It’s been reported that in Australia, image-based abuse or ‘revenge-porn’ has increased by 210% according to Australia’s eSafety Commissioner. The UK is also seeing a similar spike with double the number of cases. In South Africa, social media expert, Emma Sadleir, of the Digital Law Company, says she has been inundated with complaints about sextortion during the lockdown.
The increase is likely due to the global uptick in the use of digital communication during lockdown.
Robyn Farrell, CEO of 1st for Women Insurance who recently launched a cyberbullying insurance product, 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, as they increasingly use social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
- 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.
Sadleir says: “Everything is happening online. People are home and bored, so many are willing to send pictures.”
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
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.
Farrell 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.
Farrell concludes: “It’s important for victims to know that image-based abuse is a crime and the victim is never to blame – the fault lies completely with the perpetrator.”