South Africans had a lot more to celebrate on Freedom Day when the Protection from Harassment Act became effective. For a long time, South Africans from all walks of life battled with behaviour that violated their rights but was not considered criminal and therefore could not be punished by law.
The Protection from Harassment Act makes it possible for anyone who feels harassed to approach the court without a legal representative and apply for a protection order. Under the act, harassment is not limited to physical and emotional abuse. People who receive threats or unwanted attention via social media and text messages may also apply for a protection order. Those found guilty will have to pay a fine or spend as much as 5 years in jail.
The public reaction on social networks has been positive. Many feel that the simple process will make it easy to report and trace offenders. SABC News reported that the authorities are pleased with the act because protection will be available to people who cannot afford the exorbitant fees charged by lawyers for representation in harassment cases.
Social network subscribers can also breathe a sigh of relief. Previously, subscribers had to tolerate unwanted direct and inbox messages or block offending accounts. Blocking offenders is a useless exercise as offenders simply open a new account and launch a new attack.
Sms’s will also come under scrutiny if complaints are received. The Protection from Harassment Act requires network service providers to cooperate with lawful investigations and provide the personal details of offenders. This includes all the information provided by a user when registering a SIM card as required by RICA.
South Africans hope that bullies will now think twice before sending threats, sexually offensive and other abusive material. All a complainant has to do is walk into a Magistrate’s court with a username and telephone number, and the long arm of the law will be extended to effectively and swiftly deal with the offender.