There is new form of rape emerging in the digital age in East Tennessee – social media threats as weapons to force victims to submit to sexual demands.
Angela Gosnell/News Sentinel
A new form of rape is emerging in the digital age in East Tennessee – social media threats as weapons to force victims to submit to sexual demands.
Court records show 26 young women – many of them University of Tennessee students – and three girls have been terrorized with threats delivered via dating app Tinder and social media apps Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram in less than two years.
Their assailants used those digital threats of public humiliation and violence to try to force them into acts of sexual degradation and, in some cases, rape, records show.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Knoxville is responding to this new trend in sexual victimization through the use of federal extortion charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Davidson last year successfully prosecuted the first such case and last week filed another.
Posers and apps
Justin Scott Corum, 22, of Knoxville faces 13 counts of transmitting a threat via the Internet with the intent to extort. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton arraigned Corum last week and set a May 1 trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan.
Corum’s 13 alleged victims are only identified in the indictment with initials but court records show at least one is a UT student and another is a minor.
Corum’s case comes after Davidson successfully prosecuted Brandon Douglas Shanahan of Sweetwater for similar crimes involving 14 young women, many of whom were UT students, and two teenage girls.
In both cases, records show, the alleged assailants crafted fake online identities. Shanahan, who late last year was sent to federal prison after confessing his crimes, pretended to be former UT defensive back Cameron Sutton to lure women into his digital trap largely via Snapchat.
Shanahan had no connection to Sutton, and the football player – now a Pittsburgh Steelers player – was unaware of Shanahan’s crimes.
Corum allegedly posed as a minor league baseball player and reeled in victims via Tinder, records show.
Single victim comes forward
The case against Corum began with a call from a UT student to the UT Police Department in October. UTPD Officer Jeffrey Quirin wrote in a warrant initially filed in Knox County General Sessions Court the female student “began talking via Tinder” to Corum.
“The conversation then moved to text messaging,” Quirin wrote.
At some point, Corum “began taking the conversation in an explicit direction,” demanding “sexual acts” from the young woman.
“When (the woman) stated that she would not perform sexual acts that Mr. Corum wanted, the tone of the conversation changed,” the officer wrote. “Mr. Corum advised that if (the woman) would not meet up with him and perform these acts, there would be retribution.”
University of Tennessee police (Photo: Submitted)
Corum allegedly claimed he had “family in law enforcement and would ‘pull her number,’” Quirin wrote in the warrant.
“Mr. Corum also stated, ‘You’ll find out later (that) sometimes you bark up the wrong tree,’ ” the warrant stated.
Corum is accused of threatening to publicly humiliate the young woman and expose “her actions to her family,” the warrant stated. He claimed he had “found every single one of” her relatives, Quirin wrote.
The young woman grew so frightened “she had her friend walk with her to work, out of fear she would be accosted by Mr. Corum,” the officer stated in the warrant.
Quirin, the warrant stated, tracked Corum down and arrested him at his Knoxville home.
“Mr. Corum admitted the messages were authored by him,” Quirin wrote.
The FBI was notified and launched a probe that has since revealed a string of alleged victims, with extortion threats dating back to at least May 2017, according to federal court records. The indictment states Corum used social media apps including Twitter and Instagram to threaten to humiliate his alleged victims if they did not comply with his demands.
Corum remains jailed pending trial in U.S. District Court.
A single report to law enforcement – and a USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee story on that allegation – also led to the discovery of multiple victims in Shanahan’s case.
Shanahan was himself a popular football player but wound up his sister’s babysitter after graduating high school. At age 22, he began posing as Sutton, who had a big following on Snapchat among female students and teenage girls.
Brandon Douglas Shanahan (Photo: Blount County Sheriff’s Office)
His impersonation soon led to darker forms of deceit and intimidation as he vowed public humiliation and in at least one instance violence against 14 young women and two teenage girls if they didn’t send him nude selfies with sexually explicit and degrading captions, court records show.
A Sweetwater, Tenn., man who posed as a University of Tennessee football player on Snapchat and terrorized more than a dozen young women in a bid to extort nude selfies from them has struck a plea deal in the case, records show.
Angela Gosnell/News Sentinel
Even after Shanahan was captured by the FBI in 2016, he ran the same extortion racket again while free on pretrial release. The details of that are under seal, but now-retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley jailed him for it, and U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves cited it as justification for the 30-month prison term she imposed.
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