The Internet is a many splendored thing. The ways it helps reduce the distance between friends and family members who may not live in the same city or even country would have been unthought of in a previous century. Unfortunately, as such great things tend to be, the Internet is also a double edge sword. Strangers or hostile persons who desire contact that is unfriendly or unwanted, may easily do so in the world of Google Search, or should we say, Google Stalk?
As pointed out by Law Minister, Mr Shanmugam, “the anonymous, borderless, viral and permanent nature of cyberspace makes harassment and bullying easier and more egregious“.
Unfriendly contact could come in the form of actions and words that cause alarm, distress or fear. Imagine being told that you deserved to be raped – and having the heinous deed described in a realistic manner. In real cases of online harassment, female victims have had revealing images of themselves circulated, their office address and contact details, along with the time they usually got off work posted. The emotional toil could subsequently affect the safety, health, reputation or economic position of the victim – just as the stalker or harasser hoped to achieve.
Fortunately, stalking and threats (to cause harm) are offences in the Protection from Harassment Act 2014 and victims of threats can charge their aggressors with criminal intimidation. Threats can be made verbally or in written form – so even images of bullets and sickening gore captioned with the intention to traumatise the receiver could be used as evidence. Even repeated acts of uncalled-for affections can also be stopped. For example, Jennifer sends flowers to Bob daily despite the fact that Bob has asked Jennifer to stop doing so – such actions come under unlawful stalking and it can constitute harassment especially if the receiver has already asked the sender to stop doing so.
So how can you protect yourself if you feel you are being harassed?
- Calmly and firmly tell the harasser to stop.
- Break off all contact with the harasser.
- Protect your personal safety and information (Be cautious of your surroundings and avoid deserted places. You should also try to move around in the company of friends and family members.)
- Seek help from family and friends.
- You may also wish to contact your religious or community leaders, authorities in your school / workplace and even social organisations such as Association of Women for Action and Research / Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth.
- You could also seek mediation at the Community Mediation Centre.
Legally, you can make a police report or magistrate’s complaint. You may also apply directly to the Court for a Protection Order. It costs between $300 to $500 to lodge a complaint, but those in financial need can seek help from the Legal Aid Bureau and The Protection Order will direct the harasser to stop the harassing behaviour. The Protection Order can also put a stop to the spread of harassing communication by others who re-publish the communication. In urgent cases, the Court may grant a temporary Expedited Protection Order on the spot.
If you are able to prove in court that the harasser’s statements are false, the Court can direct the publication of a suitable notification which alerts readers that the statements are false. The form of notification will be at the discretion of the Court. You may also wish to sue for damages.
The harasser can be penalised with fines not exceeding $5,000 (first-time offender) and jail term not exceeding 12 months or both. Repeat offenders may have their fines increased to $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both.
Should you require legal help, Asia Law Network will be able to link you to a professional that can give you a more in-depth analysis of your situation.