MORE

Miami Revenge Porn Victim Holly Jacobs Demands Politicians "Take Issue Seriously"

Holly Jacobs' nightmare began in 2009. That's when naked photos of the Miami PhD student first appeared online. They soon went viral, appearing on hundreds of so-called revenge porn websites along with her name, phone number, and email address. Photos and videos were even sent to her bosses.

Jacobs has spent the past four and a half years trying to remove the embarrassing images from the internet. Two weeks ago, she filed suit against her ex and several revenge porn sites. Now Jacobs is urging Florida lawmakers to pass a proposal to criminalize what she calls "cyber rape." But with the legislative session ending tomorrow, House Bill 787 -- along with Jacobs' campaign -- hangs in the balance.

See also:
- Proposed "Revenge Porn" Bill Would Make Releasing Your Sex Tape a Felony

"Somebody is trying to ruin your life, maybe even drive you to suicide by posting these images," she told Riptide during an in-person interview. "I wish [politicians] would take this issue seriously."

On April 18, Jacobs filed suit against ex-boyfriend Ryan Seay and several revenge porn websites for the "public disclosure of private facts" and "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

Contacted by Riptide, Seay said, "I would love to talk about it, but my lawyer has given me a gag order. I'm paying him a lot of money, so I should probably listen to him."

Seay and Jacobs -- then named Holli Thometz -- were friends at Hillsborough High School in Tampa. They began going out in 2005 after Jacobs returned from college. When Jacobs moved to Miami for graduate school, they continued dating long distance.

"We shared photos to keep the intimacy alive," Jacobs explains. "I completely trusted him with this material." When the couple split in 2008, it was a "normal breakup," Jacobs remembers. But on New Year's Day 2009, a friend called to say Jacobs' Facebook account had been hacked.

"You need to get on Facebook right away," the friend said. "Somebody has changed your profile pic to a nude photo of you." When Jacobs called Seay, he denied involvement, even saying he had been a victim of the same prank. "He was the only one with those photos," Jacobs says. "I think he was pretending to go through the same thing so we would reconnect again on some level."

Miami Revenge Porn Victim Holly Jacobs Demands Politicians "Take Issue Seriously"

Instead, Jacobs' life became a nightmare as Seay allegedly posted sexually explicit photos and even a video of his former paramour. The photos spread like wildfire from one revenge porn website to another, along with her contact information.

Her university bosses were sent emails with the photos and a video of Jacobs titled "Masturbation 201 by Professor Holli Thometz." Jacobs even had to cancel a conference presentation when Seay allegedly encouraged internet trolls to show up and proposition her. "Everything just started snowballing," she says. When she began dating someone new, she received email threats.

 

Ultimately, Jacobs gave up battling websites to take down the photos, only for them to pop back up a week later. "That was what Ryan wanted me to be doing," she says, "spending all my life [fighting websites] instead of being successful, getting my PhD, and putting my energy into a healthy relationship."

"So I just kind of let the search results go," she says. She also changed her name. The fight to save her own reputation, however, had made her realize that she was one of thousands of American women victimized by vengeful boyfriends with sex photos.

Jacobs says she contacted Miami and Miami-Dade police but was told that because she was over 18 and Seay didn't technically steal the photos, there was nothing they could do. That's because there is currently no law in Florida banning revenge porn.

Miami Revenge Porn Victim Holly Jacobs Demands Politicians "Take Issue Seriously"

Jacobs wants to change that. When she heard of state Rep. Tom Goodson's proposal to criminalize revenge porn, Jacobs flew to Tallahassee to offer her advice on how to improve it. (House Bill 787 requires the posting of personal information along with photos for it to be a felony. Jacobs says that a simple nude photo can ruin someone's life.)

Unfortunately, Goodson (R-Titusville) was worried any changes to the bill would derail it. Indeed, when it was brought up on the House floor, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) promptly offered three amendments, each of which would have gutted the bill: making the offense a misdemeanor, giving the offender 48 hours to remove the photo, or requiring that the images be acquired without the victim's consent.

The amendments were rejected, but HB 787 has languished for the past week and now looks unlikely to pass by the time the session ends this Friday.

If it fails, Florida women will remain dangerously vulnerable to revenge porn for at least another year, Jacobs says. She urges concerned citizens to contact their legislators and sign the petition on her website endrevengeporn.com in a last-minute push to pass the bill.

Otherwise, Florida could soon see its own version of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old Canadian girl who killed herself in October after becoming the target of revenge porn trolls, Jacobs warns.

"Revenge porn destroys women's lives," she says. "It's called 'revenge porn,' but it is really cyber rape. It's just another way of exploiting women."

Her lawsuit will take awhile to be resolved, says her lawyer, Patrick J. McGeehan, although he adds that the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office recently launched a criminal investigation into Seay for cyber stalking.

But Jacobs wants justice sooner than that. For a start, she'd like Florida politicians to pass a serious anti-revenge porn bill -- such as one in place in New Jersey -- by the time the capitol doors close tomorrow.

"I'm trying to do what I can," she says of going public with her ordeal. "Now they just need to make the changes and pass the bill already."

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes. Follow this journalist on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >