Lawyer’s advice on dealing with perps

2017-05-23 06:00
PHOTO: ian carbuttExperts warn the public about the dangers of divulging private and compromising footage of themselves to their partners as prone to find their way onto social media when the relationship goes sour.

PHOTO: ian carbuttExperts warn the public about the dangers of divulging private and compromising footage of themselves to their partners as prone to find their way onto social media when the relationship goes sour.

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NEVER divulge private and compromising footage of yourself no matter how much trust there is in a relationship.

That’s the advice from social media experts who say the trend of posting explicit photographs or videos of other people on social media without their consent is an growing problem in South Africa.

Despite social networks such as Twitter and Face­book having changed some of their regulations to curb the circulation of “revenge porn”, a large number of people are still finding their privacy violated and sexuality shamed, leaving them with little recourse to justice.

“Revenge porn” refers to the sharing of sexually explicit images on the Internet, without the consent of the people depicted in the pictures, in order to extort from, or humiliate them.

The practice disproportionately affects women, who are sometimes targeted by former partners. The stigma associated with the publication of the images means very few people speak out after being victimised and even fewer report the matter to police.

Sindy, a 24-year-old Pietermaritzburg woman, was willing to tell her story on condition that The Witness (Fever’s sister paper) allowed her to use a pseudonym.

While a university student in 2014, Sindy found naked pictures of herself posted on her Facebook page by her former boyfriend.

She said they had ended their
relationship two years earlier and did not think he still had the pictures.

“I was young and I trusted him so I allowed him to take naked pictures of me when we were together,” she said.

Sindy said she did not ever think the pictures would be seen by anyone else.

She said the reason the former boyfriend posted the pictures was because his then girlfriend told him that Sindy had said nasty things about them on Facebook.

“I received phone calls from my friends asking me about my nude pictures on my Facebook wall.

“I was so confused but when I saw the pictures I knew it was him,” she said.

She said a friend helped her take down the pictures and advised her to deactivate her Facebook account.

“It was a horrible feeling. I remember walking into the campus library and everyone was staring at me. I just knew they had seen my nudes and I felt naked, humiliated and violated,” she said.

Sindy said she dreaded going to campus because she had heard that some boys in her classes had saved her pictures on their phones.

She reported the matter to the authorities, but she said she eventually let it go because of the treatment she received from the police.

“The police insisted on seeing the nudes, which I did not have, and after they had interviewed my former boyfriend and he confessed to putting up the pictures on Facebook I was told that there was not enough evidence for the case to go to court,” said Sindy.

She said it was only five months later that people stopped asking her about the images.

“After breaking down and crying about it I managed to live past it. It was a horrible experience that I would never wish on anyone,” she said.

Local psychologist Clive Willows said this sort of revenge is a “cruel way to hurt and betray one’s trust and confidence”.

“Being a victim of revenge porn would lead to a great deal of distress as it puts the victim in a helpless state because there is not much they can do and it also causes a great deal of humiliation.

“Maybe the lesson to be learnt is that one should never divulge such private and compromising footage of themselves no matter how trusting the relationship is because it has the potential to be used in such a cruel way,” he said.

Willows encouraged victims of revenge porn to seek professional help as this is a “traumatic experience”.

Social media expert Verlie Oosthuizen called revenge porn a “gross invasion of people’s privacy” and said police should be trained to deal with it.

She said amendments to the Film and Publication Act make posting explicit footage of minors a serious criminal act for those who post it, share it and save it on their devices.

“It is risky to send naked pictures of yourself to your lover no matter how committed the relationship is because when it turns sour they usually find a way onto social media platforms.

“Rather not have nudes at all because you can also be hacked or lose your phone,” warned Oosthuizen.

SPEAKING on SAfm this week, technology attorney at Swift TechLaw Russel Luck said the issue of sharing sexual and explicit footage of other people online is so serious that it has, in extreme cases, resulted in people committing suicide.

“There have been many suicides reported stemming from revenge porn and in some cases it leads people to go into depression.”

Once shared on the Internet, the images can be shared often and go viral.

Luck said the victim should first try to get the material down as soon as possible.

“There are about two billion people online on Facebook and in a matter of two hours something that is trending can be shared by about 300 000 people, which is a huge number, before it is taken down,” said Luck.

Luck said one legal step is to sue for crimen injuria, which is a case one opens at the police station where a person can be prosecuted criminally for violating someone else’s dignity. Alternatively, one could sue them for civil damages because it is defamation of character.

“In South Africa we have fantastic laws, the only problem is enforcement.

“The broadcasting amendment act is currently trying to make any kind of sharing of such material a criminal act for anyone who creates, shares and saves such material on their devices,” said Luck.

“To some extent when revenge porn happens it is like an online rape because what you have done is to compromise someone’s physical integrity so much and you can never undo the damage that you have caused, which can be compared with physically damaging someone’s integrity through rape,” said Luck.

REUTERS reported last month that Facebook has added tools to make it easier for users to report so-called “revenge porn” and to automatically prevent the images from being shared again once they have been banned, the company said.

Facebook has been sued in the United States and elsewhere by people who said it should have done more to prevent the practice. The company in 2015 made clear that images “shared in revenge” are forbidden, and users have long had the ability to report posts as violating the terms of service.

Users of the world’s largest social network should see an option to report a picture as inappropriate specifically because it is a “nude photo of me”, Facebook said in a statement.

The company also said it is launching an automated process to prevent the repeat sharing of banned images. Photo-matching software will keep the pictures off the core Facebook network as well as off its Instagram and Messenger services, it said.

Users who share “revenge porn” may see their accounts disabled, the company said.

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