Victims of online abuse urged to speak out

When he addressed the nation in June, President Cyril Ramaphosa described gender-based violence as South Africa’s “second pandemic”.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country – the killing of women and children by the men of our country,” he said.

With the spaces in which women are victimised growing to include the online sphere, and as Women’s Month draws to a close, three women spoke to the Plainsman about how they were being harassed and victimised online.

Business owner and plus-size model, Tracey Amos, 31, from Kuils River turned to police when she was harassed and threatened online by a 17-year-old boy.

It started after Ms Amos shared in her Facebook story how she had made pizza with her son Kenzo-Lee Amos, 9.

The 17-year-old sent her a direct message on Monday August 3, making advances, which she refused. But then his messages became threatening – and after she posted screenshots of the conversation on her Facebook timeline, the boy threatened to come to her house if she didn’t remove them.

Then, at 1.30am on Tuesday August 4 , the boy told her he was outside her house.

Afraid, Ms Amos called a friend to drive by and check if the boy was outside her house. Thankfully he was not.

“I didn’t sleep that night. It was so scary to think this could happen to me, to anyone,” she said.

In an effort to resolve the matter, she visited the boy’s home, along with others who claimed to have been victimised by the boy, and spoke to his mother.

Ms Amos subsequently reported the matter to Kuils River SAPS who confirmed that a case of intimidation had been registered and was being investigated. The suspect is due to appear in Kuils River Magistrate’s Court, said Sergeant Liesel Beukes, spokesperson for Kuils River SAPS.

Portland social justice activist, Shanice Appels, 22, said she had been harassed and threatened by several men on social media and was banned from Facebook for speaking out on gender-based violence.

Women being harassed online had become a norm, she said.

She told the Plainsman a man had taken pictures from her private account and posted them on a public account on Twitter that degrades women. Her pictures were used without her consent by someone who was not her Facebook friend, but was a friend of a number of women she knew.

“Facebook allows men to constantly degrade and harass women,” she said. “I am a victim of sexual assault and rape and I have spoken out about this online. Facebook banned my account for 30 days for doing so. Men feel entitled to our space and bodies, especially in our relationships, and they are not being held accountable online,” she said.

According to Facebook’s policy, anyone who felt they were being bullied, harassed or attacked, depending on the seriousness of the situation, had the option of unfriending, blocking or reporting the person to Facebook.

Their policy encourages people not to retaliate, not to keep it a secret and to document and to save the evidence. If the harassment gets worse, the complainant is advised to take legal action.

Someone who is banned from Facebook can have their account reactivated after 30 days.

In terms of legal recourse, amendments made to the Film and Publications Bill late last year makes the distribution of what is referred to as “revenge porn”, illegal and punishable by a fine or jail time. According to the amendments, it is illegal to distribute private sexual pictures or videos of someone without their consent. Sentences are more stringent if the person is identified in the footage or any text that accompanies it.

Tabitha Majiet, 25, from Ravensmead, said she received a friend request from a man who requested porn from her. But she stopped him in his tracks by blocking him and reporting him to Facebook. Thereafter he was not able to contact her again.

“I was upset when this happened because has this become our norm? I am a victim of rape and it is upsetting to think men have the audacity to approach women in this way. We are working through our trauma and these instances trigger us,” she said.

Caroline Peters, the director of Callas Foundation in Athlone, which offers gender-based violence support, said often gender-based violence was triggered by poverty, food security and restriction of movement.

“Victims need to seek help and support once they feel ready to speak out. They should make sure they have a safety plan for themselves and report these ordeals if they are in danger,” she said.

And if a woman found herself being threatened or harassed online, she said, she should not retaliate or reach out to the person harassing them as it could be dangerous.

For more information, contact Callas Foundation on their WhatsApp line 071 135 7175 or email them at callascommunityproject@gmail.com