Naked images from website haunt New Brunswick woman 5 years later

Messages have been pouring into Samantha Estey's phone since a picture of her naked began circulating on the internet.

2 women feel helpless against unauthorized online exchange of pictures

Samantha Estey says a naked photo of her was shared on a pornography website without her knowledge. (Photo: Radio-Canada)

Messages have been pouring into Samantha Estey's phone since a picture of her naked began circulating on the internet.

"Over the last 32 hours, I've been getting message after message from people telling me they've seen me on a website," the 22-year-old New Brunswick woman said in French during an interview with Radio-Canada.

"There are even people sending pictures of me."

Estey was 17 when the photo was taken, and she sent it to someone in a private message. Years later, the image is being spread online. 

"I'm naked in the bathroom, in front of the mirror, but the thing is, it's with my face, so it's really invasive," Estey said.

"It's hard because you don't expect the things you do when you're 17 to follow you, especially five years later."

Pornographic images of women and minors across the province and around the world have been circulating online without their knowledge.

At one time, the images might have been called revenge porn, but these are being shared almost the way baseball cards are traded.

Estey's photo is among thousands of images of naked women from around the world that can be found on the online forum.

The website, which has a Russian server, classifies the photographs by countries and regions, and the pictures are mostly of young women. Many are pornographic.

Sasha Tardif says a photo was taken from her Instagram account and shared on the website, along with a request for naked photos of her. (Radio-Canada)

Attached to the images are the the names of the subjects and where they likely are — sometimes even their place of work. Users can search for images by region of the world — in Canada, New Brunswick or cities within the province, for instance. 

The website also comes with a set of rules.  

A user who wants to see a picture of a particular person who is not on the site has to provide a photo of someone — preferably a nude photo.

Then the user names the person he or she is looking for, and fellow users who have pictures of that person can send them to the site. 

Who would do this?

"It's not nice to think that people have hung onto these for so long or that they've been floating around for so long," Estey said.

"People can search further and look on Facebook by your name, by your city, where you work … that's a lot of information. I didn't put it there. I didn't ask for this."

Over the past three days, the site's popularity has skyrocketed in the Moncton area after a post was shared on Facebook. Requests for photo exchanges on the porn website have also soared.  

Estey certainly isn't alone.

Over the past few days, Sasha Tardif learned through a link a friend sent to her that a photo of her had been posted to the website.

Internet users can directly request photos of people they want to see. (Radio-Canada)

The 24-year-old Grand Falls woman said the photo came from her Instagram account, which has a public setting that anyone can access. In exchange for the photo's publication, a user asked for a naked picture of Tardif.

"It didn't bother me that that one was posted [Instagram photo]," she said. "It was weird that someone was asking for other things," she said.

When she investigated and visited the website, Tardif recognized a dozen other women she knew, and she immediately tried to warn them.

"I recognized some of them and I said, 'Oh no, I have to tell these girls, this isn't OK," she said. "I got to as many as I could."

Many of the photos are pornographic in nature and feature women from around the world, including New Brunswick. (Photo: Radio-Canada)

Some of the women were aware of the site, but others had no idea images of them were being shared.

"There were a couple I didn't recognize but once I pieced together the names and where they were from, I was like 'I kind of know this girl.'"

"It's a really small world. The moment it's on one website it'll be like two, three other websites."

RCMP said complaints have not been filed about the online naked photo exchange.

'If you send one image to one person, it could get everywhere. These images can get into people's hands that you don't want them in."- Sasha Tardif

Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh, a spokesperson with New Brunswick RCMP, said that if police receive a complaint, a team of investigators will look into the case.

But she said these cases present a challenge, since sharing an explicit photo of someone without their consent is not necessarily a crime.

RCMP said if a photo has appeared on a public site such as Facebook or Instagram, sharing the image is not illegal.

However, if a photo was sent by private message, or it concerns minors, the sharing would be considered illegal, Rogers-Marsh said.

Police are encouraging victims to file complaints. If people see pornographic pictures of children, they should complete a form on the Canadian Child Sexual Exploitation Reporting Centre's website.

A sense of fear

Both Estey and Tardif admit to being afraid for their safety because their personal information is circulating online and could help users find them if they wanted to.

"If someone wants to post that image it's fine, but if someone wants to go look for someone's images and request it from random people in the area, it is really creepy," Tardif said.

"It's really dangerous … just their name and their face online, people can easily go and find those people and stalk them and that's terrifying."  

Tardif said she's frustrated the images were spread around, and she feels a sense of helplessness.

Misses support

"When you say there are photos of yourself on the internet, people's attitudes are like, 'Too bad, there's nothing you can really do,'" she said. 

"It's really frustrating because there isn't a lot of support."

She said there needs to be more awareness about posting personal photos on social media or sending private photos.

Everyday, she said, teenagers are told they shouldn't post certain images online but they're never told why.

"If you send one image to one person, it could get everywhere," said Tardif. "These images can get into people's hands that you don't want them in."

With files from Catherine Dumas, Radio-Canada