Zimbabwean Activists Call for Specific Laws to Fight Revenge — Women & Girls

With the rise of smartphones and social media, the problem of revenge pornography is growing across sub-Saharan Africa. But countries such as Zimbabwe have failed to introduce laws to protect victims against this destructive trend.

Being crowned Miss World Zimbabwe 2015 was a dream come true for 27-year-old model Emily Kachote. But her dream was short-lived – barely a month after being crowned, she was forced to relinquish her title amid allegations that nude pictures of her were circulating on the internet.

Although the Miss Zimbabwe Trust, which runs the pageant, never produced any evidence of the photos – to this day, Kachote hasn’t seen any – she was dismissed after an investigation in which the organizers said she had given contradictory statements about how and when the photos may have been taken. Kachote has always insisted that she never knowingly posed for any nude photos, and has since sued the trust for wrongful dismissal and defamation of character, in a case that is still ongoing.

Even if she manages to clear her name, Kachote believes irreparable damage has been done. “People believe whatever they read whether true or not, so they believe I posed for nude pictures even though they have never seen them, and I now bear that label,” she says.

She says the scandal has also cost her potential modeling work. “When people want to employ you, one of the first things they do is Google you. Unfortunately, the first things they see are nude picture headlines,” she says.

Kachote is only one of what activists say is a growing number of women who find themselves the victims of revenge pornography every year.

Revenge porn is defined by the U.K. Criminal Justice and Courts Bill as the “non-consensual sharing of photographs or films which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public.” Globally, activists have identified it as a new form of gender-based violence (GBV).

In parts of the world where there’s a great emphasis on female chastity, it’s often the victims who end up shouldering the blame and stigma associated with revenge porn.

A 2016 research paper by the Malawi Human Rights Commission and the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre in Norway focused on the phenomenon in Malawi and Uganda and found that revenge porn is broadly seen as “a problem of user naivete rather than GBV” and as such “women who are perceived as deviating from the norm, for example, by allowing themselves to be photographed naked, are derided and chastised in the court of public opinion for it.”

Monica Kirya, a coauthor of the report, says revenge pornography “is a particularly egregious type of crime since it results in the blaming and ostracizing of the victim.”

And, like many other countries, Zimbabwe doesn’t have a law that specifically addresses the problem. Currently, cases of revenge porn are usually dealt with under anti-pornography or anti-obscenity provisions in the law.

For many activists, the current laws don’t go far enough in protecting the victim. Zimbabwe’s anti-pornography laws do not identify the non-consenting parties as victims, which has resulted in many people who are the targets of revenge porn being threatened with charges or being charged for “acting” in and distributing pornographic material.

Women’s rights organization Katswe Sistahood wants to change this and is lobbying the country’s lawmakers to include the criminalization of revenge porn within the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill, which was proposed in 2016 and is currently still at the public consultation stage.

“For me the focus is now on trying to protect women, because most of the victims of revenge pornography are women,” she says. “The law as of now does not define a victim and a perpetrator in this issue. So, whether victim or perpetrator, the punishment is still the same.”

David Hofisi, a human rights lawyer who reviewed the draft bill on behalf of the Katswe Sistahood, says in his report that while the proposed bill criminalizes pornography, the law is too broad and overly punitive. It fails to address the destructive motivations behind revenge porn.

“It stifles any debate on the important subject of revenge pornography as the provision makes it an offense to produce and possess pornography of whatever kind,” Hofisi says in the report. Hofisi says the proposed law needs to explicitly address “the offense of violating a person’s computer system or breaching trust and sharing information over a computer system with the intention of causing harm.”

Katswe Sistahood’s director, Talent Jumo, says including an anti-revenge porn statute makes sense given the popularity of smartphones and social media platforms.

So far, she says, she knows of no cases of revenge porn victims successfully getting justice, even when they know the perpetrator.

“Something has to shift drastically,” Jumo says. “Because clearly, the issue of revenge porn is gendered.

“When a sex tape is leaked, society will slut-shame, and even ostracize, the woman while the man is praised for his virility. Criminalizing revenge porn will be a demonstration of our commitment to gender justice and equity,” she says.