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Cyberstalk victim says she feared tormentor would kill her

FILE – This undated file photo provided by the Warren County Sheriff’s Department in Warrenton, Mo., let Juan Thompson. Thompson, a former journalist who admitted to cyberstalking ex-girlfriend Francesca Rossi, and the terrorizing of Jewish groups with threatening with a bomb, was sentenced Dec. 20, 2017, to five years in prison. Rossi says that she complained of Thompson’s online threats for almost a year and was afraid he would kill her. Experts say that the case shows that law enforcement has a long way to go. (Warren County Sheriff’s Department via AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly two dozen times, Francesca Rossi called law enforcement to complain that an ex-friend was harassing her online posting of naked images of her, sending notes to her bosses that they have a sexually transmitted disease and it is as if she was running weapons and the trade in child pornography.

But they could not stop and could not even make an arrest for almost a year, until the man, out of a national panic by posing as Rossi to make the bomb threats against the Jewish centers throughout the country. That showed in a large federal case that ended with her tormentor, Juan Thompson, was arrested within days and sentenced to five years in prison.

Rossi told The Associated Press in her first interview since the trial ended in December.

“It went on for months. I thought I was going to die and nobody could help me,” Rossi said. “In the end, the only way that my abuse was legitimized, because he went after such a large community of people, and because there is so much hysteria about it.”

Police officials didn’t comment on Rossi’s critique, except to say that her case was closed because of insufficient evidence to support a fee.

A GROWING CRIME

Legal and police experts say that her experience is an extreme example of how law enforcement is ill equipped to handle the growing threat of online crime, although laws have recently been passed in 38 states addressing cyberstalking and revenge porn.

“The reaction in general is: Ignore it and turn off the computer,” said Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor and author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.”

Four in 10 internet users being harassed online, and women disproportionately suffer, according to a Pew Research Center report. But only about 5 percent to report.

“Frank is a strong means to be individual, and they barely made out of this,” said her friend Sarah, Michael, 33. “Imagine when they have someone less strong, and as she had no money. Imagine some of the women who suffer from these who do not have the emotional resources, the family, the support. What happens to them?”

of the complexity in the Thompson case, for example, was that Thompson used 25 different devices that allowed him to mask his identity. That made the gathering of evidence difficult, the officials said. There are no fingerprints, no DNA, no surveillance images.

The non-profit Police Executive Research Forum recently released a report on the subject that is featured, among other things, that law enforcement agencies hire more people with more technological expertise.

“The internet is like the Wild West of the technology,” said Chuck Wexler, the group’s executive director. “It has no speed and no police.”

PERSISTENT HARASSMENT

Rossi told the AP that she met Thompson through an online dating site in autumn 2014. He worked as a journalist with The Intercept; as a social worker. They bonded over their commitment to the reform. And for a while, their relationship was great.

But in the spring of 2016, he’d moved into her Brooklyn apartment, and trouble came with him. They started with the harassing texts from ex-boyfriends. The wife of another ex-friend approached, saying they had given him a sexually transmitted disease, a process that turned out to be a hoax. Another posted a naked photo of her online.

Rossi was in a panic. She contacted Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer specializing in online harassment, and she quickly figured out that there’s only one man was behind the harassment: Thompson. He had posed as her ex-months. Rossi is of the opinion he was trying to make her feel bad, so that he could intimidate her.

“Juan was going through all my stuff and I had no idea,” said the 33-year-old Rossi. “He is in one way or another access. I never gave him access to my passwords. But he had everything on me. He had the reading of my texts and my e-mails for at least a year.”

Rossi broke up with him, but even worse.

Thompson called, e-mailing, and texting her relentlessly, ” she said. Sometimes, he posed as others, terrorizing Rossi and her family, including her 92-year-old grandmother. He called and wrote to her office. He used all of the major social media platform to trash her. He has even posted her information on a website where men promote violence against women.

“Technology gave him complete access to me,” she said. “Every time my phone rang, I felt sick. I mean, I thought he was going to kill me. I had the feeling that my life was over.”

NOWHERE TO TURN

But because she didn’t know his physical address, she could not get a permanent restraining order. The police in her local precinct closed Rossi harassment case in October 2016. The FBI was still slowly looking into the case.

Meanwhile, there are other NYPD divisions surveys Rossi after someone called with a tip that she was going to shoot at a police station. A detective notified her they had received a threat against her life. The police showed up again after an anonymous report she was active guns.

Police officials noted it was necessary to measure the threats against the police stations or public institutions.

“Detectives will thoroughly investigate that claim until we determine there is no danger,” said Lt John Grimpel, a police spokesman.

Rossi said she told anyone who would listen that Thompson was behind the back.

“They said that they couldn’t help me until it was worse.”

THE ARREST

Eventually, it was the worse. More than 150 bomb threats were reported at the Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 states and two Canadian provinces. It was national news. The authorities blame on an 18-year-old Israeli-American Jewish hacker arrested in Israel last March. But federal officials said Thompson, a dozen of the threats.

Thompson was arrested in his hometown of St. Louis in the early last March. By June he would have pleaded guilty to making hoax threats and cyberstalking. His lawyer did not respond to the calls for a response.

At the sentencing in December, the 33-year-old Thompson, apologize, admit, “There are wounds … that will probably never heal.”

A compound Rossi, wearing a T-shirt that read: “Believe women” in the spell of the courtroom. “I know that there are other Juans out there, do this with other women,” she said.

“The police have reduced my abuse because my life-threatening attacks came from phones and computers. This is what domestic violence looks like now.”

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