THE LIGHT AT THE END OF WHAT HAS BECOME A DARK TUNNEL

Imagine getting this text from a complete stranger:

“You look exquisite today, I bet you smell even better”

Or maybe this:

“You are a waste of space. The world would be so much better without you.”

Or maybe even this:

“If you do not do as a tell you, your whole family and the whole world will find out what kind of person you really are behind closed doors.”

These are only but a few examples of messages which social media users are being subjected to and taunted with on a daily basis by cyber stalkers.

What was supposed to be a mechanism used to make communication much easier and socializing more interesting and fun has now turned into one of the main sources of bullying, stalking and, as our internet savvy bunch say, trolling and an easy hunting ground for predators.

Thousands of users could now testify about how they have been victims of cyber bullying and stalking, driving some to deactivate their accounts as they live in fear of what message or call they might receive next.

If you have been a victim of cyber bullying and/or cyber stalking or currently in that situation right now you may ask yourself if there is any protection that is afforded to you by law and the good news is that there is. Victims of cyber bullying and cyber stalking have rights and can take legal action against cyber bullies.

The Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 aims to provide victims of cyber bullying and stalking with an affordable and effective remedy against the person who is harassing them.

The Act defines harassment in very broad terms. It includes instances when one is experiencing harassment by being followed, watched, being approached in a threatening way, being sent letters, packages, emails or any other objects. Included in the definition of harassment is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as “any unwelcome sexual attention from a person who knows or ought reasonably to know that such attention is unwelcome.” The Act also defines harassment as verbal and electronic communication that causes harm or makes the victim feel in danger of being harmed.

The Act provides protection to not only the person who is being harassed but one can apply for a protection order on behalf of someone else. In order to bring an application in terms of the Act on behalf of someone else the Act states that you have to have a material interest in the well-being of the victim and you have to have written consent from the victim to bring such an application.

Children under the age of 18 years can also apply for protection orders by themselves without being assisted by their parents.

The great thing about the Act is that you can apply for a protection order even if you don’t know who your harasser is and has been harassing you through the internet or has been following you around or even sending unwanted packages. It is not limited to instances when the victim knows the harasser personally.   The Act creates a procedure whereby the court can compel the electronic communications service provider to provide details of the harasser and the communication/s itself.

This is definitely not good news for all the anonymous bullies hiding behind their screens and online personas/avatars.

PROTECTION PROVIDED BY THE ACT

If you find yourself in such a situation and decide that enough is enough, as the victim you can simply go to your nearest Magistrates Court or any Magistrates Court which is closest to where the harasser lives or works or the place where the harassment took place, where you will be required to complete an application form giving detailed accounts of the harassment as well as reasons why a protection order is required. A protection order prohibits a harasser from continuing with the act of harassment.

You can visit the court during ordinary court hours which are 09:00am -15:30pm or in exceptional circumstances outside ordinary court hours if the application is urgent and if the victim shows that harm will come to them if the order is not issued.

In terms of the Act, the court will then grant what is termed as an interim order. This is a court order which is granted on a temporary basis and in order for the interim order to be granted the court has to be satisfied that the victim is being harassed or will be harassed or harmed if no protection order is granted. An interim order does not require input of the harasser and is issued based on the victim’s side of the story. The court then arranges for the interim order to be made a final order on a future date.

In addition to the above, whenever a court issues a protection order, including an interim protection order, the court must also authorize the issue of a warrant of arrest. This allows the police to arrest the harasser if he/she continues to harass the victim despite the order that has been issued. The harasser can then be liable for a fine or face imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.

Anyone interested can contact us at professionals@randles.co.za

BY: Noluthando Mwelase – Practitioner at Randles Attorneys

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