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Teen Cheerleader Allegedly Targeted By Rival's Mom With ‘Deepfake’ Videos Speaks Out
Madi Hime is one of several Pennsylvania cheerleaders who received harassing messages and doctored images from Rafaella Spone, the mother of a teammate, according to authorities.
A Pennsylvania cheerleader who was on the receiving end of taunting messages and “deepfake” videos of herself naked and vaping — allegedly sent by the mother of a cheerleading rival — is speaking out about harassment she said she endured for more than a month.
Madi Hime told “Good Morning America” she was just 16 years old when one of her coaches at the cheer gym Victory Vipers pulled her aside after receiving a video that appeared to show the teen vaping, a violation of the gym’s policies.
However, authorities have said the video—and other images sent directly to Hime’s phone starting in July—were “deepfakes” or digitally altered images using a still photo of Hime overlapped onto other videos or pictures to create a realistic fake.
“I went in the car and started crying and was like ‘That’s not me on the video,’ because I thought if I said it, that no one would believe me because obviously there’s proof. There’s a video,” Hime said of the confrontation with her coach. “But the video was obviously manipulated.”
After the confrontation, Hime’s mother Jennifer Hime said she learned this had not been an isolated incident. Her daughter had been receiving doctored images and taunting messages—some of which even instructed the teen to kill herself—for more than a month.
“It had actually been going on for quite a while, I just didn’t know about it. I told her ‘I am going to call the police’ because I wanted her to know that’s how much I believed her,” Jennifer Hime told the morning show.
The investigation ultimately led to the arrest of Rafaella Spone, 50, the mother of one of Madi Hime’s cheerleading teammates.
Spone had allegedly been harassing at least three members of the cheerleading team, sending them altered images and videos that appeared to show the teens naked, drinking and smoking, according to an affidavit in the case from the the Hilltown Township Police Department and obtained by Oxygen.com.
One message directed at another teen appeared the show the cheerleader in a bikini with comments written over it about “toxic traits, revenge, dating boys and smoking.”
“The essence of it was to knock them down, to make them appear that they were not law abiding, that … their morals were corrupted, essentially to try to shame them or get them knocked off the team,“ Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub told “Good Morning America.”
Madi Hime told local station WPVI that the messages began when she had a falling out with Spone’s daughter—who was also on the cheer squad and apparently unaware of the messages authorities say her mother sent.
Madi said the messages made her “really upset.”
“I was like, ‘Who says this to someone? Who thinks it’s OK?’ It made me more mad than upset,” she said.
Spone is now facing three counts of cyber harassment of a child and three counts of harassment in connection with the allegations. Authorities said they were able to link her to the messages after confiscating electronic devices from her Chalfont home.
However, Spone’s attorney Robert Birch told “Good Morning America” that his client denies any wrongdoing.
“She has absolutely denied what they are charging her with and because of the fact that this has now hit the press, she has received death threats, she’s had to go to the police herself,” he said.
Spone was arrested and taken into custody on March 4, but has since been released from jail pending a preliminary hearing in the case later this month.
Victory Viper coaches Mark McTague and Kelly Cramer told ABC News that the organization has a “very strict anti-bullying policy” and began its own internal investigation after the allegations surfaced.
“Victory Vipers has always promoted a family environment and we are sorry for all individuals involved,” they said.
They added that “all athletes involved, are no longer apart of our program.”