A quick Google search of her name produces countless videos and images. Rettelle scrolls through these images in an effort to show how far-reaching and destructive her ex-boyfriend Smith’s obsession with her is (not his real name).
Many of the photos were taken without Rettelle’s knowledge. They are from spy cams that Smith hid in her apartment, car, and in his apartment back when he was dating Rettelle. Others are personal photos that he lifted from Rettelle’s computer without her knowledge or consent — a series of “artistic” nudes taken when the now 34-year-old was 19, featuring Rettelle wearing nothing but a pair of fairy wings and another set of photos in which Rettelle is naked and bent over on a bed. Others are doctored images of Rettelle superimposed to appear pornographic in nature. There is a 17-minute video of Rettelle and a boyfriend having sex.
“I am sorry if this makes you feel uncomfortable. I am not trying to violate you. I want you to get an idea of what I am dealing with. This is out there for the world to see. I have no dignity or shame left anymore. I have been living with these images out there for the world to see for over two years,” she explains.
Rettelle dated Smith three years ago while she was living in Arizona.
“It was a brief relationship that lasted about six weeks. We broke up after I discovered the spy cams.”
The discovery was made in Smith’s bedroom after Rettelle noticed a blinking red light.
“I searched for the source of the light and found a pen. Never in a million years did I fathom it might be a camera. When I took the pen apart, I found a memory card. I put it into [Smith’s] computer.”
The memory stick contained hours of video footage of Rettelle. In sick silence she watched videos of herself brushing her teeth, changing, picking her nose, going to the bathroom, smoking a cigarette in her backyard, and being intimate with Smith.
“I can’t even describe how violated and humiliated I felt. Here was someone that I trusted who had invaded my privacy in a disgusting way.”
Rettelle deleted the material and confronted Smith.
“I didn’t break up with him right away. I was the stupid girl that kept giving him more and more chances.”
Rettelle ended the relationship after discovering a tracking device and five or six more cameras hidden around her home and in her car.
“When I broke up with him, he didn’t seem to grasp why what he did was a big deal. He promised to delete the videos.”
Rettelle’s first inclination that Smith planned on sharing the videos came months later.
“He used a picture of me wearing lingerie, made fliers out of it, and hung them in a restaurant I worked at. He included my phone number and email address.”
Smith began creating pornographic websites including Rettelle’s name, email address, and phone number. He sent her harassing and violent images via email and text message. He created multiple Facebook accounts under her name using Rettelle’s nude photos. He made these pages public and friend-requested everyone in Rettelle’s email contact list.
“It was humiliating to have to send emails out to ex-boyfriends, old employers, even my grandma, explaining that I had a stalker and could they please not look at the Facebook page and flag. That barely scratches the surface on what I had to deal with on a daily basis.”
Not long after, Rettelle moved to California. Putting 500 miles between her and Smith didn’t stop him from keeping in touch. After Rettelle posted a comment on Facebook telling Smith, “If you don’t stop, I will contact the authorities.” His response was, “Thanks for letting me know where you are.” Two days later he left a threatening note for Rettelle at her new apartment.
“He drove nine hours to deliver that note. I had just moved to Ramona. I didn’t even know my address because I was so new there. It was a four-page handwritten death threat. He told me that, ‘If you make good on your threat to contact the police, I will take down all of your loved ones. I will not go to prison alive and I don’t plan on any of you being alive if that happens.’”
Rettelle immediately contacted the police.
“They told me I should file a report and they would contact him and get his side of the story. I told them never mind; if he found out I contacted them, he might follow through with his threat and that defeated the whole purpose.”
Rettelle has since moved to San Diego and has 11 open cases against Smith with the San Diego Police Department’s domestic violence unit. She has restraining orders against Smith in Arizona and California.
“Every time he contacts me I file a report. His correspondences have gotten more aggressive and more indicative that he plans on hurting me, himself, or someone, but the police don’t care. They cannot arrest him or trace any of our correspondences to the original source to make sure that it is him who is contacting me. They don’t have the resources to do that. The only role they play is to properly record and store the evidence. Revenge-porn laws in California are very, very, weak. They need to be refined.”
Rettelle says that the district attorney’s office combed through email logs and phone logs and built what she thought was a hefty case against him, but somewhere along the line they lost interest. The district attorney’s office recently dropped her case against Smith. Rettelle believes the reason for this is due to the fact that she is not an ideal victim.
“They realized I was no longer crippled with fear, and because of that a jury won’t convict [Smith].”
Rettelle doesn’t blame the authorities. It is very difficult to charge someone with cyberstalking. There are often jurisdictional issues involved. A big obstacle in cyberstalking is that it is simple to mask an IP address, making it nearly impossible to identify cyberstalking criminals. Another hurdle in cybercrime concerns the handling and storing of evidence. Digital evidence can be easily manipulated. Also, investigators often unintentionally contaminate evidence during examination.
Says Rettelle, “As far as gathering physical evidence goes, the police will take a picture of my phone screen with their phones, and that’s it! There are very specific measures you have to take to store electronic evidence in order for evidence to be used in a court of law. They need to follow those and they don’t.”
Rettelle is currently involved with two organizations in an effort to raise awareness for her cause: the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and the End Revenge Porn Campaign.
“We now have digital natives that will be adults soon. Sexting doesn’t exist to them. That is an old person’s term. They call it Snapchat, and much of what they are sharing is explicit. That’s why it is very important that we educate them and push for enforceable laws against cyberstalking and revenge porn and give law enforcement the education and power they need to address it.”