Cyberbullies target young women with indecent messages
By Regis Nhumba
The crime of using digital media platforms to share unsolicited and sexually explicit material continue to spiral despite the enactment of the Cyber and Data Protection Act in 2021, in Zimbabwe.
In a recent incident, Lisa Phakade (19), from Mahatshula South in Bulawayo says she got the shock of her life one day when she saw a video call from a number that was not recorded in her mobile phone. The video depicted male genitalia and Lisa says she was taken by surprise and dropped her phone.
“I had not anticipated anything like that. It was my first time to receive such a call. When my phone rang, I just picked it thinking that it was one of my friends. When I saw the video call displaying male genitalia, I felt threatened and humiliated. I just dropped my phone in confusion. Fortunately the phone did not break. When I checked, the caller had hung up,” says Lisa.
Lisa says since she got a mobile phone, she had never shared or received pornographic material. She says she just uses the phone to communicate with her parents, friends and other relatives.
“On my phone, I have several Applications such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. These Applications help me to keep in touch with people that know and relate to. I do not entertain strangers on these applications,” says Lisa.
After the video call incident, Lisa says she thought the message was just accidental but a few hours later, she received nude pictures of a man whose face was obliterated. The number was not recorded in her phone, so she decided to block it.
“At that stage I could not bring myself to talk about this to anyone. I was so embarrassed and started to fear checking any messages coming through my phone. After blocking the number, I felt relieved, thinking that it was all over. I was wrong. A few minutes later, I checked my phone only to see that I had been added into six different pornographic groups,” says Lisa.
Lisa says as that stage, she realised that the issue had grown out of control. She says she told her parents about the whole incident. After some consultation, she says her parents reported the case to the police.
“After investigations, the phone number was tracked and it belonged to one of our male neighbours. Police arrested him and my parents attended the court session. He was released after paying admission of guilty fine. However, since that incident there is bad blood between our families,” says Lisa.
Sharing pornographic material in Zimbabwe is an offence, according to the Cyber and Data Protection Act of 2021. The aim of the law is to “increase cyber security in order to build confidence and trust in the secure use of information and communication technologies by data controllers, their representatives and data subjects.”
According to the Cyber and Data Protection Act of 2021, “Any person who unlawfully and intentionally by means of information and communication technologies generates and sends any data message to another person, or posts on any material whatsoever on any electronic medium accessible by any person, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, threaten, bully or cause substantial emotional distress, or to degrade, humiliate or demean the person of another or to encourage a person to harm himself or herself, shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 10 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.”
Despite these clear provisions, many girls say they have received unsolicited pornographic material on their phones.
Monde Sibindi (22) who lives in Bulawayo says she has received some indecent materials on her phone but has never thought of taking legal action against the perpetrators.
“Sometimes the messages are shared by my friends but there are times I receive such information from strangers. I have never thought of reporting. I simply delete the messages and block the number,” says Monde.
Lisa feels that the proliferation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) should be accompanied by strong awareness raising programmes so that people use the technologies responsibly.
“Many people do not realise the consequences of their online actions. There is need for ongoing awareness raising on how to use technologies responsibly and to inform people about the Cyber and Data Protection Act,” says Lisa.