Melissa Berry sues ex-boyfriend over nude pics
Melissa J. Berry doesn’t mind prancing around in public in her underwear.
But the 24-year-old model and lingerie football league player draws the line at a former boyfriend – a safe dating expert – posting nude and intimate photos of her on the Internet.
Berry sued her former paramour Mark C. Dawson in Hillsborough County Circuit Court today, saying he tried to extort, humiliate and hurt her by showing the photographs to her mother and friends and posting them on MySpace.com without her permission.
She said he should know better because he markets himself as an expert on “healthy relationships” who has studied “success, performance and human behavior for over 25 years.”
Dawson said Berry, who used to be a dancer at Thee Dollhouse, willingly posed for the photos and that he “never made anything public.
“This is nothing but an ex-girlfriend trying to cause problems,” he said. “For her to say that these pictures were taken against her knowledge is untrue because she is smiling in them. She takes her clothes off for a living and tells people I am doing all this other stuff. What she’s doing now is creating a drama because there are pictures out there of her.”
Berry sees it differently.
“If I wanted to take my clothes off for a living, that’s what I would do,” she said. “There’s not a photographer that has ever taken those sorts of shots of me. It’s more of a privacy thing. It’s not for everyone else to see.”
Berry, a rookie linebacker with the Tampa Breeze franchise of the Lingerie Football League, said she and Dawson, 45, started dating this fall.
She said in her lawsuit that Dawson used his cellular telephone to take several nude photographs of her, including one taken without her knowledge of her “engaged in a particularly private, intimate sexual act.”
Berry’s lawsuit says she never agreed the photos would be shown to anyone else.
Shortly after the photos were taken, the lawsuit contends, the couple broke up.
Two of Berry’s friends were later at the club Dolce Vita Lounge in Channelside when, according to the lawsuit, Dawson approached them and showed them the photographs on his phone.
The friends called Berry. She said she was horrified and emotionally distraught, so she approached Dawson, took his phone and destroyed it.
Unbeknownst to Berry, the lawsuit said, Dawson had downloaded copies of the photographs from the phone.
The lawsuit contends that destroying the cell phone was “an obvious indication” Berry wanted the images to remain private, especially to a motivational speaker who specializes in communication; interpreting body language and mixed signals; and promoting respect and personal responsibility.
On his Web site, on which he touts that he “leaves a lasting impression,” Dawson said he has shared the stage with motivational speaker Deepak Chopra, author Marcus Buckingham and performance psychologist James Loehr. He said he has been a contract speaker for Rockhurst University Continuing Education Center and “devotes much of his time to speaking to college and high school students about issues of dating, relationships, consent and sexual assault awareness and education.”
Berry said Dawson sent her mother an electronic message Nov. 10 saying that if Berry wouldn’t pay him $500 to replace his phone, Dawson would make the photos public.
When Berry refused, the lawsuit said, Dawson or someone acting on his behalf posted the photographs on MySpace. Berry said the photos also were e-mailed to her mother.
Later, she says in the suit, he approached her employer – the Tampa Bay Breeze – in an attempt to post them on her employer’s MySpace page.
Dawson said he sent the pictures to her personal MySpace page and that Berry gave approval for them to be posted.
He also acknowledged sending the e-mail to Berry’s mother with the picture attached.
“I could have had her arrested and I didn’t,” he said. “All I wanted was this phone back. I am a decent guy. … It’s girls like this I fight against in the work that I do.”
Berry is seeking unspecified damages in excess of $15,000.
“I am scared of what he will do to my career,” she said.
Jeff Brown, Berry’s attorney, said the legal question is one of privacy.
“The question is does she have an expectation of privacy in these photos and any woman or man would say absolutely these are not photos you are going to want the public or anyone else to see,” Brown said.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington D.C., said individuals face an uphill battle keeping their privacy in the Internet age.
“It’s not easy,” he said.
Rotenberg said Internet companies are generally protected from what people post on their sites and are reluctant to get in the middle of personal disagreements. It usually is up to the individual to convince the poster to take the offending material down, he said.
He also said the act of objecting could work against the person seeking to remove the item.
“It may call attention to the material, and you risk having even more copies being made,” he said.
Rotenberg, speaking on the general issue of Internet privacy, said people still have traditional remedies such as the civil lawsuit Berry filed.
The Lingerie Football League is an outgrowth of the Lingerie Bowl, an alternative half-time television entertainment show that airs during the Super Bowl. The sixth edition will be played in Tampa on Feb. 1. The Breeze is one of four teams to compete.