Rachel Gronback, a 31-year-old fashion blogger in New Zealand, knows she’s far from the only female to find herself victimized online, the target of perverse cruelties.
“The disturbing reality of being a woman on the internet,” Gronback wrote in December on her fashion blog for plus-size women, Rachel Gee Bee, “is the almost casual sexual aggressions we’re subjected to on a regular basis. I don’t remember the last time I went an entire week without receiving an unsolicited photo of male genitals.”
Sometimes enough is enough.
When Gronback discovered that a spate of sexually explicit posts and pornographic photos was being sent her way by a young man whom she eventually identified as a high school student in Lawrence, she decided to take action.
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She contacted the young man’s girlfriend, mother and high school, Veritas Christian School, where the student played football. (He no longer attends the school, a spokeswoman said this week.) And, from New Zealand, Gronback filed a criminal complaint in January with the Lawrence Police Department.
Recent email between Gronback and Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson indicate that he is moving forward with possible charges against the young man, who is not a minor. His name is not being used because he has not been charged.
Branson has assigned senior assistant district attorney C.J. Rieg to the case.
“She will be prepping the case to file and then filing it in the near future,” Branson wrote to Gronback on June 17.
The charge would be a class A misdemeanor: harassment by telecommunications device. Under Kansas law, it is illegal to “knowingly make or transmit any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image or text that is obscene, lewd, lascivious or indecent.” A conviction can bring up a year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
The question of whether Branson would file a charge had for a while hinged on the question of whether Gronback would travel 12,000 miles to Lawrence if the misdemeanor case went to trial. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the accused the right to face his or her accuser.
Gronback started a fundraising campaign. As news of her case spread across Lawrence, a stranger, 67-year-old Ron K. Wilson, stepped up. In June, the retired U.S. Air Force veteran sent Gronback a $3,000 check for travel expenses for her and a travel companion.
“I believe in the golden rule,” Wilson said by telephone this week. “I was taught by my parents, Boy Scouts, all this stuff. Sometimes you have to help others.
“She’s in a foreign country and probably thinks Americans are all jerks. Well, they’re not.”
Wilson said he told Gronback that if the case does not go to trial but instead is settled with a plea, she can keep the money.
“If I have it in savings, that means I don’t need it,” said Wilson, who also donates to shelters for battered women.
He said the issue of online sexual harassment did not trigger his largesse.
“If you need a helping hand, you need a helping hand,” he said. “It doesn’t matter why.”
Gronback said by email that she is now just waiting for the case to move forward. She said that over many days, she received rank messages that referred to her anatomy and to graphic sexual acts. She also received photos of male genitalia.
The county prosecutor’s office said its office is working with cellphone providers to verify users and recipients.
Although the alleged crime is only a misdemeanor, Gronback thinks it is important to stand up for what she feels is just.
“I personally feel that to walk away now would be contributing to a culture that minimizes this type of behavior,” she wrote. “It’s important that this incident is recognized as a crime and that people who are harassing others online are reminded that there are consequences and they may be breaking the law.”
Since filing her complaint, Gronback said, public reaction has been “hugely positive.”
“The local people of Lawrence have mostly been kind and supportive and outraged on my behalf…,” she wrote. “Of course, there are people who don’t agree with my approach, particularly friends and family of the young man concerned.”