It was a phone call every parent dreads. Charlotte Laws heard her daughter’s voice tremble at the end of the line. And it took just four words to send her mind racing: ‘Mum, something horrible happened.’
Was Kayla in hospital? Had there been an accident?
The truth was far more sinister – as well as incomprehensible.
Graphic, topless images of Kayla, then 24, had been stolen from her computer by an anonymous hacker and posted on a sleazy website for the world to see.
The photos had been taken by Kayla in front of her bedroom mirror and were never intended to be shared publicly. They had been stored safely – or so Kayla had thought – on her laptop.
But in what felt like a humiliating assault, as well as an invasion of her privacy, the images had been accessed remotely by a stranger and uploaded to a website with more than 350,000 followers.
For Charlotte, this triggered a two-year battle to bring the man responsible to justice.
She went into what she calls ‘full mum meltdown mode’ and pursued an electronic trail to uncover her daughter’s tormentor, tracking him down to where he worked as a DJ, firing off legal letters and badgering the FBI until they used her 12-inch-thick file of evidence to put him behind bars.
Kayla, she learned, was far from his only victim. Although his website had started with stolen images, it quickly became a hub for so-called ‘revenge porn’ – a place where people, typically men, could share sexually explicit videos or photos of partners or ex-girlfriends without their consent in order to humiliate, shame or embarrass them.
Charlotte’s extraordinary crusade for justice has led to her being dubbed ‘the Erin Brockovich of revenge porn’ after the small-town legal clerk (played by Julia Roberts in the 2000 Oscar-winning film) who single-handedly took on a giant corporation responsible for poisoning the water in a rural American town.
Charlotte’s story, too, has been turned into a gripping Netflix series, The Most Hated Man On The Internet. The three-part drama, from the British production crew behind The Tinder Swindler, is being touted as the must-watch show of the summer and raises uncomfortable questions about safety in the digital age.
Charlotte, 62, who is married to an English barrister and lives in a Los Angeles suburb, says: ‘I did what any mum would do. I defended my child. Young people, mostly girls, are killing themselves over revenge porn.’
Graphic, topless images of Kayla, then 24, had been stolen from her computer by an anonymous hacker and posted for 350,000 to see Pictured: Kayla with mother Charlotte Laws
The number of victims of revenge porn have doubled in the UK over the past few years, exacerbated during lockdown. In April, a London Coroner’s Court heard how a 21-year-old business student plunged 80ft to her death a week after her boyfriend sent a video of her performing a sex act on him to a friend.
Charlotte says: ‘I hope this series sheds light on how revenge porn destroys lives. I also want it to offer hope you can fight back, like I did.’
A one-time Hollywood starlet who dated singer Tom Jones for three years, Charlotte was working as an investigator for an insurance company when her family’s world was turned upside down in 2012.
‘Kayla took the pictures in the privacy of her bedroom because she was trying to break into acting and she wanted some sexy shots,’ Charlotte says. ‘She was practising poses. She uploaded them to her computer and thought no more about it.
‘A few weeks later a friend spotted the topless pictures on a sleazy website. Kayla felt humiliated, shamed and thought her life was over.’
The police showed little interest. At the time there were no laws against the sharing of such images. So Charlotte turned detective.
The pictures, a search revealed, had been posted on IsAnyoneUp.com, run by someone hiding behind aliases on social media, including the name of his cat.
The founder claimed he had started the site ‘purely by chance’ after posting a raunchy photo of a woman he had slept with on a dormant website – only to discover 14,000 people had clicked on it. He realised he had stumbled across a business opportunity.
But while the man was anonymous, the women whose lives he ruined were publicly named, and even their addresses listed. Some photos had been sent in by ex-husbands and boyfriends, and at least two women were sacked from their jobs after the pictures appeared. One even lost custody of her children.
The man boasted online of being a ‘professional life-ruiner’ and compared himself to Charles Manson, the notorious cult leader and serial killer who brainwashed his followers.
Such was the website founder’s bravado that it didn’t take long before Charlotte found his real name – Hunter Moore, a 36-year-old who had set up the website from the basement of his parents’ home in Woodland, California, 400 miles from LA.
Charlotte says: ‘He was bragging all over the internet. This sleazeball was sitting in his parents’ basement, having found he could work with a computer hacker to steal pictures of innocent girls and make money.’
Charlotte believes Kayla’s pictures may have been used because she was Facebook friends with another girl whose intimate pictures had been posted on the site.
Once she had Moore’s name, she found a phone number and rang the address. But whoever answered repeatedly hung up.
Undeterred, Charlotte and her barrister husband sent a series of ‘cease and desist’ letters to Moore. But they seemed to only embolden him.
‘He was laughing at us,’ she recalls. ‘He replied to one legal letter with a picture of his penis.’
The ‘anonymous hack’ was Hunter Moore, a 36-year-old who had set up the website from the basement of his parents’ home in Woodland, 400 miles from LA Pictured: Hunter Moore in The Most Hated Man on the Internet
As Moore attracted more attention, his notoriety grew. He had 600,000 Twitter followers, and claimed his website had 350,000 subscribers with 30million page views a month, earning him a salary equivalent to $360,000.
‘He became something of a celebrity and was hosting parties where he worked as a DJ. So I went undercover in disguise to serve him papers,’ Charlotte says.
‘I tried to find someone who would take my case on. But there was no one. I went online, went public about who this man was and what he’d done to my family.
‘Meanwhile, this slimeball was giving magazine interviews and being portrayed as a hero.
‘At first, Kayla and my husband begged me not to get involved. They said he was dangerous and I couldn’t win. But I was determined to bring him down.’
This made little difference to Moore, and events took a sinister turn when Charlotte started getting death threats while Kayla was called a ‘slut’ for taking pictures of the kind her mum says ‘by today’s Kardashian standards, look tame’.
But slowly, Charlotte began to be contacted by other victims. ‘I started adding to my collection of evidence and the file was 12 inches thick,’ she says. After celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence fell victim to hackers who ‘stole’ allegedly compromising pictures from their phones and the FBI got involved, Charlotte saw her chance.
She says that although the FBI tried to fob her off, she told them: ‘So you take action if it’s Scarlett Johansson but not if it’s a regular girl like my daughter?’ This led her, she says, to be put in contact with a detective, and while an FBI investigation was started it dragged on for two years. All the while, other women were falling victim. As she waited for evidence to be collected in her daughter’s case, Charlotte helped more than 500 others who had similarly suffered at the hands of hackers or ex-boyfriends. Two young women, unconnected to the Moore case, killed themselves.
‘One woman was in pieces because images of a breast procedure were stolen from her doctor’s office,’ Charlotte says. ‘Every woman and girl I speak to is traumatised.
‘It should be classified as a sex crime. Women I’ve spoken with who were raped have said that having revenge porn made public was as bad, if not worse, than the sexual assault. With an assault they could choose not to talk about it. They could try to forget it for a short time. But with revenge porn, it’s out there for ever.
‘I’d get Kayla’s pictures taken down one day but they’d pop up on another site the next. This is about hating women, hurting women.’
In 2014, the FBI finally had enough to charge Moore with aggravated identity theft and aiding and abetting in the unauthorised access of a computer. They shut down his website, raided his parents’ house and seized his computers.
Hunter Moore, 36, boasted online of being a ‘professional life-ruiner’ and compared himself to Charles Manson as he had 600,000 Twitter followers, claimed his website had 350,000 subscribers with 30million page views a month, earning him a salary equivalent to $360,000
He pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail. He was released in 2017 and is believed to be back living in his parents’ home.
A co-conspirator was also jailed for hacking into Kayla’s computer.
The MoS made repeated attempts to contact Moore but he failed to respond. He has also refused to co-operate with filmmakers.
Kayla, now 34, is today a successful estate agent who is getting married next week. She is understandably keen to stay out of the limelight and – while fully supporting it – has chosen to play only a minimal part in the film.
‘She thinks it will harm her career,’ her mother says. ‘There is still such a stigma attached to this, like it’s the woman’s fault, even though she’s the victim.’
While her case helped introduce anti-revenge porn legislation in California she says laws in the UK and elsewhere cannot keep up with online sex-related abuses.
Several other distressing examples are on the rise, including ‘sextortion’, in which threats are made to expose sexual images online.
‘I’m still contacted by women every day and I expect that number to rise when the Netflix show is broadcast,’ she says. ‘I’m just a mum who defended her daughter, but I will make it my mission to defend anyone’s daughter.’
The Most Hated Man On The Internet streams on Netflix from July 27.