WOMEN who feel the system has failed them are taking to the internet to name their alleged rapists or attackers, as part of a growing trend of digital vigilantism.

It's known as 'rape shaming' and there are several recent examples in Australia of victims using social media to take justice into their own hands.

Police warn the practice could derail ongoing investigations and hurt the chances of prosecution, not to mention the potential for defamation proceedings brought by those named.

But those who've rape shamed say they have no alternative, few regrets and nothing to lose.

Hagar Cohen has spent months investigating the issue for the ABC Radio National show Background Briefing and spoke to some 30 women impacted by rape or sexual assault.

Some had named their alleged attackers and others were planning to, spurred on by the belief that the justice system couldn't - or wouldn't - help them, she said.

"The women I spoke to felt a desire to protect other people from their abusers and many felt a sense of guilt that if they didn't do something, they would let down other people," Cohen said.

One victim who was raped when she was just 15 is preparing to name her attacker online and believes it will bring her some comfort, she said.

From her act of revenge, the man would forever be known as a rapist - an outcome that she felt "wonderful" about.
"She said to me that it would 'probably be the biggest f*** you' she could give," Cohen recalled.

"He had taken so much power from her, she felt powerless, and she thought it would be beneficial to take some back. She said: 'I just want the whole world to know what a horrible, disgusting person he is.'"

 

 Rape is a dramatically under-reported crime in Australia, experts say. Picture: Martin Lange Source:News Limited
Rape is a dramatically under-reported crime in Australia, experts say. Picture: Martin Lange Source:News Limited Claudia Baxter

Lauren Ingram is a journalist who in June took to social media to name her alleged rapist, after several failed attempts to have the matter dealt with by authorities over two years.

The first detective told her the man was "just a kid who didn't know how to have sex yet" and other investigators mishandled evidence, she claimed.

On the day Ingram posted a series of Tweets, she hadn't been planning to identify her alleged attacker until seconds before she did.

"It literally exploded from there," Cohen said.

The 27-year-old took part in Cohen's story, who followed her as police interest in the complaint was reignited following the name and shame.

"They called her again and asked her to come in to give a statement," Cohen said.

"It was the third statement she's had to give now. Lauren was very compliant and did what she asked but she doesn't believe anything is going to come from it."

 

A Sydney journalist who has accused a man of a violent sexual assault said she has been let down by the justice system.Source:News Corp Australia
A Sydney journalist who has accused a man of a violent sexual assault said she has been let down by the justice system.Source:News Corp Australia

As well as support, Ingram's actions drew strong criticism from those who felt she was denying someone the right to the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'.

It's a valid point, Cohen admitted.

"It's an important concept that our society relies on. And it's true that usually vigilantism often starts as something that seems like a good idea but gets crazy very quickly."

But that "tricky, dangerous" road is one many desperate women feel compelled to travel.

Another woman was raped in 1997 and her complaint to police didn't go anywhere, until she was contacted six years later when three other victims came forward.

Some of the injuries sustained by Lauren Ingram. Picture: SuppliedSource:News Corp Australia
Some of the injuries sustained by Lauren Ingram. Picture: SuppliedSource:News Corp Australia

Despite her first experience, she took part in the case - and it unravelled again due to mismanagement, Cohen said.

"So many people have a profound distrust of police and the courts.

"For many, going to the police in the first place isn't even an option. They don't think it's worth it. When you get that kind of reaction, it seems something is wrong."

Cohen also spoke to a woman who named her alleged attacker on Facebook and was threatened with a lawsuit as a result.

And she met a man who was shamed online, who insisted he had done nothing wrong.

"He had to flee basically. He changed his name and identity - it was massive for him."

 

Police have implored victims to let them deal with matters. Picture: Jerad WilliamsSource:News Corp Australia
Police have implored victims to let them deal with matters. Picture: Jerad WilliamsSource:News Corp Australia

Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett, commander of NSW Police Sex Crimes Squad, was also interviewed by Cohen and implored victims to let police deal with their matters.

"She pointed out that if public shaming occurs, it could damage the chances of success in court and also damage a police investigation.

"She has obviously seen first-hand many cases that did achieve an excellent outcome for victims."


If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence national hotline on 1800 RESPECT or call police.

News Corp Australia


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