Teacher 'powerless' to stop ex-girlfriend's cyberstalking
Court order fails to prevent comments from being posted online
A Vancouver teacher says his career has been derailed by an ex-girlfriend who won’t stop posting countless defamatory and offensive comments about him on the web.
"I feel not only shut out of my own profession — but any job I apply for," said Lee David Clayworth, 35, who has applied for several teaching jobs since January, with no positive response.
He believes prospective employers are turned off by the web postings. "This is a dark place. It’s a very, very dark place to be … and I am powerless."
He said he's been cyberstalked relentlessly for 2½ years, despite a court ruling ordering the material be removed and his ex-girlfriend jailed for contempt of court.
"The secondary part of it — where the court order is enforced — people just ignore it," he said.
Clayworth is a Canadian who dated a woman named Lee Ching Yan for several months while he was teaching in Malaysia in 2010.
Theft, hacking and harassment
After they split up, she broke into his apartment and stole his laptop and hard drive, along with other personal belongings.
She then hacked into his email account and sent messages to all of his contacts — posing as him — talking about how he had sex with underage students.
"Little did I know, this was just the beginning of this campaign of harassment and cyberstalking," said Clayworth, who has several glowing references indicating he is an exemplary teacher.
"The support I received from my [former] school, from colleagues, from students, from my principal, from my deputy principal was incredible."
Court documents show Yan retrieved nude photos of Clayworth that were in his computer — pictures she had taken — and posted them on several sites.
She’s also placed hundreds of comments on various social media sites, accusing him of disgusting, even criminal, behaviour.
"I did a Google search of my name and I saw profiles listed saying … I am a psychopath, I am a child molester, a pedophile, I am involved with my students and so on — and then that just steamrolled," said Clayworth.
"I remember waking up in the morning and going online. Two hundred new postings would be there from throughout the night. And the things they said were the most hurtful."
Useless court rulings
He sued Yan in Malaysia, where the judge found her guilty of defamation and ordered her pay him the equivalent of $66,000 in damages. However, the harassment didn’t stop.
"We’d both be in court for proceedings and, you know, four hours later, she would be at it again. Online, posting stuff," said Clayworth.
The judge then ordered Yan imprisoned for contempt of court — for continuing her smear campaign — but she left the country. Clayworth believes she’s now in Australia.
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"Everything that was digital and saved in my life — whether it was in the hard drive or laptop — is just at the disposal of this woman," said Clayworth, who returned to Canada in January when his contract at the Malaysian school ended.
"It will never stop … it will go on and on. It’s been almost 2½ years now."
The court also ordered search engine providers Google, Yahoo and Bing to block Clayworth’s name from being searchable, but that has also proved unenforceable.
He’s sent the court order to all three companies, but said he’s had no positive response.
"There are people out there who could help me out and I’ve been through the proper channels to be helped out. And people just ignore it."
Go Public contacted the search engine providers, but only Google sent a response.
Google no help
"Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web. Users who want content removed from the internet should contact the webmaster of the page directly," said spokesperson Wendy Bairos.
"We do not remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content and violations of our webmaster guidelines."
When Yan was told the Malaysian court deemed the postings were illegal, Bairos suggested that didn’t make any difference.
"Again, even if we did remove the name it would not make the content disappear from other places on the web, since Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web."
Clayworth said he’s also tried to get the posts removed from various websites, with limited success. Some sites didn’t respond, while others were helpful.
The manager of one site — liarsandcheaters.com — got very upset when Clayworth complained to the site's web host company, which then shut it down temporarily.
"Do you really want to start a war with a website that sometimes gets over [20,000] visits a day?" wrote the manager.
"You may send the court order. However, because of you, we are relocating to Germany so it must be from a German court. That was your choice. In the meantime … the post will remain permanently for the rest of your life."
Even when websites have taken the offensive posts down, Clayworth's ex-girlfriend simply puts them back up, he said.
Lawyers and police told Go Public there is little recourse for victims in Clayworth's shoes, because his court orders are from Malaysia.
Halifax internet law expert David Fraser pointed out that American-based service providers and websites are governed by U.S. law, which protects freedom of expression and does not hold them legally responsible for content users post.
"These companies have a very large user base and have a large number of complaints, many of which are frivolous, and they have to filter through them."
He said sites often do remove posts voluntarily, but in most cases only a U.S. judgment forces them to do it.
"If it’s a judgment that is contrary to U.S. public policy … you may be completely out of luck," he said. "They will tend to err on the side of leaving it up because they are going to err on the side of freedom of expression."
Fraser said he has never heard of a search engine blocking someone’s name from being searchable, as the court ordered Google and others to do in this case.
Clayworth also went to Vancouver police, hoping it could get Interpol involved, to eventually get an international arrest warrant issued for Yang.
Det. Mark Fenton told Go Public the best they could do is initiate a whole new investigation and — if they could get the Crown to approve a charge — issue a Canada-wide warrant for Yan's arrest.
That wouldn’t help Clayworth, though, because Yan is not in Canada. "The authorities really aren’t interested," he said.
Fenton said police share his frustration. He said the numerous legal and jurisdictional obstacles they face make it almost impossible to help victims of internet harassment, even when both parties are in Canada.
"The internet and society has moved at such a fast pace, that government and law enforcement are unable to keep pace," said Fenton. "This is a huge mess … and it feels awful."
As bad as it is for him, Clayworth feels worse for young people — like his former students — who are increasingly victimized.
"I know what it was like to walk into school as the teacher who has got this going on — so for a teenager I can only imagine," he said.
"Now, the internet is like a hunting ground, basically. Where you can just throw anybody you want up there that you don’t like and let the whole world rain down on them. It’s an insane concept."