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Rape victim's name-and-shame campaign could backfire on them

Social media law experts have warned against naming and shaming on social media
Social media law experts have warned against naming and shaming on social media
Image: 123RF/ Ivan Kruk

A social media law expert has warned against "digital vigilantism" in the wake of various social media posts and pages naming and shaming alleged rapists. 

Social media law expert Emma Sadleir said in a statement on Wednesday that although in some cases naming and shaming provides a far more effective form of retribution, it has legal repercussions. 

"In the age of #MeToo and #AmINext, digital vigilantism has a very important place in modern society and can be very effective in giving a voice to the voiceless. In a world of wholly ineffective legal protections, protracted legal procedures and absurdly low prosecution and conviction rates, I totally understand victims of sexual offences not wanting to lay criminal charges," she said. 

She said while social media provided victims of any sexual offence "a cost-free and often effective course of action", the country existed by the “guilty until proven innocent” principle.

"As such, the reputation consequences on the accused can be tremendous and often irreparable. Where the allegations are untrue/embellished or unfounded, the person accused has a number of legal options available," she added.

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 Sadleir said that those who name and shame could find themselves facing crimen injuria charges.

"If someone finds their name on a naming and shaming list or is accused of a sexual offence on social media, they have a few options available to them. If they know who is behind the account, they could take legal steps – in particular, they could sue for defamation, lay a criminal charge of crimen injuria (infringement of dignity) and/or could obtain a protection order under the Protection from Harassment Act," she said.  

Sadleir's warning comes after a series of rapes and murders that have rocked South Africa and prompted hashtags such as #AmINext. This after the rape and murder of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana, who was reported missing a week ago.

“Disclaimer: All the stories shared are anonymous. These stories are not vetted and we trust the women here to be fully honest,”  read the bio of a Twitter page that listed certain businessmen, politician and entertainers as rapists. 

The page also lists socialites, politicians, religious leaders, businessmen as well as musicians and club promoters.

One of them is connected to a popular Durban social hangout. The entertainment company posted a notice on its social media pages on Wednesday that it had cancelled an event scheduled on Wednesday as a member of their team had been implicated in a naming and shaming account. 

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