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The Bizarre World of Florida

South Florida teen finds out what can happen when private photos go public on porn site December 1, 2011

Juan and Maria Varona of Miami are struggling through a situation no parent  should ever have to wrestle with. Hackers have intruded into their lives,  violated their daughter’s privacy. And they want others to know that it can  happen to them, too.

About four years ago, their youngest child, Angie Varona, uploaded some photos  to her private Photobucket account. Among the pictures: Angie posing in her  bikini and in a bra and panties, images meant only for her then-boyfriend to  see. She was 14 and brash — as many teens are at that age — without the  foresight to suspect what could happen next.

“It was stupid,” Angie, now 18, says. “I guess I thought I looked appealing  and sexy. My self-esteem wasn’t what it should’ve been either.”

Plenty of her friends were doing much of the same. Posting provocative  pictures on their Facebook walls. Sending images they would later regret to  boyfriends who would one day become ex-boyfriends. But Angie’s account was  hacked, and six months later a school friend emailed her an ominous note:  Her pictures were appearing on porn sites.

At the time, her name did not accompany her photos. That would come later.  That and people posing as Angie Varona on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and  assorted forums and message boards.

Eventually, the nightmarish notoriety would land the Miami teen on ABC’s “Nightline” to warn other girls about the possible consequences of posting provocative photos — no matter how private the website. She also recounted her story in MiamiMontage, a publication produced by high school journalism students at a University of Miami summer program.

“All this time, I wish I had listened to my parents,” she says. “None of this  would’ve happened and I would just be living through the regular drama of  high school.”

Remembering that initial discovery still makes her shudder. “I was crying  hysterically. I couldn’t believe it,” she says. And she didn’t know then how  bad it would get. Over the next four years, she would become an unwitting  and unwilling Internet sex symbol.

She immediately told her parents, who went to Miami-Dade police and hired a  lawyer. The police couldn’t do anything about it. There was no nudity in the  photos, so it didn’t qualify as child pornography. But it was the family’s  introduction to the underworld of child erotica.

“Some of those sites had girls younger than Angie, naked,” recalls Juan  Varona, a teacher. “Kids take pictures of themselves in the bathroom and  don’t understand how others can just hack into their accounts.”

Varona says he was disappointed in his daughter when he found out what had  happened. He and his wife had warned her about the perils of the Internet.  As a teacher, he was aware of the growing problem of teens posting and  sending nude or semi-nude photos of themselves. But he also recognized that  Angie’s photos were no more than “bathing suit shots. It wasn’t any  different than what you see other girls wearing on the beach or in  Victoria’s Secret [catalogs].”

The family’s lawyer emailed some of the websites to ask that the unauthorized  photos be taken down. A few complied. One hacker was tracked to Spain, too,  and for a few months the Varonas thought the problem might be contained.

Juan, however, was anxious. “I knew that when something gets out there, when  something goes viral, you can’t stop it. It takes on a life of its own.”

And it did, with the photos making their way to pedophile sites. Within weeks,  classmates and teachers at her high school knew about her Internet photos.  Some called her a slut and a porn star. “They would stare at me funny in the  hallways and I knew why,” Angie recalls. “If I was dating a guy, they would  send him the pictures from one of the websites and ask, do you want to date  a girl that the whole world can see her body?”

Even now, if you Google her name, you get more than a million hits. “People  are mean. They’ll write that I wanted to be famous, that I wanted all this,  and I didn’t,” she says.

Her friends told her it could be worse — the photos could be more revealing.  But that offered little consolation. She changed schools. Her parents  worried how it would affect her college and job prospects.

 

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