Not OK: Modeling Website May Have Known About Lurking Sexual Predators

Here’s another reminder that the Internet is not always a safe place for women. Model Mayhem, a website meant to connect models with photographers and bookers, has ended up with a serious lawsuit for allegedly failing to inform site users that convicted rapists were targeting victims through its site.

Former Department of Homeland Security employee Lavont Flanders and porn actor Emerson Callum used Model Mayhem from 2006 to 2011 in order to find victims for filmed rapes. Callum and Flanders would set up a fake photo shoot with a model from the site by posing as agents, then drugging the models, filming their sexual assaults, and selling the videos. One victim of the horrendous crime, Forbes reports, helped land Callum and Flanders in prison with life sentences.

But not only were the two using the site to perpetrate crimes against users, the lawsuit also claims that the owners of Model Mayhem knew that there were criminal investigations going on regarding Flanders and Callum and did not inform customers. After surviving a sexual assault, an anonymous young model is taking Internet Brands, the company behind Model Mayhem, to court and suing for $10 million for the site’s failure to adequately warn users that predators could be active on the site.

“I couldn’t believe they knew these guys were there,” she told Forbes. “There should have been a warning on the site. They need to educate naïve people. This is every Internet company. It’s not just one website, it’s everyone.”

This suit is a big deal, not just because it’s a cautionary tale about the way that sexual violence is too often dismissed, but also because it could change the liability laws for big Internet companies. This suit could force online meet-up forums to take more responsibility when those meet-ups put users in harm’s way.

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