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Sipho Swart is continually being called gay and other related names by a group of people at the local taxi rank. He was recently pushed to the floor by one of these members of the group. Roelien van der Merwe was distraught when she found out there is a website containing terrible comments about her. It was talking about her weight and said things along the lines that she was dirty. The website invited others to become actively involved with bashing her.
For a long time, victims of harassment (harassment includes abusive electronic communication, stalking and bullying), have battled with behaviour that violated their rights but that was not considered criminal and therefore could not be punished by law.
The long awaited Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 came into operation on 27 April 2013. Under the Act harassment is not limited to physical and verbal abuse. People who receive threats or unwanted attention via social media and text messages may also apply for a protection order.
Who is protected?
The Act makes it possible for anyone who feels harassed to approach the court without a legal representative and apply for a protection order.
A child under the age of 18, without the assistance of his/her parents, or a person on behalf of a child, may apply for a protection order.
If a person is not able to apply for a protection order for himself, another person who has a real interest in stopping the harassment can apply for a protection order on the harassed person’s behalf.
What protection is offered?
The Act allows for a special process by which an initial court order is made without the immediate knowledge of the person who is harassing the complainant. The order is based on the complainant’s side of the matter only. The Court will immediately grant the order where it is satisfied that there is prima facie evidence that the complainant is being or may be harassed and that harm is or may be suffered if the protection order isn’t granted immediately.
A future date is then arranged for the person against whom the protection order is sought to oppose the interim protection order being made a final order of court.
In addition, a protection order can be tailored to the needs of the complainant in his/her specific situation. This means that the court has the power to prohibit a person from engaging in harassment or committing any act specified in the protection order.
A warrant of arrest may be issued at the same time that the protection order is granted. If the person contravenes the protection order by continuing to harass the complainant, that person may be arrested immediately.
Failure to comply with the final protection order is a criminal offence and the transgressor may be liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.
How do I apply for a protection order?
The complainant must apply for a protection order by completing an application form at any magistrate's court where he/she lives or works or any magistrate’s court where the instigator of the harassment lives or works.
The complainant is required to set out the reasons why a protection from harassment order is sought and to provide detailed descriptions of all incidents of harassment he/she has experienced.
The complainant is also able to request that the specific acts committed by the person causing the harassment be listed in the protection order, as well as to request the court to impose any additional conditions necessary to protect the complainant and provide for his/her safety and well-being.
In order to protect the complainant, the physical home or work address of the complainant will be omitted from the protection order provided to the perpetrator.
Bullies will now think twice before sending sexually offensive and other abusive material, as the long arm of the law will be effective in dealing with those who hide behind anonymity.
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