[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n recent years, public shaming has become a popular tactic for harassing people. From cyberbullying to revenge porn, the Internet has become a new arena for psychological abuse. In many cases, the victim’s personal and professional life is negatively affected. The story of Desiree Capuano — someone whose life is being destroyed by an online revenge website set up by her ex-husband — unfortunately occurs more often than one would expect.
According to CBC, Capuano’s ex, Patrick Fox, created a site in her name in order to “make her life as miserable as possible.” Apart from calling her a drug addict, a child abuser, and a white supremacist, the website is “full of vulgar content and demeaning images and purport[s] to describe details of her sex life.” Capuano’s partners, friends, and family have also been unnecessarily included. Fox made it clear that this is a premeditated attack on the mother of his child.
While issues of stalking, cyberbullying, the threat of physical violence and the problematic involvement of children are all present in this scenario, the lack of legal options available to Capuano are as well — and it’s heartbreaking. Unable to afford the legal fees for civil court, she took her complaints to all the authorities she could. According to the CBC, this included “local sheriffs in Arizona, the FBI, the hosts of the website and several lawyers.”
While a protective order stops Fox from sending Capuano emails, the main source of harassment — the website — has not been taken down. In July 2015, Fox was arrested for a short while. Unfortunately, The Crown did not approve the charge of criminal harassment recommended by the RCMP, and Fox was subsequently released. A spokesman for The Crown mentioned that a factor affecting their decision was that the two parties live in different countries.
Here is the problem: Fox has stated plainly that he seeks to “ruin her life and destroy her.” We are witnessing an abusive man who has made it clear that he has every intention of hurting his ex-wife psychologically, emotionally, and financially. How does this not constitute as criminal harassment? How is there no way of helping her?
Despite living in different countries, Fox continues to harass Capuano with the click of a button. It is careless and wrong for people to have that kind of power, and it makes no sense not to have stronger cyber laws in place that would prevent a cyber attacker from committing crimes across national borders.
According to the Canadian Bar Association, the Criminal Code outlaws publishing defamatory libel, defined as material published that is likely to injure a person’s reputation through hate, contempt or ridicule, and insult. The definitions of cyberbullying outlined by the Canadian Bar Association are all present in this case.
Fox’s tunnel vision in destroying his wife’s life should not be overlooked. There are many ways this situation could escalate to physical violence because they live in two different countries. For instance, according to the CBC, “Fox admits he often copies his son on emails to Capuano, including [those] about his plan to hire somebody to obtain sexually explicit photos to post on the website.” If he seeks revenge porn, what would stop him from hiring someone to attack her physically?
The laws cannot just exist, they also have to be enforced. Harassment via the Internet is unique and dangerous simply because the perpetrator does not have to leave the house. The legal system has to adapt to the improvements in technology and how this affects parties living in different places.
This case is not just about the suffering of Desiree Capuano. It reflects the struggles of many adults and children on the internet. We cannot leave people helpless in the face of such cyber-harassment, even if they live in two separate countries. If Canadian and American laws worked in tandem with each other to quash such harassment, this would undoubtedly set an historical precedent in the cyber era.