Revenge porn and cyberbullying spike during lockdown

By Neesa Moodley, edited by Margot Bertelsmann

As continued global lockdowns see people increasingly turning to online platforms for social interaction, the prevalence of online abuse has risen sharply.

Photo 59081983 © Juan MoyanoDreamstime.com

Casey Rousseau of 1st for Women Insurance explains that there are three categories of offences:

  • Cyberbullying – the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. This is most common among schoolchildren today as they increasingly use social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Tiktok.
  • Revenge porn – when someone, usually an ex or former partner, maliciously shares naked, nude or sexually explicit photos of you without your permission. The images or videos can be distributed via social media, text messages, emails or even uploaded onto pornographic websites. The intention is usually to humiliate you.
  • Sextortion – images of attractive men or women are used to lure victims to carry out sexually explicit acts, such as posing for nude photographs or performing sexual acts in front of a webcam. These images or videos are then used to blackmail the victim with the threat of public exposure.

Local social media expert Emma Sadleir of the Digital Law Company says she has been inundated with complaints about sextortion during the lockdown. ​“Everything is happening online. People are home and bored, so many are willing to send pictures,” she says.

Mike Bolhuis of Specialised Security Services says sextortion is a “low risk” way to make money or extort sexual favours from the victims. “Most extortionists get away with the crime because the victims are often worried about reporting these offences to the police because they are embarrassed,” he says.

Worldwide increase in incidents

The increase in cyberbullying and revenge porn is a global phenomenon as online platforms see increased use under lockdown conditions. Britain’s state-funded Revenge Porn Helpline reports opening about 250 cases in April — a record number and double that of April 2019. In Australia, the eSafety Commissioner received more than 1 000 reports of image-based abuse between March and May 2020, representing a 210% increase on the average weekly number of reports received last year.

What you can do

Rousseau offers the following advice if you are a victim of online abuse:

  • Make a record of what has been posted online or distributed. Take screenshots if you can, as these can be used as evidence later. Your records should include the date of occurrence; what happened; evidence that it happened; who you think did it; evidence that they did it; and evidence you still need and information on who might have it. When you are compiling your records include screen shots of web pages that include visible URLs, printouts, text messages that show names and specific dates and times, PDFs, voicemails, and anything else that you’d be comfortable in court of law. Make copies of everything.
  • File a police report.
  • File a report of the incident to the administrators on the relevant platform, such as Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. Send the company a copy of your police report to get things moving faster.
  • Consult an attorney.

Severe fines and jail time

Revenge porn is officially a crime in South Africa and is governed by the Films and Publications Amendment Act of 2019, which imposes severe fines and jail time if you:

  • Knowingly distribute private sexual photographs or films without the prior consent of any individual featured.
  • Share these types of photos publicly with the intention to cause harm or distress.
  • Upload private sexual photographs where the person can be clearly identified or is named in any accompanying text.

Sadleir explains that if you can’t identify the person in the content, the perpetrator faces a fine up to R150 000 and/or two years in prison. “But if it is identifiable content, i.e., your name, or a tattoo is in it, or your face or a birthmark or something that makes the content easily identifiable then the sanction jumps to a R300 000 fine and/or a four-year term of imprisonment,” she says.

Cyberbullying insurance

1st for Women recently launched a cyberbullying insurance product that helps victims with the financial and legal aspects of obtaining justice. “The costs of addressing cyberbullying can be astronomical, with lawyers charging around R3 000 an hour for consultations alone. Also, in many instances, legal intervention is needed to put a stop to the bullying and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Rousseau says. The cyberbullying insurance policy, which starts at R99 a month, includes cover for:

  • unlimited and 24/7 telephonic legal advice
  • unlimited mediation by a legal representative
  • litigation costs up to R55 000
  • cover against cyber theft, computer and home systems attack
  • cyber liability claims. 

Author

2 Responses

  1. Hugely disturbing. The extent to which the bad guys (whom I hate with an extreme deadly passionate venom) will go in committing crimes (at any level) is disturbing. What I find equally disturbing is that people who are well educated and apparently intelligent, also get caught.
    Nice to learn that there are new insurance products available to protect one.

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