her ex-husband — the father of her three grown children — is to blame for the online post, which has tormented her for three years.

Michelle and her ex were "high school sweethearts" and dated for five years before they married in the late 1980s.

She thought he was the "love of her life," but over time, fractures formed in their once happy marriage.

She said her husband was often verbally abusive and controlling. She was diagnosed with cancer and had been bedridden for weeks when she began to suspect her husband was cheating.

Years after her worst suspicions were first confirmed, Michelle finally decided to move out. She said she didn't want to break up her family, but had to do something. 

In 2013, shortly after her separation from her husband became official, she began getting disturbing messages from strangers propositioning her for sex.

It was then that she found her photograph and full name posted on the website.

"It's disgusting and it makes me angry," she said. "It's so demoralizing it rips your heart out.

"You're exposed. It's like someone takes away your life the first time you find that out. You feel worthless."

Fear of secret getting out

Michelle's ex-husband has vehemently denied creating the post. But she said the photo is one he took with his cellphone, without her consent, when they were still together.

She has consulted with lawyers and has contacted the offending website numerous times in an attempt to get the pictures taken down.

However, she has never made a report to police.

She worries she could lose her job, and her family, if her secret gets out.

"There is a lot of fear of what the consequences are. Not only of what the consequences are for me, but for my kids, and for my extended family.

"Maybe it's time I do that, maybe it's time they do find out, but this is still their dad. It's a tough thing."

Under Canadian law, posting explicit photographs of someone online without consent can lead to criminal harassment or sexual assault charges. A recent case in Edmonton resulted in criminal harassment charges.

An Edmonton man was charged in June after a CBC News report revealed that fake dating profiles and explicit photographs were used to invite strangers to his ex-girlfriend's home for casual sex.

Cases where online harassment cross the line into the real world are becoming increasingly common,  Acting Sgt. Phil Hawkins with the Edmonton police cybercrimes investigation unit said in June.

"You see it all the time, whether it's bullying or relationships gone bad. The internet just gives people the tools to do these kind of things," said Hawkins, who encouraged victims to report any such incidents. 

"It's very unfortunate that people, when they use the internet, they feel anonymous. They feel that behind the screen no one knows who they are, and they can get up to things they normally wouldn't."

Revenge porn can be found on dozens of websites. There are entire forums and businesses built on sharing photos and videos of women and men without their consent.

On the website where Michelle's information is shared, users are invited to "submit their ex." There are hundreds of profiles included in the Alberta listings — vulgar profiles with derogatory descriptions and pornographic images, all apparently shared by former sexual partners out of spite.

A 2013 survey of adults between 18 and 54 found that one in 10 former partners threatened to post intimate photos online.

In 60 per cent of cases, the former partners followed through on that threat.

Another online survey found that 33 per cent of young adults polled had sent nude pictures of themselves via text or email.

'It's a rampant problem'

Sexual abuse like the kind Michelle says she is experiencing is not uncommon, said Maryjane James, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.

"She is experiencing a form of sexual violence and we see it all the time. It's a rampant problem," James said.  "We deal with it more often than you care to know."

Although there is legal recourse for victims, these crimes often go unreported, James said.

Michelle's fear of reporting is extremely common among victims of sexual abuse, she added.

The fear of being revictimized means countless victims suffer in silence while their abusers avoid reprisal.

"The shame and blame and the embarrassment is what silences these individuals who have been victimized by this, but the silence also allows the behaviour to continue," James said.

"Her case is particularly egregious because he's actually shared the acts of violence with the world."

James said, even if victims never get police involved, they should not hesitate to seek help from agencies like hers. The mental anguish caused by these crimes can be crippling.

"There is no doubt that she will be revictimized by taking this brave step forward," James said.

While Michelle may never expose her abuser to a police investigation, she wants other victims to know that they're not alone.

"I think people need to become more aware of it. This has been going on for years and I don't know what the resources are.

"It needs to get out. It does."