Features — 05 May 2018

It is most unfortunate that it seems that one of the national pastimes has been to use social media to bring down, attack, degrade, humiliate and where possible, destroy the lives of each other. This has reached one of the most vile phases, where without regard for any consequences many have taken to Buy & Sell page and posted vile comments and ‘“obscene” nude pictures or videos of persons who have become the target of their vitriol. Much of what is said is also hate speech, especially the two most recent of two men, apparently in gay relationships, being called out and their pictures being sent all over. One female went as far as calling out the mother of one of the young men and another female went after the status of the other as a “badman” in the community.

It seems many are entertained by these rather degrading materials and go as far as commenting and endorsing, and few condemn what I consider the attacks, outright hate speech, cyber-bullying and a criminal act!

Criminal acts need to be reported to the police

I may not be satisfied with the state of our law in relation to the new phenomenon of social media and the lack of proper laws to address the opportunity it gives for commission of crimes, but I believe that we should make full use of at least what is at hand on our law books for now. With the hope of educating and enlightening readers of what our law states, I bring to the attention of all, that their abuse and misuse of social media to circulate nudes of persons or videos of people in sexual acts is actually a criminal offence under our Summary Jurisdiction (Offenses) Act, Chapter 98 Laws of Belize.

Said law states:

“A person who-

(a) for the purposes or by way of trade, or for distribution or public exhibition, makes or produces, or has in his possession, or imports, conveys or exports, or causes to be imported, conveyed or exported, or in any manner whatever puts into circulation, any obscene writing, drawing, print, painting, printed matter, picture, poster, emblem, photograph, cinematograph film or any other obscene object; or

(b) carries on or takes part in a business, whether public or private, concerned with any of those obscene matters or things, or deals in any of them in any manner whatever, or distributes them, or exhibits them publicly, or makes a business of lending them; or

(c) advertises or makes known by any means whatever in view of assisting in that circulation or traffic, that any person is engaged in any of the above acts, or advertises or makes known how or from whom any of the obscene matters or things aforesaid may be procured either directly or indirectly, is guilty of an offence and is on conviction liable to a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty dollars or to imprisonment for six months.”

I opine that the law as it stands can arrest and charge those persons who without impunity have taken to Facebook and posted those pictures and videos or have done so on the pages of other groups.  However, the victim needs to go make a complaint or anyone who has seen and been offended by it can go make a complaint, because what needs to be proven is that he photos or videos are “obscene” and that a particular person has used some means to circulate theses. So not even the victim himself or herself needs to make the complaint. As a matter of fact a social worker, police officer or even a friend or relative of the victim can pursue it.

The same law applies to where the material is forwarded from phone to phone because all the police needs to prove is that you had said photo or video in your possession by virtue of having it on your cell phone or having a hard copy of even having it on your computer. So whether it is shared openly or secretly, the fact remains it is still an offence and police should pursue the charges against anyone, since it is of no use to have the law, if it is not applied.

Revenge or ridicule it seems

It is disturbing the rate at which videos/photos are being leaked of males and females in their most private and intimate sexual acts. These may be them in some of the most graphic sexual acts with lovers, partners or just a “friend” … but whatever the circumstances and whoever the partner is … at the end of the day it was a personal, confidential, private act. Acts which in a moment of maybe “poor” judgment they videotaped or photographed, thus putting full trust in said partner.

How these videos and photos eventually reach the hands of the persons who release it, as it varies from case to case … some are released by a rejected, scorned, and spiteful lover, who took the videos/photos; while others are released by hurt spouses/partners who finally discover proof of the suspected infidelity. However, the fact remains that these videos/photos were never meant for public consumption.

As a matter of fact, those very intimate sexual acts in private are ok, normal, accepted as private acts, but made public they can be classified as obscene, in law, because of their very explicit nature.  Per the definition of the word “obscene”, relying on various dictionaries, it can be summed up to mean : “of the portrayal or description of sexual matters, offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency; pornographic,  indecent,  smutty,  salacious,  dirty,  filthy,  X-rated,  explicit,  lewd,  rude,  vulgar,  coarse., crude, offensive,  immoral, improper.

 Because matters of an explicit nature are supposed to be private acts, once made public, especially without the consent and approval of the parties, they are considered obscene. However, I would love to see the first test case brought before the courts before a competent magistrate to see how the prosecution will present its case and how the magistrate will rule, since it is of no use to have laws if we do not use them to bring about law and order in our society.  As things stand with these nude and sexual videos and photographs, we are surely a lawless society out of order!

I believe these photos and videos are being released either out of revenge or to bring shame and ridicule to its subject, and all who are condoning it and assisting to spread it must take responsibility for their part. I don’t think we stop to think about the greater societal problem we are creating and how we too are now more easily exposing our children to such lewd and explicit material at even a young age. I say this needs to stop but the reality is that these acts are a reflection of the society we have become.

Based on the foregoing I am disappointed that people keep posting and circulating these scandalous comments and videos/photos via social media. Buy and Sell Facebook page has become a site of choice, but the administrator needs to be careful because by law the administrator can be arrested and charged for the publication and circulation of these videos/photos.

Those who have become the victim of revenge porn, please go make a report at the police station and request court action. Stop leaving these offensive criminal acts unaddressed. Police must arrest and charge ANYONE who in anyway helps to circulate these. It is a crime! It is punishable by a fine of $250.00 or six months imprisonment. Yes, the penalty seems so mild compared to the damage created and the lives destroyed, but it is a start until we as a country demand that our legislators act and pass the appropriate laws. I prefer they get imprisoned. What about you?

I know of at least two cases where young girls committed suicide after their nudes were circulated amongst classmates and then the wider population, but because it involved minors the news did not go into the details. I personally did a case where the young girl stayed in a very abusive relationship because her then boyfriend threatened to release her explicit videos and nude photos if she left him. It was an unbelievable situation, yet it is the reality our young people are facing and we as the adults are not leading by good example, I must add!

Join the call for stronger laws!

I am advocating for amending the law to increase the penalty and for the passing of “revenge-porn” law and cyber-bullying laws, as this is just one form of bullying. I also hope new laws are legislated to address the reality of what the internet is being used for, to expose, embarrass and more so destroy the lives of so many men and women in such a small community. Sadly, the women take the brunt of the damage caused and even sadder is the fact that it is often women who have in many instances been leading the release of these videos/photos, much to my distress.

However, until the law is updated to meet the changing reality, I ask that those whose private, intimate videos/photos have been posted anywhere on the internet or sent by WhatsApp or Messenger or Bluetooth or by any electronic means, please don’t suffer in silence … go make a police report and seek justice. After all, having been so humiliated, bullied, and hurt, you got nothing else to lose … so seek a conviction.

All of those who allow their page to be used to post these or who are forwarding to others, take note that you too can be arrested and charged since it is not only the original sender who is guilty of breaking the law … it is anyone who presses that “forward” button.

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Deshawn Swasey

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