Some are screaming in protest, while others stare fearfully at something beyond the edge of the computer screen. Sometimes their heads are sheathed in clear plastic bags, sometimes their mouths sealed with duct tape. And always, there is a weapon -- a gun, a knife, a penis -- and the sadistic laughter of the person wielding it.
The "rape fantasy" web portal promises to supply every horrific color of forced sex imaginable "unleashed upon innocent victims" -- and for as little as $39.95 a month. One sample video shows a man posing as a masked intruder who's attacking a woman in the shower. To a soundtrack of aggressive techno beats, he slams her head into the tile and rapes her over the toilet. Some of the videos conclude with the victim portrayed as bloody, beaten or dead.
This isn't playful porn. It's not just kinky or raunchy. It's the darkest dreck in the back alley, a serial-killer movie without human context or moral return, some of the most brutal and graphic "extreme pornography" content on the web today, and much of it comes from Russia, where laws are lax, to the United States, where demand is high.
On the opening page, the anonymous creator behind www.actiondev.com writes that every link in the Action Devil directory has been personally reviewed and tested by him so that a viewer is not redirected to a meaningless link farm or a frenzy of maddening porno pop-ups. "I decided to create this website to help you find real good quality web sites," the webmaster explains. "It will not infect your computer with any kind of annoying software, spyware, dialers."
This strangely heartfelt declaration might be more convincing if the Action Devil directory didn't promote itself by hijacking computer sites -- many of them belonging to University of Colorado at Denver students.
Kathy Kirchhoff never thought she'd wind up promoting the online skin industry. In 2001, she earned a community-college web-design certificate that she used to build a website for a local book-publishing house. With previous experience in both software development and computer research, the Littleton resident then enrolled at the University of Colorado at Denver, where she's working toward a degree in electrical engineering.
In several UCD classes, students are required to build personal websites on server space carved out from http://ouray.cudenver.edu, an address known simply as "Ouray," which is also the major host for student e-mail. After completing a basic home page with a link to her resumé and brief biographical information, Kirchhoff moved on to other projects and soon forgot about the site. She hadn't logged on to it for months when she was told about the odd links attached to her personal web space.
"This is not good," she said, as the Action Devil site popped up. "God, this is bizarre."
Viewers were being herded to her site through a link found on a variety of search engines that promised "free rape and forced sex videos." After a double click, the surfers momentarily landed on Kirchhoff's page before being rerouted to various sections of the rape-porn clearinghouse, which features explicit selections from membership-only websites with titles like Violent Incest, Exploited Bitches, Brutally Raped and Forced to Prostitute.
Even with her years of computer experience, Kirchhoff couldn't figure out how her obscure site had been hijacked.
Hers wasn't the only site being used and abused. At least seven other dormant websites belonging to former and current UCD students had become springboards to the rape-pornography underworld. By the end of July, the Internet links to the Ouray server had become so powerful that they pushed one student's site to the top ranking on a Google search for "rape porn" -- out of nearly a million relevant links.
And still, no one at UCD had a clue that their school's server had become the number-one extreme-porn gateway in the world.
William Freud doesn't answer questions so much as methodically deconstruct them and then build the pieces into a response. For listeners, the reassembly can seem laborious and complex. But then again, so is the job description of the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Information Systems. He attained this title in 2004, when the CU board of regents approved the consolidation of the University of Colorado at Denver with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center to create the unwieldy acronym UCDHSC.
Though the two schools retained their respective facilities on the Auraria campus and at Fitzsimons, their financial and administrative operations were conjoined. Their technical systems had to be merged as well, and it was up to Freud to oversee the consolidation of the online entities, which now include a complicated overlay of servers supporting assorted networks dispersed around the two campuses. Freud knows the system well; he started working for CU in the late '80s, at the tail end of the mainframe era when the World Wide Web was still a glimmer on the horizon. Today, UCDHSC's IT department has 85 full-time employees, with another 32 part-time workers.