American police are investigating after a Kiwi fashion blogger hit back at a US cyber sex pest
A Kiwi fashion blogger has turned the tables on a US sex pest, sparking a police inquiry.
Plus-sized fashion commentator Rachel Gronback was fed up with online sexual harassment from perverts around the world fascinated by her modelling photos.
She had been recording their offensive posts on her blog – but eventually, one went so far that she decided to take action. She tracked him down and, on Saturday, US police confirmed they would investigate the offensive posts sent to her by a high-school basketball star.
Gronback was forced to go to the American police, after being told there she had no recourse under New Zealand law.
* New law will safeguard free speech, not curtail it
The new Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA) passed into law in New Zealand six months ago.
Eight people have been charged by police here, under the new law. One person was jailed for four months, and another was sentenced to three months community detention and 200 hours community work. One person will be sentenced in January, while another applied for discharge without conviction and will appear in court next month. The other alleged offenders are still before the courts.
But the new law provided no protection for Gronback, because the alleged offending happened overseas.
She accused a 19-year-old man, from Lawrence, Kansas, of sending her sexually explicit images and impersonating her online last month.
"There is always a feeling of shame, or a horrible feeling that someone is forcing something on you that you don't choose to see, like a lack of consent. But when he started posting as me, that's when I started to feel upset, like suddenly he was taking my identity from me," she said.
Gronback, 31, did not lay a complaint with police in New Zealand because she was told by Netsafe's operations director Lee Chisholm it would be "impossible" to take any action when she approached them for advice. "Sounds as if you have resolved the situation as best as it could be, given the person harassing you is overseas," Chisholm wrote in a response.
"It becomes almost impossible to take any direct action when someone is harassing a NZ resident from another country unless there are serious criminal allegations."
Executive director Martin Cocker said the HDCA was not able to be used to prosecute people who were based overseas, and people like Gronback would have the option of working with an approved agency set up by the government to make contact with all the parties. But that agency won't be in place until 2017.
"I was very surprised by Netsafe's response. I gave them the link to my blog post ... I felt like I was the one pushing this and I don't know anything and the people who have the power who can give me guidance and should be experts in their area are giving me no help. That was very frustrating," said Gronback.
She approached Netsafe after she reported the alleged harassment to the Christian school where the young man is a top basketball player on a scholarship. She said she was told it was not a school matter and her private details had been passed on to his family.
Local police in Lawrence also told her their hands were tied as she was not based in the US.
By December 22, Gronback's blog had gone viral in Lawrence where local media started putting pressure on their police force to allow her to make a complaint. Police in Lawrence contacted Gronback and she laid the complaint on Saturday.
"I did feel that I had misinformation from Lawrence police ... It makes you feel like it's acceptable to be treated this way and it's not concerning or a crime, or even undesirable, it's a matter of fact and we're not interested. That's how I felt," she said.
"The community outcry has been very much in support of me," she said.
Police are now investigating the man for harassment via telecommunications device which is classified as a misdemeanour in the US.
"What I initially wanted to happen was that the school or the family would reach out, treat me with respect as a victim, tell me what they were going to do to address this person's behaviour and perhaps an apology. My needs at the time were very simple," she said.
"I wasn't pursuing it from a criminal justice perspective at all. It was only the fact that the school made me feel like it wasn't a big deal and there was nothing concerning .... My only option was to talk about it. Being a woman on the internet doesn't mean that you should accept crude messages and images."
- Sunday Star Times