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The Protection from Harassment Act

 

 

 

Harassment, whether physical or non-physical, direct or indirect. Including harassment through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Remedy through the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011.

In an attorney’s legal practice, one often gets consulted by clients who claim that they have been harassed and ask what their legal remedies are. This often happens in matrimonial matters or other family law related matters. Remedy for such instances can now be sought through Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 which came into operation on 27 April 2013. 

In terms of this Act, harassment is not necessarily a physical act. It can be indirect or direct. This is similar to the legal definition of assault, which can be a direct physical assault, or an indirect assault, where somebody is threatened to be assaulted. If a complainant in a matter is harassed at his or her work, residence or place where he or she studies, he or she can launch an application in terms of the Protection from Harassment Act. All that the complainant need prove is that the other party was watching, accosting or loitering outside the building where the complainant, was studying, residing or working.

Many people are harassed via social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Mxit. The new act provides a great deal of protection to people harassed through these platforms. The legal definition in terms of this Act would include verbal, electronic or other communication aimed at the complainant, regardless of whether conversation ensues. It would also include the sending or delivering of letters, telegrams, packages, fax, email, or the sending of other objects to the complainant or a related person, or leaving such written communication or objects in a place where they are likely to be found, given to or brought to the attention of the complainant. 

In terms of the Act sexual harassment is defined as any “unwelcome sexual attention from a person who knows or who reasonably should know that such attention is unwelcome”. The sexual behaviour, suggestions, messages or remarks of a sexual nature must have the effect of “offending, intimidating or humiliating the complainant or a related person”. Sexual harassment also includes the making of promises of reward for conforming to a sexual request or punishment or threat of reprisal for refusing a sexual request.

In terms of the Act any individual who has applied for a protection order in terms of the Domestic Violence Act may also apply for protection from harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act. I would imagine that it would be fairly easy to prove that you have been harassed, particularly in instances where the harassment is via a social media platform. It would seem that all that one would need to do here would be to save the message on Twitter or Facebook or whatever the social media platform is. I have heard of situations where parties have successfully sued for defamatory remarks made against them on Twitter. I see no reason why the same would not apply in situations of harassment.

Mxit is a social media platform used frequently particularly by school children. There have been newspaper reports of people meeting each other through Mxit, which meetings have eventually led to rape and murder. It will now be a lot easier to get protection if you feel that you are being harassed through Mxit. I would imagine that school bullying would also become less as it would be easier here also to get protection if you feel that you are being harassed.

All in all the Protection from Harassment Act was indeed necessary, particularly as we are now living in a society where there are more and more social media platforms. I do think that the Act can be abused by people trying to lodge complaints without the necessary evidence. I am sure that our magistrates in court are efficient enough to be able to distinguish between a legitimate complaint and one that is fabricated.


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