Women whose intimate photos were shared online without permission by a close friend say they're disappointed with a legal process that amounted to "a slap on the wrist."
Ren Bostelaar, a Toronto writer and photographer, admitted earlier this year to sharing photos and social media handles of friends on 4chan, after several of the women found their information on the website and confronted him. The women say this led to a wave of harassment from strangers asking them for nude photos.
On Wednesday, Bostelaar appeared in a Toronto courtroom and agreed to a peace bond that limits his use of social media and prevents him, for the next 12 months, from contacting the women whose photos he shared. The peace bond lets Bostelaar avoid a criminal record.
The outcome has left at least two of the four complainants in the case, whose names are protected under a publication ban, feeling frustrated at how the case was resolved.
"In a perfect world, I would have loved to have a criminal charge put against him, something that would be on his record," said the lone complainant who was able to attend the hearing.
"It feels to me just like a slap on the wrist."
The complainant was not brought into the room when Bostelaar's lawyer spoke of his client's regret for his actions and the steps he has taken to make up for them — an oversight that left her in tears.
Another complainant, who has since moved away from Toronto, told BuzzFeed Canada that the justice system is just not set up to deal with many cases of online abuse, and that she felt that the consequences for Bostelaar did not match his actions.
"We had evidence and we had a confession from him. Why couldn't we charge him criminally?" she said. "We were pushed down this road of a peace bond and told we would be able to get some satisfaction from it, but I don't feel satisfied at all."
She also expressed frustration that victim impact statements she and the other complainants had prepared were not read in court.
Bostelaar was one of the people behind the popular Twitter parody account @stats_canada, as well as a photographer. His former @stats_canada colleagues have since cut ties with him, and he lost his job at a camera store.
The complainants submitted more than 20 conditions they wanted put in the peace bond, but only a handful made it into the final version.
According to the terms of the peace bond, Bostelaar is not allowed to use 4chan, Reddit, and other websites where intimate images are shared without consent. He must also avoid any contact with the four complainants, delete any photos he still has in his possession, and notify police of any change of address or employment. Bostelaar must also inform any models of whom he is taking "boudoir, nude, risqué, or pornographic" photos that he has previously shared similar images online without the consent of the subjects.
Bostelaar's lawyer Sam Goldstein repeatedly stressed his client's sense of shame, but added that "he too has certainly suffered."
"This is clearly inappropriate behaviour, but the larger lesson we should all be taking away from this is that what you post on the internet is not private," Goldstein said.
The complainant who attended the hearing on Wednesday said the whole ordeal has taken a heavy emotional toll on her and other women impacted by Bostelaar's behaviour.
"It's been scary. Being harassed on social media, being harassed on my phone, it took away the feeling of safety for me in my everyday life. To know it was someone I trusted has screwed up my ability to trust other men," she said.
"It should never be the victim's fault in this."
This article has been updated to include additional comment from one of the complainants.
Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B
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