Raven Furlong has a short shock of auburn hair and deep hazel eyes. Kara Nichols has long, bleached blond hair and a pierced belly button. And Kayla Croft Payne has bright blue eyes and a pierced lower lip.
Now, though, all three young women are currently missing, having disappeared when they were not yet 20 years old. But there’s another disturbing link, too: All had profiles on a website called Model Mayhem, a social networking site that aims to connect wannabe models with photographers, makeup artists, casting directors and other professionals.
“We cannot come out and say, ‘Model Mayhem, shame on you, this is your fault,’ because we don’t know,” Michelle Bart, president and cofounder of the nonprofit National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation, told Yahoo! Shine. “But there is plenty of information to warrant an investigation by the FBI.”
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Bart said that the organization is representing the families of the three missing girls—to launch a campaign to bring attention to their situation and form a task force for a private investigation—but that, so far, no law enforcement agency has looked into the website’s possible relation to any of the cases.
“Our concern is that there are a lot of red flags on this particular site,” Bart added.
Anyone can sign up to join Model Mayhem, which says it has more than 670,000 active members, for free. And anyone, it seems, can search through the site’s database of aspiring models, mostly young women who post their photos and list their measurements, what sorts of jobs they’re open to (paid or non-paid), any experience, and if they’re willing to do nude shoots or not. According to the site’s demographics page, 58% of its users are male and 42% are female; 57% of its users are between the ages of 18 and 34.
Member Croft-Payne, 18, of Washington, was on her way out to a photo shoot in 2010 when she vanished and was not heard from again. Nichols, 19, of Colorado, has been missing since October 2012. And Furlong, 17, also of Colorado, has been missing since February 5.
Police, according to various reports, have classified Furlong as a runaway. But her family says that, in a recent phone call from Raven she didn’t sound like herself.
“Raven said she was safe, but that she was calling from someone else’s phone and couldn't stay on the line and had to go,” her mother, Lin Furlong, told People magazine. “I was relieved to hear her voice, but I’m terrified for her. She sounded scared and not like herself at all.”
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Nichols’ mom, Julia, recently spoke out about her daughter’s known involvement in drugs and prostitution, and told her local KRDO Pueblo, CO, television station that she’d previously kept the knowledge to herself for fear that Kara’s disappearance wouldn’t be taken seriously. “We were reluctant to portray our daughter as just a no good person that no one should care about," Julia told KRDO in January. “She’s our daughter. We love her dearly.”
Model Mayhem’s parent company, Internet Brands, released a statement on the situation via its publicist Joe Ewaskiw:
While our policy is to fully cooperate with authorities if approached for assistance in an investigation, Model Mayhem has not been contacted by police authorities regarding either of the three recent disappearances in Colorado.
Model Mayhem strongly believes that safety should be top of mind when doing anything online. Because there are scams on the Internet, Model Mayhem tries to educate users about scams and how to avoid them. The site offers detailed safety advice to help members understand what to look for when they are contacted by others.
The site also has a feedback mechanism called "Contact a Moderator" (or "CAM") that allows any member to let site moderators know of any suspicious activity they encounter. Moderators view and respond to each and every inquiry. Members are also encouraged to share reports of suspicious activity with one another on the site’s active discussion forum.
A spokesperson for the Colorado FBI, Dave Joly, meanwhile, told Shine, “We never discuss whether we have or don’t have a particular investigation going on.”
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Lt. Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which has an active investigation into the disappearance of Kara Nichols, told Shine, “From the onset, we were aware that Kara was an aspiring model using various websites to perhaps further that cause,” and that those types of websites “often involve a culture of prostitution and illegal drugs.” Lt. Kramer would not comment on whether Model Mayhem has been contacted, but did says, “We’re not pointing our finger at any particular site.”
The three missing women in the National Women’s Coalition’s current campaign are not the only ones to be connected to Model Mayhem, according to Courthouse News Service. In April of 2012, an unidentified woman, Jane Doe #14, claimed in a federal suit that she was drugged and raped by two men who filmed the crime and sold it as pornography, and that defendant Internet Brands Inc. and its Model Mayhem site did nothing to stop it. Doe says in her complaint that the defendants were aware that her rapists mined their websites looking for victims.
As for the three women currently missing, Bart said it’s important to focus not on what they may have posted or been involved with, but on bringing them home. “We can’t run from what these girls might have posted, but we can help try to find them,” she said. “These are somebody’s kids and they deserve to be looked for.”