Protecting yourself from that pesky online harasser

In today’s digital age, experiencing online harassment and cyberbullying is as common as catching a cold during winter.

The Protection Against Harassment Act provides recourse to individuals who experience online and other forms of harassment.

Harassment includes a broad spectrum of conduct including the following: watching, pursuing or accosting, loitering outside of or near the building where one lives, works, studies or happens to be; engaging in verbal, electronic or any other communication aimed at one, or a related person, by any means, whether or not conversation ensues; sending or delivering letters, packages, emails etc. and actions which amount to sexual harassment.

Where one has been harassed, legislation entitles one to apply to Court for a Protection Order by filling out a standard form, drawing a short affidavit providing the details of the harassment,

Once the application is brought to Court, the Court considers whether a case has been made out. As such, it is always advised to provide the Court with any emails, tweets, Instagram posts, etc. which illustrate the harassment.

If the Court is satisfied that a case has been made, a temporary protection order will be granted which will prohibit the harassment, and enjoin the protection of the SAPS if it continues. Failure to make out a case may result in the Court merely issuing a notice to the harasser, advising him/her that there is a return date to present his/ her defence.

There is always a challenge identifying the harasser in online harassment. The Act resolves this by allowing one to call on the relevant entities (the cellphone company/ the website host) to obtain the harasser’s digital footprint, identity and address.

On the return date – after the issue of a temporary order – the Court will either make the order final or dismiss the case. Should the harasser not appear in Court at all, the order will be made final and a protection order is usually granted.

The law has aimed to make this process as user friendly as possible, and this order can be obtained with or without the assistance of an attorney.

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