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The realities of porn in a digital world: What should be done in Zim?

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Yesterday,the news coming out of the United Kingdom was that revenge porn had been officially classified as a crime with legislation passed that can see offenders who break this new law face up to 2 years in prison.

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Revenge porn is when an ex lover shares any sexually explicit content with your image (pictures, videos) online with the intention of shaming or embarrassing you.

The revenge porn issue has been a very visible challenge, something attributable to the countless platforms that the whole world has for sharing digital media. What’s even more striking regarding the UK legislation against revenge porn is that reports in the UK’s independent have cited cases where this digital evil has claimed victims as young as 11 years old.

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The question though is, how does that affect us? Well, sadly, because of the ugly side of technology, issues surrounding all sorts of digital content distribution, including pornography, not just revenge porn, are also in our backyard.

Before we even consider how revenge porn is becoming an issue locally, there is the sad reality that pornography has already carved its own space in mainstream content distribution. Despite the fact that it is illegal in Zimbabwe, we still have it being sold in very public places with total disregard for the law.

There are so many platforms to access different forms of material, and its virtually impossible to control what is being watched.

While we have the internet offering a gateway to endless possibilities for anyone who has access to an internet connection, there is still the huge market that purchases material in the form of DVDs, something that has turned street vendors into formidable distributors of naked entertainment. In short, it has become a thriving business in its own right, and it isn’t being reigned in.

In an article published in the Sunday Mail last year, the porn war in Zimbabwe was singled out as a lost cause largely because the police itself was consuming the material which was said to be “as easy to buy on the streets as buying a banana.”

With such an approach to “mainstream porn”, it’s no wonder then that there is little or no action taken against these offenders of the Censorship and Entertainments Control Act.

This Act is the current legislation that makes it a crime to possess any indecent or obscene material in any form (pictures, sketches, recordings, audio content, statues etc). This also means that it acts against the whole premise of revenge porn, or sharing such content. It’s the same Act that was invoked in the case involving convicted church leader Robert Martin Gumbura.

What should be done by the State?

In all of this, the big challenge lies in enforcing the laws that make revenge porn and indecent material illegal. We already have the laws but they just aren’t being enforced. In all honesty, it hasn’t been done, at all.

In a sense the authorities are faced with so many challenges. It is next to impossible to monitor every form of exchange between a country’s citizens without violating some serious laws on personal privacy and any victim of revenge porn is also a criminal, so no one can effectively make a case against a perpetrator. Then of course there’e the reality that even if the State wanted to, there is no way to keep up with the social media and IM platform exchanges.

Perhaps in the new cyber security bill there could provision for crimes related to any  infringement of digital privacy. The idea is not entirely foreign and as a matter of fact was highlighted at the e-Tech Africa Expo by the Minister of ICT in his official address.

Before any of that happens though, the best thing is to just not get caught on the wrong side of the law when it comes to indecent material.

What do you think the State should do to deal with all forms of pornography, and not just revenge porn?


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18 thoughts on “The realities of porn in a digital world: What should be done in Zim?

  1. I have a question, is it illegal for zim websites, ie those ending with .co.zw to post indecent material, ie porn pics, vids etc, I ask this because in my line of work, we always getting sextapes and so on, is posting them breaking the law?

    1. Yes it is, possession of such material in the first place is a crime. Distribution is also a crime, not sure if posting on your site amounts to distribution, but most likely it can be classified under distribution

    2. Where is the website hosted? If it is hosted locally, then I’d say yes, you are “in possession” of illegal material. It becomes a bit less clear if your website is hosted abroad: are you still “in possession” if the server is abroad?

      The question might be academic since you’ll need to upload it from your local phone/computer (undoubtedly coming into possession). It could successfully argued that you are inducing other people into breaking the law.

      I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice.

      1. Its not important where the website is physically hosted. It is in Zimbabwe if it ends with a .co.zw domain so its against the law to host adult material on .co.zw websites.

        1. As far as I am aware, there is no law that says it’s illegal to host porn on the .co.zw domain space: please educate me if I’m wrong. It probably is against the ZISPA (registering authority) terms & conditions (i.e. it’s against the terms of a contract, but not against the law)

          Here’s a thought experiment: if you go to google.co.zw and do an unfiltered image search for “porn”, you will be served indecent materials from Google’s servers that are physically located abroad. Which law has Google broken?

          I believe it is currently unsettled whether a country’s legal jurisdiction extends into cyberspace (see controversial US Dept of Commerce ‘.com’ domain seizures. The claimed nexus was an American registrar rather than the .com TLD)

  2. There should be laws against “revenge porn”, which is a serious case of cyber-bulling.
    But there should be no laws against other porn. What’s “indecent material” to you is not so to another person. We cannot have a nanny state that seeks to determine what’s good for me and what’s not. As long as the user can be cautioned to ensure that content is not made available to children, it should be nobody’s business.

  3. Another front,, I believe hetrosexual porn MUST be legalized to act as a promotional item for hetrosexual sex and act against homosexual sex which is being promoted heavily in the media.

  4. Just doing some cursory reading of the law, it bans the possession, importation and dissemination of obscene/indecent (porn) material. So on that basis, anyone and everyone who surfs the internet who has stumbled across any form of porn is essentially guilty of importing such material. Anyone who has received/sent porn via any form of media (print/visual) is therefore guilty of possession/dissemination.

    Zaniest – You would be guilty on all counts irrespective of where your server is hosted for as long as you’re physically in Zimbabwe.

    But like everyone else has said, some of these issues are academic and the law always falls way behind technology. With the current rate of technological advancement, we (as a nation) may have to adopt a more liberal stance towards such material and instead have laws governing the distribution thereof.

    I agree with the UK stance on revenge porn. That’s a bold step in the right direction. If we take the same steps we may also deter people who are distributing some of the varsity student sex tapes.

    P.S. I’m not a lawyer

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