Holly Carter, a Fresno businesswoman running for the District 6 seat on the Fresno City Council, announced this week that she has asked the state Department of Justice to investigate a website using personal photos of her taken during her recovery from breast cancer. She says the site is meant to “humiliate and degrade” her.
All three of the other District 6 candidates – psychologist and former City Councilman Garry Bredefeld, Elvis tribute performer Jeremy Pearce and college student Carter Pope II – have denied involvement with the website.
In a statement Wednesday, Carter described the website as an example of illegal “cyber-exploitation” and alleged that political opponents are responsible for the website. The site includes photos originally posted online in other places by Carter “taken during my reconstruction that were used to help inspire other women” fighting cancer, as well as links to two news stories reporting on campaign controversies involving Carter.
“It is inconceivable that one of the campaigns opposing me is willing to break the law in the name of winning an election,” Carter says. “It is clear that the manipulation and placement of these illegally obtained photos are meant to humiliate and degrade me, and undermine the integrity of my candidacy.” She added that she plans to take legal action against whoever is responsible for the site.
The site spurring Carter’s complaint was registered on March 24 at GoDaddy.com through a company called Domains By Proxy LLC – a company offering private domain registration to conceal a website owner’s identity – in Scottsdale, Ariz.
In California, cyber-exploitation is defined as “the non-consensual distribution and publication of intimate photos or videos.” The California Penal Code states that “it is illegal for any person to intentionally distribute an image of an intimate body part or parts of another identifiable person … when the persons agree or understand that the image shall remain private.”
The most revealing of the three photos on the page was publicly posted three years ago to a Facebook page, The Face of Cancer, belonging to a nonprofit Carter founded. None of the photos, however, show body parts specified in the law.
Carter says she has received calls from male strangers to volunteer for her campaign after seeing the photos on the website, causing her to fear for her safety and her children’s and “impeding my ability to openly campaign with new volunteers.”
Carter demanded that the website be removed, but as of Friday, it was still online. In the meantime, Carter’s personal Facebook profile had been taken down, but Facebook pages for her campaign and for her business, Carter & Co. Communications, remained active, as was The Face of Cancer page.
Carter’s statement came six days before Tuesday’s primary election. The two top vote-getters will qualify for a runoff election in November, unless one of the candidates wins an outright majority of votes cast by northeast Fresno residents next week.