An aspiring model, known in court transcripts as Jane Doe No. 14, created a profile on a networking website called Model Mayhem. The website is targeted at persons within and looking to get into the modeling profession. Aspiring and working models upload photos and contact information, in the hopes that agents and talent scouts will contact them with work.
In February 2011, Doe was contacted by a man claiming to be a talent scout, Lavont Flanders. Doe accepted an invitation from Flanders to south Florida for a modeling audition. When she arrived in Florida for the audition, Flanders and another man, Emerson Callum, drugged her with a date rape drug to put her in a semi-catatonic state. The men proceeded to take turns raping her and recorded the activity on videotape. They then used the film for sale and distribution as pornography. Worse, this was not the first time the men have perpetrated this crime.
As the case unraveled, it was found that Lavont Flanders Jr. and Emerson Callum had already been indicted in similar claims. The men were using Model Mayhem to identify targets for the rape scheme as early as 2006, and were arrested and charged in 2007 with luring and victimizing at least seven women. The vulgar accounts continued to pour in, as some of the women testified that they woke up in their cars or hotels, bleeding or covered in vomit, drugged and unable to move, remembering only snippets of being sexually abused by a strange man. Others had no memory of the assaults and only began to piece together what happened when strangers tracked them down via phone or Facebook messages, lauding the victims on their pornographic performances.
In 2010, Internet Brands sued the two original developers of the site Donald and Taylor Waitts for failing to disclose the potential for civil suits arising from Flanders’ and Callum’s activities. This was 5 months before Doe was assaulted. Doe argued that by the time she was assaulted, the website operator Internet Brands knew about the rape scheme employed by Flanders and Callum and failed to warn her about the dangers of placing a profile on the website. She sued Internet Brands for failure to warn users under state law.
Internet Brands filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the plaintiff’s claim was barred under the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The trial court granted the website operator’s motion to dismiss, which Doe appealed. However about 50 women reported similar crimes by Flanders and Callum. Phone records showed they contacted 100 women in the year before federal agents arrested them in August.
Both men were sentenced to multiple life terms in federal prison. “I categorically and emphatically reject any suggestion that these women were in any way responsible for what happened to them,” the judge presiding over the case said. “Indeed, the effort to shift the blame to these women is shameless.”
The case for Doe’s suit against Internet Brands continues today.
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