Cybercrime is any criminal activity that involves a computer, networked device or a network. While most cybercrimes are carried out in order to generate profit for the cybercriminals, some cybercrimes are carried out against computers or devices directly to damage or disable them.


Written by Zen Williams – Director Rise Against Domestic Violence and Francesca Pedrosa - Legal Volunteer

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Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in South Africa, with one in four women experiencing physical abuse at the hands of their partners. While much attention has been paid to the physical and emotional toll of domestic violence, there is a growing recognition of the role that technology plays in perpetuating and exacerbating this problem. As more and more of our lives are lived online, it is increasingly important to recognize the intersection between domestic violence and cybercrime, and to equip law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to combat this problem.

South Africa has recognised the growing problem of Cybercrime in the country and has attempted to address the issue by creating and enacting legislation. In 2021 the Cybercrimes Act 19 of 2020 came into effect. The Act has amended a multitude of other legislation to ensure that it is in line with the Cybercrimes Act, such as the Criminal Procedure Act, South African Police Services Act, the Criminal Law Amendment Act among other Acts.

The main purpose of the Act is to reduce and prevent cybercrime in South Africa. The Act creates 20 new offences specifically for cybercrime and imposes penalties for such offences. It criminalises the disclosure of data messages which are harmful and the disclosure of data messages that contain intimate images. It further regulates the jurisdiction of cybercrimes which was previously a major issue when attempting to open criminal cases relating to cybercrimes as authorities could not decide which police station or court had jurisdiction over the matter, it even allows for the courts to adjudicate over any act or omission constituting an offence under the Act even if the cybercrime is committed outside of South Africa and it affects a person in South Africa. The Act provides for the SAPS to investigate, search, access and seize, as well as allowing for the SAPS to co-operate with foreign states to investigate cybercrime. The Act is there to help and assist law enforcement to enforce the law and to protect the people of South Africa.

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What is so important in having a piece of legislation such as the Cybercrimes Act is the enforcement of such Act. This involves ensuring that the relevant authorities are trained properly in order to identify and correctly respond to incidents of Cybercrime. The issue which we face in South Africa is a lack of resources and training to implement the procedures and regulations of the Act. Often we find that that law enforcement agencies are not sufficiently trained to recognise and respond to incidents of Cybercrime especially ones committed where there are elements of domestic violence. Often victims are sent to open protection orders in terms of the domestic violence Act and not afforded the opportunity to proceed in terms of the Cybercrimes Act.

Besides the lack of training, enforcement and implementation of the Act, there are also concerns about the capacity of law enforcement agencies to deal with these type of cases. Domestic violence is already a complex and sensitive issue, and when you add in the complexities of cybercrime, it becomes even more challenging. Many police officers may not have the necessary expertise to deal with these types of cases, and there may also be a lack of resources and funding to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence cybercrime.

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As more and more people in South Africa gain access to the internet, it is important to ensure that everyone has access to the same level of protection against domestic violence cybercrime, regardless of where they live.

The solution to these problems is clear: South Africa needs a cybercrime department in each city, and individuals assigned who specifically deal with cybercrime where it involves elements of domestic violencce. These departments would be staffed with trained law enforcement officers who have expertise in both domestic violence and cybercrime. They should be equipped with the necessary technology and resources to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence that occur online, and they should work with and co-operate closely with other agencies, such as victim support services and mental health professionals, to ensure that victims receive the support they need.

A domestic violence cybercrime department would play a critical role in raising awareness about this issue and educating the public about the risks of cybercrime. It would give South Africans peace of mind that they know there is a department dealing with these specific offences and ensuring their safety and protection from cyber related offences, especially the ones involving elements of domestic violence. By working with schools, community groups, and other organizations, these departments could help to promote safe and responsible online behaviour, and encourage victims to come forward and report crimes.

Of course, creating a cybercrime department is not without its challenges. There would be significant costs associated with training and equipping law enforcement officers, and there would need to be a coordinated effort to ensure that these departments are established in a way that is sustainable over the long term. However, the benefits of such departments far outweigh the costs.

South Africa has made some progress in recognizing the importance of addressing domestic violence in the digital age, but there is still much work to be done.

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