Jane was looking forward to the start of high school. At the age of 14, a whole new world was suddenly opening up. She had recently lost one of her parents and wanted to put the grief and sadness behind her.
Her aunt insisted that Jane take several pictures to remember the first day of school. “I didn’t know that it wasn’t going to be the last photograph that I would be forced to take,” the girl says. “It wasn’t until the end of that first year [of high school] that something happened to me that no one would want to happen to their children.”
One night that year, Jane Doe – the fictitious name given to protect her identity – was on Snapchat. A guy she didn’t know started texting her.
“That particular night I felt… confident? Daring?” she recalls. By then, she was 15-years-old.
Finally, she laid down on her bed and took a picture of herself in a bra. She thought that everything would end there, especially since the guy she was texting was a stranger. But the next night, the same person wrote to her again: “You’re going to send me more [photos], right?” Jane told him no, it was a one time thing. “It’s not a question,” he answered, changing his tone. She stopped answering the messages, but after an hour, the guy sent her the exact same photo that she had sent him the night before.
Snapchat became popular because the images and posts that users share disappear after a short time. The app even warns users when screenshots are taken of their pictures.
Jane’s heart began to beat very hard. “Send more or everyone will see this,” he told her.
“In the months that followed, I became his property and did whatever he asked of me out of fear,” says Jane. “Every day involved a long list of photos and even videos that he demanded I send.”
As the days passed, the list grew longer and the requests more perverse. The more she resisted, the worse things got. Jane claims that, after a certain point, she stopped resisting. She decided that her revenge would be to gain his trust, make him lower his guard little by little and make him start giving details about who he was and where he lived.
After four months, Jane had gathered enough information to discover that her stalker’s name was Rubén Oswaldo Yeverino Rosales. He lived in Monterrey, in northern Mexico, about 1,500 kilometers from her home in Arizona.
Yeverino used multiple aliases on the internet. Sometimes he called himself Martin Joseph, other times Ramses Marin. He almost always hid behind usernames full of letters and numbers. He was of legal age, about six or seven years older than Jane. The complaint from the girl’s guardians was filed in May 2018, six months after the harassment began. By that point, Jane had stopped sleeping and was isolating herself from everyone, spending her nights complying with what was ordered. A forensic analysis of her phone revealed that she had sent around 600 pornographic images to her stalker.
The man also forced Jane to make Skype calls, which always included sexual acts against her will. Yeverino, however, started to show his face during the sessions. Jane was able to identify him from images obtained by the authorities from social media profiles and immigration documents. After verifying his identity, the agents obtained a warrant to review Yeverino’s digital accounts. His Hotmail address confirmed the trail of threatening emails he had sent; his Skype account brought up the long list of instructions he had prepared for his her. His Instagram and Snapchat profiles confirmed that he was a sexual predator and that Jane had not been his only victim. The investigation ultimately led to more than a hundred victims being discovered around the world.
Sextortion consists of obtaining intimate images from victims under the threat of making them public. It is an increasingly common sexual crime on the internet, where national borders are blurred and the arm of the law has trouble reaching perpetrators. Teenagers and young women are the recurring targets – individuals in limbo, discovering their sexuality, living between curiosity, taboo and shame. Tania Ramírez, executive director of the Network for Children’s Rights in Mexico (Redim), explains that sextortion often begins in the context of sexting – a legitimate practice if it is consensual between adults – which gradually degenerates into coercion, harassment and the false idea that the victims are to blame, that they chose to expose themselves in the first place.
Sextortion is an act of sexual and sexist violence. Ramírez says that there are two main motivations among those who exercise it. One is financial – many of the photographs obtained are sold on child pornography sites for high prices – and the other is power… the feeling of dominating another, overriding their will and taking advantage of their body.
“That is the perverse achievement of this criminal activity… it completely nullifies the victims, these girls,” Ramírez says. In Mexico, around 400,000 reports are filed each year denouncing child pornography, according to estimates by civil organizations. Sexual extortion was the most frequent digital crime in the country committed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The case in Arizona opened a Pandora’s box. Dozens of complainants were able to identify Yeverino as their aggressor. His criminal history could be traced back to 2015.
Jane Doe 2, from California, was harassed since she was 13 years old and abused by a man she only knew as Rubén for two-and-a-half years. The sextortionist used multiple digital platforms to send her photos to her classmates. When she found out, she attempted suicide.
Jane Doe 3, from South Carolina, was 12-years-old when it all started. Rubén sent her intimate images to friends and family after her parents found out she was being blackmailed. Jane Doe 12, from North Carolina, paid $500 in bitcoin to stop the harassment. Jane Doe, 14, from Missouri, sent 80 explicit photos to Rubén, who shared a list of other girls he had stalked as a threat. Jane Doe 60, from Oklahoma, discovered that her images and videos had been posted on a pornographic page on the dark web.
The case of Jane Doe 1 allowed Yeverino’s image to become clearer for investigators. In 2019, the predator was arrested in an operation in Monterrey and extradited to the United States. The agents had a search warrant to seize his computer and phone. Authorities found tens of thousands of files and recordings of the victimized girls. Of the more than 100 victims, about 80 were identified. The exact number of people affected and their nationalities have not been made public.
“I have had to take medication for six years for anxiety and depression,” says Jane Doe 33.
“I am ‘better’… I have to put that in quotes because to say that I have overcome the trauma would be a lie” says Jane Doe 12. In an emotional impact letter delivered to the court, Jane Doe 60 noted that she has “tried to commit suicide four times” as a result of Yeverino’s actions.
Yeverino’s psychiatric report detected traits of schizophrenia, as well as an inability to empathize and measure the damage of his crimes. On the internet, he was overwhelmingly violent, but in real life, he was an insecure man who dragged around the consequences of a traumatic childhood and a controlling father. His few sexual experiences had been with some of his cousins. This information was provided by his own lawyers, who signed an agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office in December and sought a reduced sentence of 25 years in prison.
Last week, a judge sentenced him to 34 years in prison for the production of child pornography. He must also be registered for life in the sex offender registry. The guilty plea, however, prevents him from being brought to trial again for what he did to the rest of the victims.
Crimes like these raise serious questions about parenting, schooling, law enforcement in the digital sphere and social media companies.
“Cases like this demonstrate the need for comprehensive sex education,” says Ramírez. “[Another] important thing is to always believe the boys and girls… [they need to] know that they are not alone. Parents must accompany them, strengthen their digital citizenship and open a channel of communication to talk about this,” she adds.
“Some of the girls he harassed didn’t seek help and the ones that did were ignored. No one knew who this guy was. Until now,” writes Jane Doe 1.
If not for her complaint, dozens of cases would have ended in a dead end, with investigators searching in the dark for someone they only knew as Rubén.
It was a bittersweet victory for her. “Even though he is behind bars, I still get messages daily from profiles pretending to be me and selling my photos,” says the young woman. “What happened… will haunt me forever.” She takes comfort in the fact that everything she went through served to catch her stalker and get some justice for herself and over a hundred other victims.