A Lifestyle blog based in Sonoma County, in the heart of Wine Country. Amber is an outspoken voice for local activism, local wine tourism, and more.

Earlier This Week

Something happened earlier this week that shook me to my core. Being a personal style blogger comes with certain risk: we post photos of ourselves on a regular basis. Our face, our names, our bodies are out there for all to see. A right click of the mouse will download our photos, a simple copy/paste will link our web address to another site.
One evening after coming home from work, I was going through my blog statistics. By browsing through recent referral links and recently used key words, I can learn how people are finding my blog and who has mentioned it. Sitting right at the top of the list was a referral link that didn't make sense grammatically - but what caught my attention was that my name, Amber, was in it. A feature perhaps? I clicked the link.

Have you ever eaten something for the first time, and not known what it was? I remember the first time I did: it was a yellow watermelon, and I didn't know what it was. When I first bit into it, it felt as though my brain took a pause. It felt as though every synapse in my brain had simply froze: it didn't know how to react to something so strange, so foreign.

That is exactly what my brain did once this website page loaded. My body went numb, my synapse stopped firing, and everything - except for the glow of the computer screen seemed to go dark: what I saw were faces of young - very young - little girls staring back at me. I was on a child p______phy site, and there in the third row was my face staring back me. 

Within the next instant, I couldn't tell you what happened: I must have moved, because all I remember was I being in one place, and suddenly my computer being on the other side of the room. Tears streaming down my face I started to go into a panic. Why was my photo there? I'm fully clothed- This is from an outfit post! I'm holding balloons! What do I do?! 

Through Google, Facebook, and dear online friends, I was able to pull my head together. As much as I hated it, I got back on the site - I was able to find a telephone number and a physical address: they were in New York City. Hands shaking, I dialed the number. Much to my surprise, a man answered. I asked if I had reached the website; there was a pause. "No, I'm sorry you have the wrong number" he fumbled. "No I don't. I got this off of your website ________." Pause. "Yes, what can I do for you ma'am?" He asked. I confronted him. I told him I had seen the photos, and that a photo of me was among them. I demanded it be taken down. "No!" He shot back. No? NO? No what? "No. No you have the wrong number". I didn't have the wrong number! He had just confirmed that I had indeed reached the website. Before calling him I had done my research and found that his IP address confirmed the physical address that I saw on the site. He screamed, and then hung up.

I filed a report with the FBI. I called my local police. I called the NYPD Sex Offenders line. Three times I had to explain how I had come to the site. Never did it get any easier. Within that moment of discovering the website, I was terrified. Were there more photos of me? And what about these young girls?

After talking to an Officer G. in NYC, and giving every detail that I could think of, I received a second call - they had opened an investigation and would be calling me a again throughout the week for more details. They knew the building that I had given the address to. I can only hope that my story ends with the photos of the girls removed, the site shut down, and the perpetrators behind bars.

But what about us bloggers? What about those of us who strive to share our thoughts, our outfits, and essentially, a large part of ourselves? Existentially the online experience has become an avatar of who we are, who we wish to be, and who we want to be. What happens when that existence is violated in such a profound and horrifying way?

We cannot hide.
If something like this, or even remotely similar has happened to any of you, I sincerely hope that my experience will encourage you to take action. You can make a difference. 

2014 Update: After January 2014 I no longer received any updates, and officers stopped returning my phone calls. Over the past year and a half or so, I have a couple emails sent my way asking how reputable my story is. "Why would they list their telephone and physical address?" was the main concern. In the short answer: I have no idea. I was able to find it on the site, after several clicks. I asked the police the same question. Indirectly, I felt like I was being accused of a terrible, terrible crime: fabricating something I honestly would never be able to imagine. This last January, my last update about the case (and really, it was me calling incessantly - had my photo been removed yet?) shed a little bit of light. Yes, the site was out of New York, but run like a Flickr site. People could upload photographs, and tag them to be easily found. Members were linking and uploading photos and tagging them with a seemingly nonsensical tag - only that tag contained part of my name. Someone had uploaded a photo of mine, and because my image file matched part of the despicable tag, my photo was featured in the "gallery". I have no idea what to make of this experience. I have no idea what happened to this case, or to the person who actually answered the phone. No one will return my calls, and I can only hope that the case was resolved.
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A Mused Blog | A Northern California Sonoma County Blog