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Victim: Viewing child porn isn’t harmless

Ashley Reynolds wants people who think viewing child pornography is harmless to think again.

“I think people who think it’s not a crime to look at child pornography are ignorant because they’re not thinking about what the child had to go through,” Reynolds said. “It’s damaging.”

Reynolds knows only too well. Now 20, the Arizona woman was victimized five years ago, starting when she was 14, by a Florida man who extorted her and hundreds of other girls around the country to send him vulgar pictures of themselves.

Lucas Michael Chansler, 31, was sentenced earlier this month to 105 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to nine counts of producing child pornography.

Chansler told detectives he targeted children because adult women were “too smart” to fall for his scheme. Investigators found thousands of videos and photos on his computers, including recordings of girls crying and pleading with him to stop and one girl holding a handwritten sign with a single word: “rape.”

The Tampa Tribune has a policy against naming victims of sex offenses. But Reynolds wants to be public because she wants to advocate for victims and to educate people about the real children who are damaged by child pornography.

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Reynolds says she’s not sure how Chansler found her online, but she suspects it has something to do with a video chat program she and her friends used for a while, the now-defunct Stickam, which she says was her only online activity that was publicly viewable. She had a Myspace account that was private.

After she had moved on from Stickam, Reynolds said, “I received a message from a random person on Myspace, and it said something about needing to open the message, ‘I have naked pictures of you.’ ... I didn’t even bother to open it. I didn’t know who the person was. So I ignored it.”

A few weeks later, she says, she received a text message on her AOL instant messaging account.

“It was him. I had no idea who he was. I was just confused.”

He told her he had naked pictures of her and was going to send them to her friends unless she took more pictures and sent them to him. Reynolds said she was petrified. She feared he had possibly caught her changing clothes in front of her web camera. She said she felt she had done something wrong, even though she describes herself as “a good girl” who always follows the rules.

But she didn’t want to get in trouble. Chansler sent her descriptions of seven photographs he wanted her to take, some of which were very vulgar.

She was at the home of a friend of a relative, so she says she made an excuse about needing to make a phone call. Thinking he would leave her alone if she did what he asked, she went into the bathroom and took the pictures.

She says she made “ugly faces,” trying to be as unattractive as possible.

“Imagine the worst anxiety attack, but without being able to show any emotion,” she says. She didn’t tell anyone what was happening. She just wanted it all to go away.

But, she said, he continued to pester her. He constantly sent her messages wanting more pictures. The pictures she sent were too blurry. He knew who her friends were. He was going to send them the pictures he had.

She tried ignoring him or telling him her mother was mean. “I made up so many lies,” she says.

But he was relentless. And she kept trying to appease him. She says she was sending him 60 pictures a day.

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On her 15th birthday, she said, she took vulgar pictures of herself to send to her tormentor just like she was doing every day for four or five months. She tried to challenge him; she tried to ignore him; but he threatened her.

He sent her links to her friends’ profiles to prove he knew who they were.

“I didn’t tell anyone until my mom was snooping on my Myspace like a good parent should,” she says. “I was at a school function and she went to pick me up from it. She texted me. She sounded so serious. … It was the quietest I’ve ever heard anything when she picked me up from that club from school. I remember thinking my dog died.”

When she got home, her parents sat her down near her computer and her mother pulled up her Myspace messages and asked what they were.

“I think I just broke down,” Reynolds said. “I’m not a liar. I will do anything to avoid having to lie about something when I got caught for doing something wrong, I thought it was me. I didn’t know how to explain it to them so they would understand.”

Her father, she says, was furious. He wanted to call the police. But Reynolds says she was afraid because she had heard that people who had been caught “sexting” could go to jail. She was terrified she would get in trouble. She started to cry.

But they did go to law enforcement, and the FBI began an investigation. Agents, she says, told her to completely stop all her social media activities so as not to compromise the investigation.

After Chansler was arrested and charged in federal court, he was found to be mentally ill. For a time, he was deemed incompetent to stand trial. Eventually, he pleaded guilty. Reynolds went to court to speak at his sentencing with three other victims.

That’s where she learned her pictures were found on multiple routers.

“I just broke down and lost it in the courtroom,” she says.

“That’s a problem for me, because since first grade, I wanted to be a journalist,” she says. “My life’s goal has always been to be a news anchor. And I have to worry about my pictures being out there exposed on the Internet.”

She says she abandoned her dream of going into journalism. She says she lost her self confidence. She used to be outgoing, she says. Now, “I don’t like being in front of people.”

But she says she’s much better off than some of the other victims, girls who turned to drugs or thoughts of suicide.

One of the girls wrote a letter to the judge describing how she would come home from school and look for places to hang a noose.

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Reynolds even has compassion for Chansler’s family. She approached them in the courtroom and told them, “I’m sorry for them, I know you looked at him as your son, and I understand you have to be on his side, basically, and they have to deal with basically losing a family member. … Seeing someone who did such a horrible thing to so many people, you get so angry and then you see him and realize he’s gone; he’s stuck in confinement for the rest of their life. They don’t get a normal life. They don’t get to see their family.”

Reynolds said she and the other victims had been told by the FBI to be prepared for Chansler not to say anything at his sentencing. But he surprised everyone, she said.

“I want to say thank you to the witness who said sorry to my family,” she quoted him saying.

It affected her. “I broke down again.”

Chansler, she said, deserves the sentence he got and should never be free. But she has compassion for him because he’s mentally ill.

“I’ve forgiven him,” she says. “I know it’s something that shouldn’t be forgiven.”

She said the forgiveness is more for herself because her anger gives him too much control over the rest of her life.

By withholding forgiveness, she said, “you’re giving him unnecessary power. ... I’m Christian. I have big faith. I know Jesus would have forgiven him and I have to as well.”

But for those who look at child pornography in the privacy of their homes, Reynolds says, they should know better.

“Shame on you,” she said.”

For victims, she said, “it’s psychologically damaging. It’s not fair. People think victims of child pornography are not touched. It’s not like rape. It’s just overlooked. … They don’t realize what we’re doing when we have to send those pictures. We’re doing it ourselves. We’re forced to. ... We could not say no.”

Reynolds said the people who look at the pictures “are dads and brothers and sons.” She wants to tell them, “This could be your sister.”

They are creating the demand, the marketplace that is being catered to by the child pornography producers and extortionists.

“You’re contributing to it. You can’t be a law-abiding citizen if you’re contributing to extortion,” Reynolds said. “People send out those pictures and make them public because of people who view them.”

[email protected]

813-259-7837

Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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