My Experience With Cyberstalking and the Failures of the Justice System

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Medium and reposted with permission. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely of the author.

For the last 3 years, I have been a victim of cyberstalking, harassment, and revenge porn. A high school classmate, Christopher Lee, has systematically cyberstalked me and leveraged the anonymity of the internet to create numerous fake social media accounts to defame and harass me. In this process, I had to file multiple police reports in both San Jose and in Seattle, request for an Anti-Harassment Protection Order, serve someone in a different state, and solicit the help of multiple lawyers. This experience has shown me how easy it is to exploit the current holes in the justice system and how our society is completely unprepared in tackling cyber crimes.

My request for an Anti-Harassment Protection Order has been denied. The judge ruled that due to a lack of sufficient evidence linking Christopher to the harassment, he couldn’t rule in my favor. He acknowledged that there is “definitely something going on,” but he was unwilling to put his foot down and put an end to this.

Below, I have laid out the timeline of events and included all of the public filings, including my declaration, Christopher’s declaration, and numerous pieces of evidence including text messages and voicemails. This has truly been a traumatizing experience. Writing my story is therapeutic, but hopefully it may also be a reference guide for others going through something similar or even spark a conversation.

2013

Christopher (Chris) Lee and I were high school classmates until 2011. We decided to meet up and hooked up in Las Vegas in 2013. During this time, he also took some intimate photos of me that would later appear on the internet and sent directly to me, my friends, family, coworkers, and residents in my apartment building. Shortly after Vegas, Chris began to be very possessive and controlling of me, and thought we were soulmates after a few days of hanging out in Vegas. I started talking to him less and told him I did not like him in that way, and we did not have any contact for the next 4 years.

Harassment, Cyberstalking

March 2017

My friend Audrey Wu told me that Chris was trying to reach out to me. Chris then texted me, saying he wanted to let me know he still loved me, and I needed to apologize for leaving him and to “atone for my sins.”

I was surprised to hear from Chris and equally shocked to discover that he still harbored ill-will for me after four years of no contact. Initially, I was willing to interact with Chris to help him get the closure he was seeking. I even met up with him in person one time to hear what he has to say to me. However, Chris’ behavior quickly escalated into a frightening territory as he started sending me hundreds of text messages in a row and leaving numerous voicemails in a row. Below is a small snippet of some of the hundreds of text messages I received from Chris and submitted to the court.

I feel like I am about to go after you you fucking cunt

I will haunt you every fucking day when I die. You will never understand what it means to be afraid to be alive

God will make you atone

I have video evidence of you now. I hope you won’t do anything stupid

I will get you, Tiffany. I warned you and you thought you could just do what you did before and run away. You won’t be able to

I kept your photos / videos to myself by the way. I never did anything with them, because I wouldn’t be the type of person to use them against you. But you would easily deserve it.

His favorite vow, sent repeatedly to me via text and voicemails:

I vow to you, every day, from this point on, for the rest of my life, I will pray for God to bring you, Tiffany Ko, misfortune and disaster. You, Tiffany Ko, will never be successful or happy in your life with your current boyfriend, and future boyfriends, and you will never be married. If you are married you will be unhappily married. You, Tiffany Ko, will be cursed by me every day, every moment, until I die. Every day I will pray for you to have nightmares where I will haunt you and you must repeat and face what you did to me, done back to you, several thousand times like you made me suffer in my head. If I die early I will go to you and you, Tiffany Ko, will see my hollow eyes stare at you every day, waiting for you to atone for your sins. You will never sleep a peaceful wink because my grudges will follow you to the end.

May 2017

I blocked him on all social media, but he continued to try to contact me indirectly through 3 people. I was hopeful that he would eventually stop harassing me if I simply ignored him.

December 2018

A year and a half later, Audrey told me she found out that her co-workers received a LinkedIn message from a fake account that said

Messaging you about an individual that has been reported for making death threats. This person is named Audrey Wu. She has been known for having severe mental breakdowns in the office and has recently expressed the desire to kill co-workers. Be careful.

I felt terrible that this was happening to Audrey, and we both knew it was Chris who posted these since we both reconnected with him in March 2017 and later had a bad fallout with him.

A couple weeks later, I was notified by a coworker that he found a defamatory Yelp review about me that was similar to the one about Audrey. After a couple of simple Google searches of myself, I found multiple fake accounts had been created on various social media platforms that were designed to defame and ruin my reputation. Not only had he used the same language and word choice that he used in his messages from 2017, but he was also making the same false allegations, specifically that I was part of a murder conspiracy in high school.

Fake Twitter accounts and comments posted on my school Johns Hopkins University’s Twitter account

I reported this to my company’s HR, Security, and Legal teams, and they were helpful in ensuring that I was safe on campus, even providing me a closer parking spot to my office building.

At the same time, I also reported it to the San Jose Police Department and was recommended to file a restraining order.

June 2019

I received a physical letter in my office mailbox with a fake “Cease and Desist” letter from a New York attorney and found out that many of my coworkers have also received a link to the same letter via LinkedIn messages from a fake account.

Once again, this letter references a murder plot involving my ex-boyfriend from high school and a lockdown in Alameda County, which is the exact same references Chris made to me previously during his text messages in 2017. The letter also references me having “over a hundred sexual partners,” another false allegation that Chris has obsessed over for years.

I filed a supplemental report to my SJPD case, but nothing really came out of that. In the next few months, I requested for a copy of my case report for my own records as I was preparing to move to Washington.

Disclosure of Intimate Images

March 10, 2020

I received a LinkedIn message from a coworker saying that she found some photos of me on a Yelp business page that she believed I did not intend to upload. As I looked into it, I found more of the same posts on other social media platforms including Yelp, Youtube, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Medium, Behance, Lookbook, and a standalone website that advertises a twerking or adult entertainer business for me.

These posts all contain the same defamatory content (murder, sex worker, criminal, fraud, mental illness, etc) and included intimate photos that he took of me in Vegas, photoshopped pornographic photos, and personal information such as my old and new address in Seattle, my parents’ address, my phone number, my employers, and links to my real social media accounts.

Apparently I charge a lot for my classes

 

March 12, 2020

After a few days of gathering screenshot evidence, I reported it to the Seattle Police Department. They took a brief statement from me as well as additional evidence I had, and recommended that I look into filing an anti-harassment or no contact protection order.

Court Proceedings

March 16, 2020 (Filing a petition, Temporary Protection Order hearing)

I spent the weekend trying to understand what petition to request the court for (Domestic Violence, Anti-Harassment) and eventually decided on the Anti-Harassment/Stalking Protection Order because I was uncertain if I qualified for a DV protection order since I am not married to Chris, we did not date, and we do not have kids together. As you can see from the court’s website, it is not easy to comprehend what forms are needed for an Anti-Harassment Protection Order petition, but I was eventually able to fill out what I thought was needed using their instructions.

I filed the petition with the clerk Monday morning, found out that most of what I had filled out was not necessary, and only the Petition, Confidential Information Form, and Law Enforcement Information Sheet were needed.

A few hours later, I went to the hearing for the Temporary Protection Order with Judge Hirakawa. This TPO will be effective once served and until the next hearing for the permanent protection order.

The judge asked me to describe what had happened and why I needed a TPO. I described how we know each other, the harassing text messages, and most recently the social media posts with intimate photos of me, and that this has been happening in the last 3 years, and I don’t see it stopping unless I have a Protection Order against him.

Judge Hirakawa read me the RCW 10.14 Definitions stating that “unlawful harassment is conduct directed at a specific person.” He argued that the respondent did not direct the harassment at me, he only posted about me, and that I wouldn’t find these posts unless I go look for it. This is actually not true, because every time something happens, I only find out because someone else has found the posts or received these messages and then subsequently messaged me about it. I was very upset and tried to argue that he was indeed directing it at me. Judge Hirakawa eventually told me that he will grant me this TPO, but that I will have a low chance of succeeding in the next hearing for the permanent protection order.

Based on how the TPO hearing went, I hired an attorney to help me present my case better at the next hearing, which costed an equivalent of 1–2 months of rent.

March 19–23, 2020 (Waiting to serve papers while still being harassed)

My boyfriend received a notice from his HR team that his coworkers are also receiving similar fake LinkedIn message requests.

Furthermore, my boyfriend, friends, and even my parents and fellow residents in my apartment building received a letter purporting to be from an FBA investigator in the Criminal Investigation Unit in New York named James Green, with the same photoshopped pornographic photos.

On top of that, my boyfriend also received a separate letter that included vague threats and all of Chris’ trademark language.

March 24, 2020 (Serving court papers)

It turns out that it’s not very easy to serve someone. There are a lot of rules and regulations about it, and it was only made worse by needing to serve him in California from Washington. You can hire third party services to do it for you, or you can ask local law enforcement for their help. The Fremont, CA PD does not help with serving, so I had to work with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. They required a physical copy of the declaration forms, so I had to mail my packet to them. Luckily, they were able to serve him at his home address in a day, and the TPO went into effect. The day after Chris was served, all of the posts magically stopped.

April — May, 2020 (Preparing documents for the hearing)

Here are links to some of the documents from the hearing. Keep in mind that all declarations are signed under the penalty of perjury.

Some of the “highlights” from Chris’ 126-page declaration, which ranges from perjury, delusional, irrelevant, to fan fiction:

I write this in the third person for better recall as this was many years ago. Much has come back to me over the past month of dealing with these claims.

He [Chris] was known for being artistic and kind to his peers.

They were youthful, drifting in and out of the outskirts of the gambling floor, since they were underage and couldn’t gamble.

Chris works, Bitcoin hits $20,000. Chris is doing well.

He honestly has not considered her in a meaningful way since 2013.

May 11, 2020 (King County District Court, Judge Hirakawa denied the protection order)

This was a confusing (telephonic) process due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since this is a public hearing, anyone is allowed to listen in. As someone who has never been to a hearing before, this was a pretty free form process. Judge Hirakawa asked if there was a specific format or any cross examinations that needed to happen. Both lawyers agreed to just present and summarize the declarations that have been made. The defense’s main argument was that there is very little evidence to explicitly link Chris to the harassment. Unfortunately, the judge either agreed with the lack of “concrete evidence” or believed that it wasn’t his place to step in and would let the criminal prosecution system sort this case out. In retrospect, the overwhelming amount of historical evidence almost seemed to confuse the judge and distracted from the fact that the harassment is present and ongoing.

Chris was able to perjure himself in a court of law and claim that we did not have any contact whatsoever since 2013. His defense indicated that because he was too busy building a successful business, he couldn’t possibly have the time to harass me. Like in many of the #MeToo cases, it felt like it came down to a woman’s word vs a man’s word. And unfortunately, it seems like my side of the story was not convincing enough, even with my numerous pieces of evidence of text messages, voicemails from Chris with the same exact content as other harassing posts, messages, and letters as well as the fact that he took these intimate photos and have threatened me with them before. Given that our stories are literally the opposite in nature, and I have evidence that he’s lying, why is my story not the trusted one?

There is no question that I am being harassed, and I am asking the court for help, so why is no one helping me?

Parting Thoughts

It surprised me to find that an anti-harassment/stalking system that is supposedly designed to protect individuals requires irrefutable proof of harassment. In many cases, the proof isn’t always easy to collect. Imagine an even more serious domestic violence case. If you have a partner that is physically violent, is the only way for you to get protection if you capture it on video?

It’s clear to me that the law and law enforcement have not kept up with the rapid progression of technology and social media. Here are parts of an abstract from an article written in 2002.

“Restraining orders become useless because of the options and anonymity offered by the Internet. These concerns pose unique obstacles for dealing with the legality of anti-stalking legislation and measures. Many current laws neglect to recognize the seriousness of the problem stalking poses. The necessity of a “credible threat” illustrates the focus legislators put on the criminals’ physical actions instead of their effects on the victim… Generally, the government and the police are not equipped to combat computer-mediated crime. Victims are likely to encounter problems due to lack of training and awareness when they request police action.

As far as I can tell, these problems continue to exist. In fact, many of the people writing, ruling, and enforcing these laws have little to no idea what the modern day internet is like. They have no clue what an encrypted VPN is or that it’s trivial to fake your identity online in an untraceable way. In fact, I was recommended by a police officer to limit the amount of social media posts I was making or to just ignore the fake posts (he did qualify this by saying he did not know anything about social media).

Ever since the beginning of the harassment, I have already been extremely reluctant and scared to use my own social media accounts. In October, when I moved to Seattle, I couldn’t share the news with my friends. I can’t tell people about my new job because it might be used against me.

Our modern society’s reliance on your online presence (looking someone up on Google or LinkedIn before their job interview) has made it extremely easy to manipulate. It doesn’t take a lot of work to “hack” Google’s Search Engine Optimization and web crawler to make certain web pages show up first. Chris’ familiarity with taking advantage of that system allowed him to promote his own photography company while simultaneously controlling what information shows up when you search for my name. As more and more people become fluent in the internet, this type of pattern will just become more and more common.

Growing up, we always hear about how in America, you’re innocent until proven guilty. It sounds so great in theory. We should be confident in our decisions to punish people for committing crimes. But through this, I learned first hand about what the term burden of proof truly means. The unfortunate reality is that the justice system is filled with the biases of the judges and jurors you come across. Everyone has an opinion colored by their own experience of the world. As both a petitioner/prosecutor and a defendant, you have to have so much compelling evidence to overcome their preconceived notions about you or the case.

After the hearing, I am definitely even more afraid than I was before. None of Christopher Lee’s past behavior has suggested he will stop. I will continue to work to build my case against him. Although I am a victim, I am lucky that I have the support of many friends and family. I am lucky that my coworkers believe that I am telling the truth. I am lucky that Chris has not appeared in front of my house. But many people aren’t as lucky as me. If you’ve had similar experience and want to share or talk, please feel free to reach out.

About the Author: Tiffany Ko studied Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University, previously worked at Electronic Arts (EA), and is now a Product Manager at a tech startup. She is active in the Women in Tech community in SF Bay Area/Seattle and regularly coaches and mentors others in product management and tech. In her spare time, she enjoys singing, dancing, traveling, playing with dogs, doing yoga, and rock climbing.

Featured Image via Getty

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