By Ila Ananya
In more depressing news about laws to do with sexual abuse, Latoya Nugent, an activist in Jamaica, who has been involved in publicly naming perpetrators of sexual violence via social media, was arrested. The reason? Nugent was charged under Jamaica’s Cybercrime Act, for the “use of a computer for malicious communication.”
Nugent is the co-founder of Tambourine Army, a movement led by women and survivors of sexual violence who talk both online and in public about their horrifying experiences. It reportedly describes itself as “a radical social justice movement committed to uprooting the scourge of sexual violence and safeguarding the rights of women and girls.” According to a Facebook post by the Tambourine Army, Nugent was physically harassed and arrested—“This is what happens when you dare to speak out against the people and system that protects perpetrators of violence against women and girls,” it wrote.
What’s triggered the arrest is probably Tambourine Army’s hashtag #SayTheirNames, which encourages women who have been sexually abused to name the perpetrators and tell their stories. Just this act of naming, which Nugent did when she called out several men as sexual predators, resulted in the men lodging police complaints against her. News reports even called her decision to call out sexual harassers on social media a “maligning” tactic—a strange phrase that does seem to presume that what Nugent is doing wasn’t the “right” thing to do.
In Jamaica, Nugent’s arrest has further triggered conversations on what use Jamaica’s Cybercrime Law is being put to when it comes to online speech. Closer home, it reminds us a bit of the shocking responses given by TVF when Arunabh Kumar was accused by a woman who chose to remain anonymous. The problem remains that in Jamaica, as in other places around the world, there is room for interpretation when it comes to “malicious” communication. As Global Voices Advox wrote, “If she had named perpetrators in a public offline space, authorities may not have had legal grounds for her arrest”.
This case doesn’t only throw light on a constant clamping down freedom of speech, but also throws light on how existing laws are misused to easily stop women from making complaints about sexual abuse, or making it tougher. As activist Tillah Willah said in a Facebook post, “We See this act for what it really is-a witch hunt for a group of activists who are challenging a society that does not want to confront its problems with child sexual abused and other manifestations of gender based violence.”
Photo courtesy: Tambourine Army Facebook page.