9 December 2015

Africa: Southern Africa - Revenge Pornography - a New Form of GBV?

Harare — Former Miss Zimbabwe, Emily Tatanga Kachote was stripped of her crown as Miss World Zimbabwe 2015, after nude pictures believed to be hers were leaked to the public via social media.

The publicly available photos were deemed unbefitting to a beauty queen who is supposed to lead by example. Not only was her career in the cat walk industry damaged, she also received a plethora of attacks from the public for 'immorality'. Luckily she is amongst the few that have been able to pick up the pieces by participating in a campaign against revenge pornography which petitioned the Zimbabwean government.

Revenge pornography, defined as sexually explicit media of an ex-partner distributed online in a deliberate attempt to humiliate them, has added itself to the long list of emerging cybercrimes.

Social media has made it easy for any sex tape to go viral across the globe, leaving the victim open to abuse and attack from the public.

These private keepsakes are either posted on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter or on porn sites that specifically cater for revenge porn, which has gained a niche of its own in the porn industry. Revenge pornography perpetrates gender based violence and is fuelling an industry that deprives human beings, especially women of their dignity.

Revenge pornography is used as a tool to humiliate, intimidate and dehumanise women as it is mostly released by men. The victims are left traumatised, distressed and labelled as outcasts of society. Ultimately, revenge pornography removes the trust element from relationships.

Many women have fallen victim of revenge pornography when their so called trusted partners have dished out sex tapes to the public as part of revenge and blackmail especially after a breakup.

During the Sixteen Days women's rights activists in Zimbabwe called on Parliament to enact a law that prohibits the distribution of pornographic material taken privately without the subject's consent.

Led by Katswe Sisterhood, the activists called on Parliament to enact a law that prohibits the distribution of pornographic material taken privately without the subject's consent. Legislators Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Tabitha Khumalo who took part in handing a petition for onward transmission to the Parliament of Zimbabwe, joined the campaign.

The activists have called for the elimination of leaking sexually explicit material as it is degrading to women. They decried the absence of criminal laws protecting the privacy of private communications involving sexual expression from publication without the subject's consent.

Freedom of expression allows the production and consumption of pornography, though there are laws of general application, such as the Sexual Offences Act, which limit the type and nature of pornography.

It is a criminal offence in a number of Southern African countries to be in possession of pornography. But the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) cannot by law ban the production and consumption of pornography. This weakens efforts to protect thousands of women from revenge pornography.

Social media is awash with videos of unsuspecting victims filmed during trusted private interactions with their partners. Although many have filmed themselves willingly at the time, such videos all too often fall into the wrong hands.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr depend on the goodwill of their clientele to report any sexually explicit postings but this is not enough as it does not provide remedies to victims whose jobs and family lives have been wrecked as a result. Blocking a perpetrator from a social media site does little to stop the abuse as the image is still out there destroying reputations.

Women should have the freedom of express themselves sexually in private. Yet the deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes in Southern Africa point fingers on women in the revenge pornographic tape. The woman is left to deal with picking up pieces of her life and also counteracting rejection from the society.

Images of revenge pornography can be used as grounds to dismiss the victims from work, not hire them in the first place, refuse to rent housing to them, or investigate them as unfit parents, among other things.

There is need for empowerment programmes to enable victims of social media abuse to reclaim their voice and freedom over their bodies.

The law should protect women's private spaces so that women can enjoy intimate moments with their partners. It should evolve as social media and new technology continues to impact society.

Avoiding dialogue on pornography and sexual expression will not end cyber abuse. There is need to raise awareness, develop policies and programmes to protect would- be victims.

(Sifiso Dube is the Alliance and Partnerships Manager as Gender Links. This article is written in her personal capacity as part of a special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism being produced by the Gender Links New Service)


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