Peeping Tom Porn: Unwilling Cyber-Porn Stars

By Guido Kleinhubbert

More and more private films are showing up on Internet porn sites. The women filmed often have no idea they have become online porn stars.

More and more women in Germany are finding out images of them have appeared on the Internet without their knowledge or consent.

More and more women in Germany are finding out images of them have appeared on the Internet without their knowledge or consent.

The man calling on the phone didn't introduce himself and got right to the point. He said he had just discovered this hot little video of her on the Internet, and that he would now of course like to have wild sex with her. Could he come by?

At first Birgit H. thought the man who woke her up so rudely on a Sunday morning in October had simply dialled a number at random. But then she got calls from other strangers -- hardly a coincidence. With the help of a lawyer, the 27-year-old discovered that a private film showing her in the shower had been published on an Internet forum for sexual contacts. The film could only have been posted by her ex-boyfriend -- but he denies it.

The dental technician from Germany's Rhineland isn't the only one to have been drawn unwittingly into the vast, world of cyber-porn and digital stalkers. It's a fate she shares with a growing number of women in Germany and elsewhere. The abuse of private nude shots and films has become a "very serious problem," according to Günter Maeser, the leading Internet investigator of Bavaria's Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA).

But Maeser's team isn't just finding acts of vengeance by spurned lovers. The investigators are increasingly discovering images of women who have apparently been filmed or photographed secretly by complete strangers.

Peter Vogt, the senior public prosecutor in in eastern German town of Halle has already successfully prosecuted hundreds of pedophile Internet users. He also complains about an "explosive increase" in the number of victims. Women shown on the Internet against their will are filing charges so regularly now, a new case appear on the prosecutor's desk almost every week. In most cases, raunchy images of them appear on porn sites or Internet portals like YouTube. Often, the footage was produced by ex-boyfriends before the relationship ended.

A case brought before a court in the German state of Schleswig Holstein at the end of December shows just how much the victims suffer from being stripped of their dignity on the Internet. After being harassed repeatedly, a woman had to give up her apartment. Her ex-boyfriend had placed nude pictures of her on the Internet along with her full address and said she was a prostitute. The judges ruled in her favor and awarded her €25,000 ($33,000) in compensation.

A passport photo is enough

A resourceful PC user only needs a straightforward passport picture to make his ex-girlfriend fall victim to sex-hungry Internet surfers. Recently, a simple montage of a Düsseldorf resident's head and a porn starlet's body made the rounds. The result looks strikingly real and was downloaded many times from a peer-to-peer file sharing network.

"My client was completely shocked by it," says lawyer Tobias Strömer, who has been dealing with Internet crime for 10 years.

But it's not only upset ex-boyfriends or other vengeful characters that are keeping prosecutors busy. Peeping Toms who film women secretly are also highly active. They use camera phones or tiny digital cameras to provide the sex-hungry Internet community with fresh voyeuristic material around the clock: footage of changing rooms, public toilets, swimming pools or tanning booths.

In 2004, Google listed about 4 million sites featuring the search words "upskirt" and "downblouse." Now the number has climbed to almost 8 million. Some links lead to popular websites like MyVideo, accessed by millions of people every day. "There are countless women out there who have no idea they're being presented nude or semi-naked on such Internet sites," says Maeser from Bavaria's Office of Criminal Investigation.

It's often difficult enough for the investigators to convict the perpetrators if they happen to catch them. But preventing the further circulation of such images is entirely impossible. If they appeal to Internet users, they're downloaded hundreds of times within just a few hours, and then traded and passed on. And so lawyer Tobias Strömer can only advise his clients to get used to the idea of featuring in a permanent online peep show: "This will never end for you," he says.

Still dental technician Birgit H. has a hard time accepting her online appearance in the nude -- especially since the story soon spread at her workplace. It didn't take long before her colleagues bad-mouthed her by suggesting she could have placed the images on the Internet herself. There is nothing she can do to disprove the allegation.

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