Victim shaming

The matter involving former PNM senator Hafeez Ali has been accompanied by rhetoric from people seeking to score political points.

One UNC official has been quoted as saying “misbehaviour in public office” was involved even though there is no suggestion of this on the known facts. While the truth behind the resignation remains subject to some degree of speculation, extortion/blackmail has been suggested. The only “abuse” or “improper” thing here would be the gross violation of Ali’s right to a private sexual life, whether facilitated by modern social media tools or otherwise.

Even the PNM, too, has unfortunately participated, with one party official describing Ali’s conduct as a “transgression”, as though we are entitled to judge it as such. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Also unacceptable are remarks that have been made in relation to a reported scheme to publish private photos of girls and women which on Wednesday resulted in the Children’s Authority warning the public to desist from sharing illicitly-obtained materials.

Incredibly, people have taken to social media to deride the female victims, saying they should never have recorded footage in the first place.

Never mind the fact that while there is a risk inherent in any communication tool, these individuals are still entitled to their privacy and to being allowed to express themselves sexually.

People would do well to remember the words of High Court judge Justice Frank Seepersad.

“There can be no circumstance that is more private and confidential than where parties are engaged in consensual sexual activity in private,” the judge said in 2015 in a landmark case brought by a woman who had her images deliberately leaked by an ex-lover. “An obligation of confidentiality can and must be implied. Consequently, all photographs and recordings which capture sexual practices conducted in private should only be disseminated where the express consent of all the parties involved has been obtained.” The judge ordered cricketer Lendl Simmons to pay the victim $150,000.

Sadly, legislation to tackle cybercrime is limited. For example, the Computer Misuse Act is restricted to specific circumstances. The Act dates back to 2000 before the rise of social media and modern information communications technology. Also, it limits the bringing of a prosecution to within 12 months, meaning once time passes, the perpetrators will be immune.

While child pornography is outlawed, not all victims will be people under 18 years, nor is it always easy to prove that the recipient/transmitter knew of the age of the victim. The controls on the State’s surveillance statutes are also so inaccessible as to be nugatory.

Both the Cybercrime Bill 2015 and the Cyber Security Agency Bill 2015 lapsed in the last Parliament. However, the Government has placed the matter on its legislative agenda for the period 2015-2017.

That said, law is one thing, enforcement another. It is a well-known fact that the police are stretched.

Does the Cybercrime Unit have what it needs to tackle sophisticated hackers? The other side of the coin is the social aspect relating to the audience.

As the sacking of Port-of-Spain Mayor Raymond Tim Kee reminded us, victim shaming is a real problem in our society, particularly when women are involved.

Local politicians would do well to take a cue from US President Barack Obama who this week said, “We need to change the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality but gives men a pat on the back for theirs.” If we don’t end our double standards and hypocrisy about our bodies and our privacy rights, we are no different from the violators.


"Victim shaming"

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