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Okanagan women speak out to warn of online harassment

Robyn Hellmig was sentenced for the online harassment a Kelowna woman

A Vernon man was sentenced in a Vancouver Provincial Court on June 16 for the criminal harassment of a Kelowna woman.

Robyn Hellmig was charged with harassment and extortion in Jan. 2019. He pled guilty to the harassment to have the charge of extortion stayed.

He will not serve jail time as it is his first offence but will be on probation for two years.

The claimant for the case against Hellmig requested to remain anonymous and will be referred to by the pseudonym, Jane.

She decided to speak out on Hellmig’s sentencing after reading about the various harassment cases currently going through B.C’s courts and because she fears other women are currently subject to abuse from Hellmig.

One of those cases is the Amanda Todd sextortion trial, which is continuing in a B.C. Supreme Court. Todd killed herself in October 2021 after posting a video on YouTube saying she had been blackmailed by an online predator.

READ MORE: B.C. teen Amanda Todd victim of a ‘persistent campaign’ of online ‘sextortion’: Crown

On June 6, crown prosecutor Louise Kenworthy told a jury trial in New Westminster that Amanda Todd was harassed and extorted by Aydin Coban on social media through accounts with 20 separate usernames.

Jane claimed she experienced similar harassment at the hands of Hellmig, who used various social media accounts.

She said that Hellmig lives with his grandparents in Vernon and said that she is not the only Okanagan woman he has targeted.

Jane said that she is one of many women to have filed reports against Hellmig but their reports were ignored by investigators. Jane alleges her claims were taken seriously by the RCMP because she is educated, articulate and “not marginalized,” like many of the other women Hellmig has allegedly harassed.

She said she met her abuser when she was struggling with PTSD, due to the emotional demands of her job, and became involved with a Facebook support group.

She began confiding in others in the group as they shared stories as a way to heal. Hellmig took a special interest in her and they soon began speaking often and met in person twice.

When she decided not to move forward in a relationship with Hellmig she alleges the harassment began.

“When I put boundaries up he completely flipped,” she said.

Jane said that Hellmig was the founder of the group and she presumes he created the Facebook page as a way to find and target vulnerable people.

She alleges that he began threatening her, extorting her and messaging her from numerous different Facebook accounts pretending to be other people.

She said that the RCMP found 24 fake profiles connected to her case.

Another woman, Jen, alleges she was harassed by Hellmig and said she has 1,573 accounts blocked on her Facebook account.

Jen has not yet filed a police report because of distrust in the justice system. She said that she was told by officers to just keep blocking and ignoring the messages she was getting daily.

“It’s hard because no one takes it seriously,” said Jane.

Both Jane and Jen stated that they experienced suicidal ideation or attempted suicide as a result of the constant harassment.

Samantha, team lead for victim services at Elizabeth Fry, said that online harassment falls under the category of “invisible abuse.” (Her surname is not being published due to security concerns.)

The non-physicality of the abuse can make the torment seem less serious or make survivors of the abuse less likely to seek help.

“A lot of survivors feel they aren’t worthy of support,” said Samantha.

Online harassment and threats have real-world consequences said Shari Graydon, the director of Informed Opinions, which works to amplify the voices of women and gender-diverse people.

READ MORE: National campaign documenting online hate against women, pushing for change

“Many women don’t have freedom of speech because others are exercising hate speech that shuts them down, makes them fear, makes them go offline, makes them decline profile-raising opportunities.”

Jen told Capital News that she moved and has been laying low in order to avoid further harassment from Hellmig.

Both Jane and Jen fear that Hellmig will not stop harassing other women and urge those impacted by his actions to seek help.

“It’s only going to escalate… he’s not going to stop,” said Jane.


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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

I'm a reporter in the beginning stages of my career. I joined the team at Capital News in November 2021...
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