Five years after coming into force, more than 500 people have been charged criminally under the Harmful Digital Communications Act.
And Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker says it has received nearly 14,000 civil complaints through the Act.
Data obtained by the Herald through the Official Information Act shows 556 people have been charged under the Harmful Digital Communications Act since its inception in 2015.
In the past few years the number of charges has increased, from 80 in 2016 to 127 in 2020.
Cocker says there are two offences under the Act: one is criminal, which is handled by police,and the other is civil, which goes through Netsafe, and can be taken to a civil court.
The outcome from the civil process wasn’t the prosecution of an offender but hopefully the discontinuation of whatever was causing harm, he said.
A broad range of offending was covered under the Act and Cocker said they saw a wide scope of issues which they would usually class as harassment.
This includes incidents like bad-mouthing bosses or siblings online, all the way through to image-based sexual abuse.
Overall the Act encompasses online and mobile communications used to send or publish threatening or offensive material and messages, spread damaging or degrading rumours or publish invasive or distressing photographs or videos.
At the moment, it requires someone to intend to hurt another person when they share offensive content.
However, earlier this year an amendment to the Act was proposed which seeks to explicitly make posting of intimate images and recordings without consent illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison.
It would also allow courts to issue take-down orders for revenge porn recordings.
A Netsafe survey in 2019 found 5 per cent of New Zealand adults – or 170,000 people – had been the victim of online image-based abuse. Instances had been reported by people over 70 years old.
Ninety-five per cent of the victims were women.
Cocker said the number of people criminally charged under the Act was in line with predictions, and by and large people were now aware of the offences under the Act.
“Not many countries have, you know, covered the breadth of offending that Netsafe now does under regulation, but it is a incredibly complicated and very imperfect system for resolving harm so there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Where to get help:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
• NATIONAL ANXIETY 24 HR HELPLINE: 0800 269 4389
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