By MICHELLE SOLOMON
A NEW law against stalking and harassment came into effect over the weekend after many years of campaigning by sexual violence NGOs.
The Protection from Harassment Act (PHA) was adopted by parliament in 2011, and came into effect on Saturday April 27.
In a statement the Department of Justice (DoJ) explained that the PHA would provide South Africans with an in expensive civil remedy to deal with harassment, mainly by means of a court order preventing the harasser from con tinuing with the unwanted behaviour. Any person that con travenes such a court order is guilty of an offence and liable to fine and/or a maximum prison sentence of five years, according to the DoJ.
A Rhodes University student spoke to the Daily Dispatch about an online stalker that has been harassing her since October 2012. The student asked not to be named.
She said the harassment started on social media platform Twitter, where an unidentified person assumed her identity and sent her threatening messages, including rape threats. The student laid complaints against the offender’s account through Twitter, and while the offender stopped threatening her, he later moved to a different platform. The offender then found her on Facebook and, as a result of a security setting glitch, was able to find her cell number. “He’s been texting and phoning me. He’s a bit crazy,” the student said.
“He’s even made a Youtube video of me, and it’s quite stalkerish. He found the audio of an interview I’d done and put that over images he found,” she said.
“When you search my name on Youtube you find this stalker video,” she said.
She added that in recent weeks, the offender had been sending her threatening smses as well. “He sent me one over the weekend. It said: ‘This is why girls get raped because they don’t say no’.”
The student said the offender’s contact was “sporadic”.
“I won’t hear anything for a while, then he will call a couple of times,” she said, and added that the offender had started to harass her friends as well.
The student said she didn’t what to do about the case, since the stalker mainly used anonymous accounts to contact and threaten her.
According to the DoJ, the Act “seeks to afford protection to some of the most vulnerable in society who may be victims of harassment.”
“[The Act] will, for example, benefit the poor and indigent who are not able to afford expensive legal remedies, children who are subject to bullying in schools (which is regarded as a form of harassment), individuals who are being harassed by cyber stalkers and those who are subjected to sexual ha rassment,” the DoJ added.
In terms of the PHA, the court may order electronic com munication providers – like cellular companies or internet service providers – to provide the court with the name and address of an anonymous internet stalker or harasser. The court may also order the the South African Police Service (SAPS) to investigate instances of harassment in order to identify anonymous harassers.
The Rhodes student was relieved to hear of the PHA, and hoped to use it against her stalker, she said. “I just want this to stop now.”