I-TEAM: Victim speaks out about SEXtortion

Monday, Feb. 10, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Our I-Team is shining a bright light on a dark side of social media.

It's called sextortion. It's where criminals attack you with your own pictures and your own videos, and they make you pay in more ways than one.

When our Meredith Anderson first started investigating this, she gathered a stack of reports from the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and knocked on every single one of the victims' doors.

No one - not one person - wanted to talk about it.

Then, she got an email from Garian Henry about a fake Facebook account with some very real photos.

Her naked photos.

Her graphic text messages.

The person posting them didn't stop there. Henry learned about this when her friend called her on the phone. "She was like, 'I'm looking at a video of you and your son's father,' and I said, 'What?'"

Yeah. It was THAT kind of video. The shame of each view and each share was suffocating.

"I wanted to disappear, you know," Garian said as she wiped a tear. However, she didn't want to hide when telling you about it.

"When I spoke with you, I was like, 'Yeah, I got to put a face behind my story,'" Henry said. "I didn't want to be blotted out. I didn't want to be where the camera was just only facing my body while I'm talking to you."

Her story is a lot like the other stories described in the stack of incident reports. It's also like the countless ones not reported to law enforcement because the victims are too embarrassed.

That's why data is often unreliable in cases like these.

For example, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office classified Garian's case as "suspicious activity." Others our I-Team found are listed as "harassment" or "theft by extortion."

There is a new law in Georgia -- the sexual extortion bill -- that makes it a crime to threaten someone to send explicit pictures. It also makes revenge porn illegal.

In one of those reports, an Augusta man met a woman on the dating app "Plenty of Fish." They had a "sexual conversation" and he sent "nude pictures of himself."
She found his younger brother on Facebook and threatened to send him and all his friends the photo if he didn't pay up.

It cost him $682.

Another man in Augusta paid $150 to keep his photos private.

We also saw a report from a family member in Hephzibah. According to the report, he was calling on behalf of the victim "who has autism." He was told to "wire $300" or a "very personal video" would be "released to the public."

Still, these reports can end up in different places and are mixed in with other crimes.

Meredith Anderson: "What did it feel like when you saw the pictures and the video?"
Garian Henry: "Like I was disgusting. Low-life. Worthless."
Meredith Anderson: "You said it felt like a rape?"
Garian Henry: "It felt like a -- yeah. It felt like I had been attacked. Physically. Clothes snatched off and violated."

She says she still doesn't know who's behind it. The phone that had the pics, video, and texts was lost. It's still lost. Facebook has shut the page down, and, to date, no one has tried to get money from her. Still, she had to pay a steep price.

"I had to shake off this suicide thought. Because it came. It came. It came," Henry said.

Henry is no stranger to adversity. She organized a Stop the Violence Rally in Augusta over the Summer. She wants her next rally to include victims of cyber bullying.

"It's a hurt like losing a loved one. That hurt - and it's you. It's like you burying yourself," Henry said. "I was sitting at my own funeral. In the front row. On the family side. And words can't describe that feeling."

Now, instead of tears, she's fighting back by telling you her story and by being the one who gets the last laugh.

Garian Henry: "I had looked at my picture, and I had to make a joke about it. I had to say, 'oh my gosh. I look pretty nice.'"
Meredith Anderson: "You took ownership."
Garian Henry: "Took ownership. You got to. You got to."

Henry says she was terrified about what her friends, her family, and her church would think of her, but they all rallied around her in support. She says if this has happened to you, don't hold this pain alone.

She's glad she didn't.

Copyright 2019 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.