Hester Prynne got off easy.
For an adulterer of Kobe Bryant's stature, no scarlet letter "A" stitched to a basketball jersey would do. Instead, the tarnished NBA star branded himself on global television by confessing his infidelity (while denying a more serious sexual crime).
But now, even Joe and Jane Cheater risk a degree of such high-profile exposure. Like a romantic emergency broadcast system, a Web site called cheatinglovers.com has been created to shame two-timers who lurk from bedroom to backseat to hotel suite.
On the site, the jilted can post profiles of the people who did them wrong. Along with an acidic account of the affair(s), they include a dossier on the alleged dallier, including his or her geographic location, physical description and sometimes a photograph, which is usually unflattering.
"If you've had anyone who cheated on you, you work it out by telling your friends. That doesn't seem to satisfy these people. They feel like they're evening the score. There's a revenge aspect to it," said Todd McMickle, a divorced and now remarried 32-year-old who launched the site from Pasadena, Calif., a month ago.
A warning: By their nature, these infidelity APBs can be explicit. McMickle filters outright profanity along with full names, addresses and phone numbers from the profiles. But those are the only details lacking on Anastasia, for example, a 34-year-old from Pompano Beach, Fla., who stands accused of bringing men to her office in the off hours "to have her fun."
Although his site seems to be flirting with defamation, McMickle says it checks out legally. "We aren't in this to make money off it. We just want it to be a public service."
By offering a warped form of therapy, the site may indeed be providing a service for the cheated. But by and large, the Internet has helped cheaters more.
For her doctoral dissertation, a researcher at the University of Florida, Beatriz Avila Mileham, recently surveyed married people cruising in online chat rooms like Yahoo's "Married and Flirting."
Of the 76 men and 10 women she questioned, most said marital boredom and sexual stagnation drove them to the Internet.
Twenty-six of the study participants, about 30 percent, advanced their Internet affairs into the physical world by meeting with someone they had picked up online.
But the 70 percent whose trysts were virtual said the lack of physical contact justified their activities. "The No. 1 rationalization is that there is no touching. They didn't feel any guilt at all," Mileham said.
The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.