“Send nudes” pops up on your phone. It’s a message from a potential partner you “met” on one of the many dating apps out there. You’re being asked to share intimate photos of yourself and engage in what has become a typical exchange in this day and age: “sexting”. You wonder, should you play along with hopes that it will confirm your interest in this person? Or do you play it safe, knowing that sharing pictures online can be a risky business? Technology is changing the way we date and are intimate, but there are many drawbacks, and the dangers of ‘sexting’ are widespread and potentially devastating.

A closer look at the context: just how prevalent is “sexting” in South Africa?

It’s estimated that just over a third of our population possess smartphones, but that doesn’t mean that South Africans aren’t as digitally savvy or “connected” as other countries. Many South Africans rely on technology in their sex and dating lives, in fact, a 2017 survey by the Kinsey Institute revealed that 77% of South Africans “sexted” and that we are the top “sexting” nation in the world. Yes, the world!

Does this mean there is added pressure to “sext”?

You may be tempted to take an explicit snap and send it “because everyone’s doing it”. Or other pressures may come into play. According to the online counselling services provider, Mobieg these pressures include not wanting to come across as a prude, feeling guilty if you are in a long-distance relationship or thinking it is the only way to prove you are attracted to a person, amongst others.

What exactly are the dangers of sexting?

Of course, if you do find yourself seriously considering sending an explicit picture to someone online, you still need to know the potential negative consequences of “sexting”. Because of the increase in this activity in the country, the South African Police Service sent out a warning about the dangers of sexting. The ones to take note of are:

  • The loss of control and power of who sees the image

Essentially, once your explicit image, video or message has been sent online, you lose control of how it is distributed and who will see it. This also means that you might not be aware of how it is being used by someone who wasn’t necessarily the intended recipient.

  • Humiliation and psychological consequences

Because an explicit image on the internet can spread like proverbial wildfire, it can be particularly humiliating and embarrassing if it gets circulated amongst people you know, such as family or colleagues. It can lead to bullying and cyberbullying. Of course, this kind of shame can very easily lead to depression and, in some tragic instances, suicide or self-harm.

  • Possibility of being “sextorted”

A combination of the words “sex” and “extortion”, this means someone blackmailing an individual using the explicit images as leverage. This is often an older person trying to extort someone younger (or a minor).

  • Being a victim of “revenge porn”

For those not in the know, “revenge porn” refers to sharing or distributing of nude or sexually explicit material of someone without their permission to humiliate or “get back” at them.

What does the law say?

In the past, anyone seeking legal recourse against someone who shared intimate images without permission, would’ve been advised to go the criminal route and lay a charge for what’s known as crimen injuria, which means your dignity has been infringed upon and you could sue for damages. “Thankfully, the law is evolving with the digital age,” says Bayanda Mdingi, a legal advisor at LAW FOR ALL.

In 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Films and Publications Amendment Act that made revenge porn illegal in South Africa into law. “Any person found guilty of sharing explicit images without the person’s consent will face time behind bars or hefty fines” warns Mdingi. If the victim is unidentifiable in the content, the perpetrator could face two years in jail and/or pay a fine of up to R150 000. However, if the victim can be identified in any way, the perpetrator could spend four years in prison and/or pay up to R300 000.

For example, if an ex-lover, a former friend or a complete stranger maliciously shares explicit images or videos of you on social / online platforms or uploads them onto pornographic websites, you can lay criminal charges against them.

Not to mention, any sexually explicit images that is shared of anyone under 18 (even if both parties are under 18) may be classified as child pornography. This means that the person who takes the image, the person who receives the image and any person who shares the image may be found guilty of producing or distributing child pornography.

Top tips for dealing with threats of being blackmailed or “sextorted”

Over the last couple of years, “sextortion” scams on WhatsApp have been on the rise in South Africa, specifically targeting men (of course, everyone is vulnerable). But, as Carte Blanche suggests, there are steps you can take to help build a case if you want to report the incident to the police and protect yourself from becoming a victim of “sextortion”:

  • Do not delete any of the messages. Yes, you might think that deleting the messages might make everything go away, but that isn’t the case. Instead, take screenshots of the threats from the scammer as these can possibly be used as evidence in a legal case.
  • Contact a lawyer immediately and them about what your legal options are.
  • Talk to someone you trust and ask them to accompany you to the police station and open a case.
  • Discontinue all communication with the scammer
  • Report the extortionist to the messaging or social platform they are contacting you on.
  • In addition to legal assistance, try and get some counselling as well. This can be a traumatic ordeal and you will need all the support possible.

How can I protect myself from becoming a victim of “sextortion”?

  • The moment you start a conversation with someone online, do some research on them. Pop their name into Google and see what comes up.
  • Because most scammers use images of other people, it’s also best to do a reverse image search on their profile picture.
  • Don’t share personal information; remember, this is a complete stranger.
  • If the person seems quite adamant about getting images -whether explicit or not- from you, it’s probably best to block them.
  • Lastly, because of the high risk, it’s probably not a good idea to share any explicit images at all. However…
  • If you feel as though you can trust the person, it’s better to send intimate photos that do not show your face or any other identifiable marks, such as a tattoo or birthmark.

Take a moment to think before you click “send”.

Technology is changing the way we navigate our dating lives and intimate relationships. But, no matter how you choose to connect with potential partners or keep your relationships exciting, it’s always important to consider the risk and take steps to protect yourself. Not only can you not control what happens once intimate content is on the internet, but you also cannot always trust what people will do with it. 

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If you have fallen victim to someone sharing intimate images without consent or a sextortion scam, it’s best to seek caring legal advice immediately. LAW FOR ALL policies are pocket-friendly and provide comprehensive cover for whatever legal challenge life throws your way. For more information on how LAW FOR ALL can become your friend in times of need and help you navigate life have a look at our policies here.