In a trend that is becoming all too familiar, distribution of an alleged gang rape video has again made the news this week. Like the Jules High School case, the cell phone video went viral and was finally reported to the police by an upset parent who found the video on a teenager’s cell phone. The video triggered outrage online among netizens, with many users expressing their anger using the hashtag #RapeVideo on Twitter. Sadly, at the same time, a number of social media users made requests to see the video and jokes about it.

Women’sNet supports the criticism of organisations like Media Monitoring Africa, who have criticized the initial coverage of the story for revealing details about the alleged victim, and the Daily Sun’s publication of a picture of the girl involved. Survivors have a right to anonymity, and according to our law those who circulate and use images from this video are liable for prosecution.

The Film and Publication Board reminded the general public last Wednesday that possessing or distributing such videos is a crime, and is the equivalent of the possession and distribution of child pornography. This incident not only amounts to the creation and distribution of child pornography but has far reaching implications for those filmed not to mention the role it plays in perpetuating sexual violence against women and children. Coverage of this topic by the media must therefore be sensitive to these implications, and to the rights of the survivor.

In South Africa, existing laws and policies do not address the increasingly viral effects that social media platforms offer, despite the existence of a number of laws and policies that aim to address the distribution and production of child pornography and to prevent harassment and prosecute offenders. Mobile phones and social media platforms can allow users to distribute and publish content that cause harm to one’s reputation and can be considered as cyber-bullying.

In 2001 Human Rights Watch released, “Scared at school”, an extensive report that examined sexual violence committed against girls in South African schools. It found that many were subjected to some form of violence — rape, abuse, harassment and assault — and that this was “an inevitable part of the school environment”. The report also cited a study in the Gauteng area which found that eight in 10 young men believed women were responsible for causing sexual violence and three in 10 thought women who were raped had “asked for it”.

In a recently published research report the Association for Progressive Communications discusses the links between the internet, cell phones and violence against women and illustrates that technology related violence impacts women as seriously as other forms of violence.

In November 2011, During the 16 days of activism on violence against women, Women’sNet invited the public at large to occupy the internet and reclaim online spaces as well as to take the pledge “I don’t create or forward violence”. Incidents like the one in Soweto this week remind us that there is still a great deal of education and sensitization required about the perpetration of violence against women using technology.

There have been calls from many women’s organisations to implement a stronger focus in the Protection from Harassment bill on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a tool that can be used to perpetrate gender-based violence but also as a tool to prevent this violence. Women’sNet welcomes calls to improve legislation in order to fight violence against women, bearing in mind that the changes should also be evaluated in terms of possible negative consequences in terms of censorship and access to information.

Women should no longer be subjected to violence and harassment online, and it is within social media users’ power to report and prevent incidents of online violence against women. Women’sNet is now renewing this call for social media users in particular to sign the pledge “I don’t create or forward violence”.

This talk was originally written for Women'sNet website.

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