cyber harassment

Cyberstalking Victim Calls Out NYPD for Failing to Protect Her in Powerful Court Statement

Photo: Luis Enrique Carmona Perlaza/EyeEm/Getty Images

Former journalist Juan Thompson was sentenced today to 60 months in jail after pleading guilty to cyberstalking and making fake bomb threats against Jewish community centers and other organizations in January and February of 2017.

Thompson made the threats in the name of his ex-girlfriend Francesca Rossi, a New York City social worker. According to the FBI, Thompson’s actions were part of an elaborate revenge campaign against Rossi.

At Thompson’s sentencing on Wednesday, Rossi told the court the NYPD failed to protect her until the entire country was also “terrorized.”

For the first time, Rossi is speaking out about her experience, and she has shared her victim’s impact statement exclusively with the Cut.

According to Rossi’s account, the abuse began shortly after she started dating Thompson. For months, Rossi received threatening texts from her ex-boyfriends, but soon realized it was actually Thompson posing as these men. (Around this time, Thompson was fired from his job as a reporter at the Intercept for fabricating sources.)

Rossi said she broke up with Thompson, but the harassment just got worse. Rossi told the court that for nearly a year, Thompson contacted Rossi incessantly: He sent her death threats; posed as strangers threatening to end her life; demanded payment for naked pictures; posted her picture, address, and phone number on websites and encouraged people to attack her; and told her employers she possessed child porn. But when she went to the police, she was told there was nothing they could do.

“The reality is that I asked for help from law enforcement over 20 times,” Rossi said. “I asked for restraining orders to stop him. I was told by police, verbatim, ‘It will get worse and then we can try to help.’”

It did. Thompson told the NYPD that Rossi was planning to “shoot up” a Brooklyn police station, and emailed a news station with a death threat against her and the NYPD’s chief of police. Then Thompson began calling in bomb threats against Jewish community centers during a period when these threats were on the rise, and the FBI got involved. He was arrested within a month.

“The charges of ‘cyberstalking’ and ‘hoax threats’ Juan pled guilty to are inextricably linked,” Rossi said. “If the police had recognized the stalking and abuse as domestic violence when I reported it, many times, hundreds of people’s lives would be different.”

“This is not an ‘internet crime,’ technology may have facilitated it, but all of this occurred in real life,” Rossi added. “The police diminished my abuse because my life-threatening attacks came from phones and computers. This is what domestic violence looks like now. My abuse was not legitimized until an entire community, and the country was terrorized.”

Read Francesca Rossi’s Full Statement:

“I stand here in front of you today, grateful to be alive. Men like Juan Thompson usually end up murdering their victims. He stalked, harassed and threatened me with such insidious methods, I feared for my life. Every day. Despite being present today at his sentencing, I’m not convinced that he still won’t try to kill me.

We are here today because Juan Thompson threatened 12 Jewish Community Centers, in my name, as a part of his abusive tactics aimed at destroying my life. We are here because domestic terrorism is rooted in violence against women.

Now think to yourself, how many times during the day does your phone vibrate, with an alert about an email, text, post, status update, phone call …imagine each time you receive an alert, your mind goes blank, and your body becomes paralyzed in fear and you can’t breathe — because each of these alerts is caused by a person who is threatening to harm you, and everyone you know.

When I met Juan Thompson, I thought I had met the perfect man. He was charming, intelligent, handsome — he was a passionate journalist who said he could change the world through his words. He said all the right things. We fell in love over dinners and deep conversations about social justice.

Still, a seed of doubt began to grow in my mind. Although the media coverage of my story has reported that Juan’s abuse began when I ended our partnership, the reality is that Juan was actively abusing me while we were in a relationship, and living together. His pattern of impersonating sources and defrauding people wasn’t limited to his work — he spent the entirety of our relationship using those same tactics to isolate, shame and abuse me.

After a year together, things started to fall apart and the real Juan emerged. He was accused of plagiarism and falsifying sources by his employer and was immediately fired. His public persona and career were ruined in an instant. I assumed the role of supportive partner and stood by his side, believing his cover story and dismissing the accusations of fraud. He had an excuse for everything — and I believed him.

Juan’s campaign was methodical and extensive. While we were living together, I spent months believing that ex-boyfriends were stalking and threatening me. I received an onslaught of texts, emails, and phone calls with horrible false accusations about me.

A nude picture of me was found on Facebook, posted by an impersonated ex-boyfriend as his profile picture. I received a lawsuit, supposedly filed by an ex’s wife, falsely alleging that I had spread an STI to her husband and therefore to her. I didn’t know it was a fake until we found out the lawyer who purportedly filed it had been impersonated.

During this time, I sought support from Juan, unaware that he was directing and inflicting the emotional turmoil I was experiencing. He constantly compared himself to these men and harped on their supposed transgressions. I started to feel paranoid, not understanding why so many of my exes were stalking and trying to hurt me.

When I retained a lawyer to pursue a case against the ex-boyfriend who had supposedly posted revenge porn, she asked me a sobering question: “Are you certain that this wasn’t actually done by your current boyfriend?” I was shocked at the possibility — and to learn that New York State does not have a revenge porn law. “You’d be surprised,” she explained, “the majority of people who experience this kind of manipulation are actually being stalked by their current partner.”

She was right. The man I trusted and shared my home with was actively trying to destroy me. It’s hard to explain how I felt when I realized that all of the harassment I had endured was actually perpetrated by the man I was in love with. My prior months of torment flashed before me as I realized that Juan was behind all of it, receiving vicarious pleasure through my psychological pain. I felt like my insides were being ripped apart as my mind shut down from its attempts to process the horrific reality.

I had no idea this was only the beginning of the nightmare. The shock never really wore off, but the terror set in. And I have lived in fear for my life every day since.

I ended my relationship with Juan as soon as my lawyer confirmed he had authored the fake lawsuit. He refused to believe it was over and would not leave my apartment. I wanted him out of my life and I believed that breaking up would end his torment. Juan only escalated.

Every day for the next nine months, the life I loved and had worked so hard to build became unrecognizable. My joy and passion was taken from me. I felt no emotion other than fear and dread about what would happen next.

Juan went after me where he thought he could hurt me the most. I’ve dedicated 15 years of my life to my career as a social worker. I work with vulnerable clients and they trust me with their lives. I am passionate about the work I do with, and for them. Juan knew this. When he lost direct access to me, he began to attack me in my professional world.

The day after I broke up with Juan, he tried to get me fired. He repeatedly contacted my agency’s senior management team while posing as multiple journalists and claimed to be investigating me for various professional and ethical infractions. He said I had been pulled over for drunk driving, he said I was being investigated for spreading an STI to numerous partners, he said I bought drugs from my clients — any one of which I could have been fired for. None of which were true. Because I had already informed my employer of the situation, they were on alert for suspicious emails and phone calls. They refused to engage with Juan’s fake personas, which only further antagonized him.

He began harassing my supervisors, our board of directors, my co-workers and employees for the next nine months. Through the personas he invented, he attempted to extort tens of thousands of dollars from the agency. He sent pictures of guns to Human Resources alleging that they were mine, and that I was the one threatening him. He accused me of being anti-Semitic and racist. He sent faxes, emails, postings, made up news articles, and phone calls in attempts to get me to lose my job. And it didn’t stop there — Juan made similar accusations to the professional social work board I am licensed under, resulting in an investigation that could have jeopardized my entire career.

On top of managing the intensity of my workload, I had to learn how to cope with receiving threatening emails in my work inbox all day, every day. In between stabilizing my clients’ emotional crises, I struggled to keep from drowning myself as I received emails from Juan with pictures of me, allegedly linked to sex tapes he threatened to expose. Which made me fear he had secretly recorded me. While sitting at my desk, I would receive emails with subjects lines such as “this bullets for you slut” or “your life will be destroyed.” He sent me my family’s home addresses and told me “they were next.” When my boss would call me, I didn’t know if it was work related or because they had received another threat against me from Juan.

Every day I go to work knowing that my bosses and co-workers know personal and private things about my life and have seen images that I didn’t invite them into. That humiliation cannot be undone.

What I was experiencing was Intimate Partner Violence, at work and in my personal life. It is petrifying because the person you love becomes the person you fear. I had no respite from his torment. Every single day, Juan texted, called, and emailed me relentlessly. Sometimes he would pose as a friend or family member of his, like his mom or a fabricated best friend, claiming “he loved me and he never meant me harm.” Sometimes he would pose as a person trying to extort me and demand payment or else naked pictures and videos of me would be posted all over the internet. Sometimes he would pose as strangers, threatening to end my life — and sometimes he would call, as himself, claiming he had been framed. And when I didn’t respond, his cycle would start again — apology, extortion, threat, denial.

I could not think about anything else. I felt like a shell of a person, watching myself shrink deeper into the psychological torture I was experiencing.

When he didn’t get a response from me, he took to any media outlet he could get to listen and defamed me publicly. He even went as far as faking his own near death. He emailed news outlets inflammatory fake stories about me. He made Tumblr pages about me and any man I had dated, complete with pictures and references to STI’s. He filmed videos on YouTube about me, and then posted videos of him commenting on the grotesque stories he had developed. He did these things as himself, as fake personas he had invented complete with pictures and profiles, and as people he impersonated. Technology gave him an omnipresence over my life. Beyond phone calls, emails and texts, he used every digital platform imaginable to harass me — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, OKCupid, Tumblr, YouTube, Venmo, and Google. Every time my phone buzzed, I panicked. When I thought it couldn’t get worse, he “doxed” me on 8chan, a website known for hosting child pornography and where men promote violence against women, including rape and murder. He posted my picture, home and work addresses and phone numbers, urging the websites users to target me. He crowdsourced his attacks on me. I felt like the walls were closing in. Everywhere I turned, Juan was there. Waiting to destroy my life, career, relationships, and probably kill me.

While coping with the fear and trauma that I was personally dealing with on a daily basis, I received calls, texts, and emails from my family and friends whom Juan had also targeted with his methods. I was left to worry about how I could manage going to work every day and dealing with the reality of my life, while also managing the fact that Juan’s terror was spreading to so many people around me, and at times, their workplaces and their extended families. That I know of, Juan went after at least 47 people in my life. Sometimes it was someone as close to me as my 92-year-old grandmother, calling me afraid for her safety and mine. Or my mother, receiving emails of a photo of my face, with a gun sight target superimposed on it demanding payment. People distantly linked to me were receiving emails about me from Juan or someone that Juan was impersonating. He stalked other people AS me, and to this day I’ll never know how many people he did that with. Each time I learned Juan had abused someone else, I was triggered and reminded of my own trauma, and I was worried about their safety as well as my own. Based on the escalation of email threats I had been receiving, I was constantly fearful that my family, my friends, my employer, and my clients, were in as much danger as I was.

He tried to take away everything and everyone that was important to me. Separation and isolation are central aspects of intimate partner violence, and acted as the foundation for Juan’s campaign. Most people didn’t understand what I was going through and distanced themselves from me; others were becoming victims and getting fatigued by the vicarious, secondary, and direct trauma. Sympathetic loved ones would continually ask me “Well, why hasn’t he been arrested yet?” not understanding that these obvious crimes were not being legally distinguished as domestic violence. Everyone watched as Juan’s abuse escalated and my life grew more terrifying.

The reality is that I asked for help from law enforcement over 20 times. I asked for restraining orders to stop him. I was told by police, verbatim, “It will get worse and then we can try to help.” Because he was using the internet as his method of violence, the police did not recognize the severity of harm. They couldn’t or wouldn’t do the investigative work because Juan was masking his identity through anonymous email accounts, VPNS, and the TOR browser, making his threats, in their minds, untraceable. I watched him escalate every day. Yet the police were very responsive to Juan, believing his false accusations when they came to investigate me, not him.

Five months before Juan’s arrest, he sent a threat to a Brooklyn police station, stating I was planning to quote “shoot up” the precinct. The NYPD Intelligence Division tracked me down in the middle of my workday to assess the validity of this threat. They left assured that I was not who had made the threat but they could not verify and locate the person who had, despite me telling them it was undoubtedly Juan Thompson. Two weeks later, he emailed a news station with a death threat against me and the Chief of Police. This truly solidified my fear that Juan was trying to kill me. Soon after, the NYPD firearms division showed up at my apartment to investigate me for selling guns. If the police had believed that I was planning a violent attack on a NYC police station with my arsenal of alleged guns, I could have been seriously harmed, or worse. I know that was Juan’s goal. He was now using law enforcement as a weapon against me.

Each time I came into contact with the police, I was fearful of what would happen, due to Juan’s continued escalation of violence framing me to law enforcement agencies. I felt paralyzed, hopeless and powerless, every moment of my life. Even so, I had no other recourse and I continued to ask them for help. Each time I told the officers that I knew my abuser’s name and I believed it was going to get worse. When the FBI showed up at my apartment because Juan had used my name to threaten a Jewish Community Center in San Diego, I was petrified and enraged. I handed the FBI a 31-page timeline chronicling each threat Juan had made against me and all the people in my life. The FBI said to me, “He’s escalating.” I had been experiencing this level of abuse for nine months. Four days later, Juan was arrested for making 8 threats against Jewish Community Centers, while pretending to be me. I have learned from the media that it was actually 12 centers.

Juan devoted over an entire year to destroying my life. He painted me as an anti-Semite, a racist, a drunk, a slut, a drug dealer, a child pornographer, and a gun runner. He did everything that he could to instill terror in my life. Computers, phones, and tablets all became the apparatus for his abuse. The police confiscated 25 electronic devices from Juan when he was arrested. I will never know the full extent of his harassment, the content he disseminated and whatever else he may have done in my name. I do know that as a result of him pretending to be me and stalking others, he has ended marriages, targeted families, damaged relationships, threatened the police, and engaged in domestic terrorism against Jewish communities nationwide. He struck fear into the heart of the Jewish community in his vendetta against me. These “hoax threats” were not victimless pranks — they altered the course of hundreds of people’s lives. We still don’t know that Juan wouldn’t have carried out his threats.

The abuse and victimization that I was subjected to is not unusual. Intimate Partner Violence needs more legal attention, given that 93 percent of female homicides are committed by a man the victim knows. We know that in the past year, each man who has committed domestic terrorism has a history of domestic violence. The charges of “cyberstalking” & “hoax threats” Juan pled guilty to are inextricably linked. If the police had recognized the stalking and abuse as domestic violence when I reported it, many times, hundreds of people’s lives would be different.

Today I speak to you as Francesca Rossi not “Victim-1”. There is no way I can articulate here the pain I felt daily as Juan threatened my entire existence. I’m here because I have the resources and strong support, but the long-range effects of this trauma are undeniable. Part of me thinks that Juan is probably taking pleasure in hearing the pain he caused me right now — he always had a voyeuristic enjoyment in my suffering — why else would he have anonymously terrorized me when we slept in the same bed? I’m here because I need everyone to know the destruction that Juan is capable of. And that digital technology should be recognized as a powerful weapon to inflict violence. Countless people are subjected to the same type and degree of stalking and abuse that Juan inflicted on me. And worse.

This is not an “internet crime”; technology may have facilitated it, but all of this occurred in real life. The police diminished my abuse because my life-threatening attacks came from phones and computers. This is what domestic violence looks like now.

My abuse was not legitimized until an entire community, and the country, was terrorized. Juan used modern technology to exploit antiquated laws. However, we can prevent this from happening to other women. Let my story shape the way we recognize the modern behaviors of attack and the weapons that are used. Let us Believe Women when they tell us of their abuse, because the men who inflict it only get worse. I urge you to not let there be a next time, don’t let Juan do this to another woman, another community, or the country.

Juan’s pathology and misogyny will still exist when he comes out. Each time we see an act of domestic terrorism, we find its roots in violence against women. Every time. And I do not trust he won’t do this again. I know there are other Juans out there, doing this to other women. We have the power to stop them, starting right now by holding Juan Thompson fully accountable for his crimes.”

Cyberstalking Victim Says NYPD Failed to Protect Her