Women who are victims of revenge porn in Uganda and Malawi are harassed and vilified. The law does nothing to protect them.  

Revenge porn was on everyone’s lips in Uganda when a famous female pop singer’s spurned lover published suggestive photos and a sex tape in 2014. The women’s rights organisations and female activists were remarkably quiet. The pop singer was vilified and harassed by the public, by the police and even by government ministers. The primary reaction towards victims of revenge porn in Sub-Saharan Africa is slut-shaming. Not even the law protects them.

The law lags behind
When the videos were first leaked, the police wanted to arrest the pop singer, LD, and charge her with spreading pornography. Even Uganda’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity joined in. He announced that the State was considering instituting criminal charges against her under the Anti-Pornography Act.

Across the country, the message was that LD should be punished. Nobody considered the fact that she had not given consent to the publication of her photos or videos, says Monica Kirya, researcher and senior adviser at the Chr. Michelsen Institute.

Together with her co-author Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff at the University of Cape Town, she  examined cases of revenge porn in Uganda and Malawi. They  found that revenge porn is rarely acknowledged as gender-based violence. Existing laws are nowhere near sufficient as a means of curbing revenge porn and ensuring redress for victims.

-Information- and communication technology has spread with tremendous pace throughout Africa, but the law has not kept up, says Kirya.

Both Uganda and Malawi, the countries studied by the researchers, have legal provisions to protect privacy, dignity and women’s rights. Yet, the laws fail to recognise revenge porn as a means of violence, and censorship and anti-pornography laws entail the risk that even consenting adults who take pictures or videos as a part of their sexual relationship are considered criminals.

-The current e-legislation creates criminals out of both the perpetrators and the victims, says Kirya.

Steeped in double standards
The Ugandan pop singer who was publicly slandered managed to turn the incident into  career capital. She posted an official apology on Facebook saying that she was sorry she had been so foolish, was forgiven and ended up being even more famous than she was before the videos were leaked. Kirya questions the moral sanctity of a public that forces a woman to apologise for being a victim. To her, the Ugandan case is the perfect example of the double standards that women are faced with every day.

-Gender norms consistently promote female chastity. Women are not supposed to flaunt their sexuality. They are supposed to be pure. At the same time female singers and actresses have to play the sex card to get their career going, says Kirya.

The majority of women (and also men) who are victims of revenge porn are not in a position where they can fight back or turn the incident into something beneficial, like LD did. They cannot use it to boost their popularity or fame. Revenge porn is a serious violation, and the consequences are devastating for most victims. Revenge porn causes people to lose their family and friends, their jobs, and sometimes their home. One of the researchers’ case studies from Malawi ended with a couple having to leave the country.

Kirya would like to see a greater willingness to address the situation on the part of the judiciary and politicians.

-Firstly, revenge porn needs to be recognised as a crime and as gender-based violence. The prevailing legal framework is inadequate. In fact, many current provisions have the potential to further victimise people who have had images published without their consent. The focus should not be on the original consensual creation of the image, but on the non-consensual distribution of the image, says Kirya.

She would also like women’s rights activists and organisations to take a firm stand against the further victimization of women who experience revenge-porn.

-So far, they have been painfully quiet. They need to speak out against revenge porn and the heavy burden it represents for the victims, says Kirya.

 

Monica Kirya

Senior Adviser (U4)