Five things you should know about new revenge porn laws in SA

 04 November 2016

It is now an offence to threaten to send an intimate image of someone.

Even if you don’t ever send a photo, you can be charged for threatening to send an “invasive” image of someone where you mean to arouse genuine fear in the person that a photo of them will be shared.

Why is this a good thing? Because threatening to share private images of someone can be used as a weapon of abuse and control. It is bullying. The Law Society is aware of several instances of abusive partners threatening to send images of their current or former spouses as a form of blackmail against them.


The definition of “invasive” image has been expanded to include female breasts.

Previously, it was an offence to distribute an image depicting a person’s genitalia without their consent. Under the broadened definition of invasive images, it is also an offence to distribute a photo depicting a female’s bare breasts without the female’s consent.


Police have more options to deal with minors who send private images without consent.

A flaw in the previous legislation was that a police would have little option than to charge a minor (person under 18 years of age) with child pornography offences for sending an invasive image of a person under 17 years old. This is because the recording, distribution, or storing of naked or semi-naked images of children could only be prosecuted under child pornography laws.

Now there is another option for police who investigate the dissemination of sexualised images of minors. For example, a 16 year old boy who shares a photo of a 16 year old girl without her consent should be regarded as an offence, but the boy should not be treated as a sex offender. It may, in some circumstances, also not be suitable to charge a young adult, such as a 19 year old, with child pornography offences.  The police now have the option of charging someone with the “aggravated” offence of distributing an invasive image of a person under 17 years old.


The new laws do not say anything about people in genuine relationships

Young people in genuine relationships who engage in sexting are not covered by the new laws. This means that minors who consensually exchange intimate photos of each other could be violating child pornography laws. Of course, this behaviour should not be dealt with by child pornography legislation, but there still exists a genuine risk of young people unwittingly getting caught up in the criminal justice system. How does this happen? Because sexting between teenagers can come to the attention of disapproving parents or other authority figures, who then notify the police, and the police have no choice but to investigate and, in some cases, lay child pornography charges despite there obviously being no predatory or exploitative behaviour going on.


Filming violence or other “humiliating or degrading” acts can also be unlawful

This is not a new law, but it is worth pointing out that the law does not just criminalise the non-consensual sharing of sexualised images, but also makes it an offence to record, or share a recording, of someone being humiliated or degraded. This usually applies to filming of people being subject to violent attacks, known colloquially as “happy slapping”. 

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