Toronto photographer accused of posting revealing pictures of women without consent
Ren Bostelaar, an amateur photographer, issued an apology on Facebook after he was confronted by at least one of the women involved.
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A popular Toronto photographer is being accused of posting revealing photos and contact information of women he knows in online forums meant to shame, expose and harass — which the women say violated their trust and was done without their consent.
Ren Bostelaar, an amateur photographer and married father behind the blog Bike Rack TO, issued an apology on Facebook after he was confronted by at least one of the women involved. That post sparked fierce reaction in recent days, including from those discovering photos not meant for public view had been posted alongside their identities and contact information.
Those photos and identifying details appeared on at least one well-known site, 4chan, which has been called one of the darkest corners on the Internet and permeated public knowledge when it became host to a stockpile of nude photos of celebrities in 2014.
Toronto Police confirmed Monday they are investigating Bostelaar for criminal harassment after a complaint was made Sunday.
Bostelaar told Torstar News Service, through an emailed statement from criminal defence lawyer Sam Goldstein, that “the photographs he posted had been posted by the women themselves to public social media websites such as Facebook, Reddit or Tumblr” and that he “did not deliberately disseminate private details of these woman on the Internet with malicious intent. He is deeply sorry for what he did.”
Torstar spoke with seven women, all who said they know Bostelaar personally and who detailed how their photos and contact information had been unknowingly shared without their consent.
“It has come to light that I’ve been engaging in a reprehensibly bad behaviour (sic) and I would like to make a public apology and take responsibility for my actions,” Bostelaar wrote.
His Facebook account and several of his other profiles appear to have since been deactivated. Torstar saw multiple screenshots of his posts.
Bostelaar went on to admit he had “participated in discussion threads” on the popular site 4chan, specifically the well-known “/b/” thread known for nude photos posted by anonymous users on any given day.
“To every woman who was made to feel unsafe because of my actions, I’m deeply sorry. I’m most sorry to my family, and to the close friends whose trust I betrayed the most,” Bostelaar wrote.
Goldstein said Bostelaar is open to meeting with the women affected and apologizing personally.
Bostelaar, who worked for the camera equipment retail chain Henry’s, is no longer employed with the company, a spokesperson confirmed Monday.
“Henry’s is taking these allegations very seriously and are conducting a thorough investigation,” an emailed statement said.
What happened to the women is an example of “doxing” or “doxxing” — the gathering of or trolling through otherwise private or hard-to-find documents, including social media accounts, and maliciously publishing names, phone numbers, addresses and other information relating to a particular target online.
The posts about the women Torstar spoke to show anonymous users claiming to have stockpiled images, trying to identify them and in some cases specifically requesting or offering nude pictures.
Bostelaar, through his lawyer, said he did not participate in the “doxxing.” He did not respond to specific allegations about photos that were privately shared ending up on 4chan.
“It completely caught me off guard because I couldn’t think of anybody who would have any reason to have it out for me, especially so drastically,” said Sophia Sadoughi, one of the women who agreed to be quoted.
Sadoughi said a friend informed her that her handle from Snapchat, a photo sharing app, had been posted in a list on 4chan encouraging men to contact women for nude pictures.
Sadoughi said after getting in touch with the other women and believing Bostelaar was a common connection, she confronted him demanding he publicly apologize.
A second woman who asked to only be identified by her first name, Rian, said when she dated Bostelaar she had sent him nude photos from the neck down that no one else had access to. Those photos appeared on 4chan last year in various threads viewed by Torstar that included her full name, area code and photos of the nude pictures next to identifiable pictures of her.
“These are threads where we were being discussed like worthless objects, called sluts and traded like baseball cards. They trade and auction off or just post any nudes they have,” that woman said. “I lost a lot of faith in humanity and men in the last 24 (hours).”
Another woman, who asked to remain anonymous, described feeling “violated,” “betrayed” and “hurt” after discovering identifying posts about her with some images she had not consented to being posted anywhere.
“If not already triggering, it’s certainly scarring to have to read through these threads to have to find not only our own photos, the compromising information shared, and what people have said about us in these threads, but also see how many people participate in these threads, and how many women this happens to,” the woman wrote to Torstar.
A fourth woman, who worried those occupying forums like 4chan would come after her for speaking out, said she’s known Bostelaar for several years and that photos were taken off her private Facebook page which can only be seen by friends. The anonymous 4chan posts from several years ago, which have since been archived, were viewed by Torstar.
The woman said she received unsolicited messages to her Facebook account, which she ignored, and didn’t think about the incident until she saw Bostelaar’s apology “and it all kind of clicked,” she said.
The women described Bostelaar as someone they believed to be a strong feminist, supporting body-positive and sex-positive culture.
“He was a ‘great’ guy all about equal rights and women’s rights,” Rian said. “He really had a double life.”
The Bike Rack photos, posted on Tumblr, saw both men and women confidently posing with their two-wheel ride of choice, some clothed and others partially or completely naked.
Bostelaar would let the subjects choose which shots they felt comfortable having posted online, one woman who participated in a photoshoot told Torstar.
A post by one of the site’s other administrators said they were “shocked and deeply concerned to hear about the reprehensible actions of Ren Bostelaar” and that the blog team did not condone the behaviour.
“I have chosen to remove all photos in respect of the privacy of all our participants,” the lone post said.
Bostelaar is also connected to the popular online parody account Stats Canada, which publishes joke factoids not connected with the government agency.
On Sunday, the account posted a message naming Bostelaar saying: “We are shocked and deeply concerned by the recent actions of Ren Bostelaar. This kind of behaviour is completely inexcusable and does not reflect the values of Stats Canada. Our thoughts are with anyone this may have affected.”
Humans of Toronto