A young woman has spoken about how a former lover threatened to show her family, new boyfriend and university compromising photos of her unless she had sex with him.

The case is one of several prosecuted under new cyber-bullying legislation, which, just months old, has already protected several women from the devastating effects of revenge porn.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act was passed into law more than nine months ago allowing police to charge anyone who posts something online intending to cause harm to another person.

At the turn of the year, a police spokeswoman said eight had been charged under the act; but those numbers have risen since then with four known cases currently tracking through Auckland courts.


In one case, a 24-year-old plumber from the North Shore could also face as long as two years in jail or a fine of up to $50,000 for putting another young woman through psychological hell.

The complainant - who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity - met the man online midway through last year and the pair struck up a bond.

The woman said she was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder at the time and was keen to make new friends.

"My mind wasn't in a good place," she said. "I felt unwanted and unloved."

Their relationship soon became more intimate but the woman confronted him after finding photos of herself, some taken without her knowledge, on his phone.

Though he deleted them, he took other x-rated snaps while she was sleeping.

But she only found out when she got back together with her ex-boyfriend.

The 24-year-old threatened to show the love rival the photos - "to show him who you really are" - unless she had sex with him.

When she stalled he also claimed he would send them to her family and the university at which she was studying.

The victim was not aware of the new legislation but said she was hugely relieved the police were able to use it to shut the man down.

"The police were really good about it and took it seriously," she said. "They had it sorted out within 48 hours."

The man will be back in court next month and she hoped for at least a conviction against his name to mark the offending.

Meanwhile, she said her trust in other people had been shattered, which was made even more pertinent after her friend had been similarly pursued and severely injured by a man a few years ago.

The high-profile case combined with her own experience had given the woman much to dwell on and she encouraged others in her position to contact police.

"What happened to her was horrific and sure, it doesn't happen often, but it does happen," she said.

In another case, an east Auckland mechanic will appear in Manukau District Court next week after allegedly putting "semi-nude pictures" of a woman online.

And in Nelson District Court on Monday, Aaron Stephen Tamihana, 28, was sentenced to 11 months prison for sending a disturbing video to a woman via Facebook.

Detective senior sergeant Craig Johnston said the sentence sent a clear message that the justice system took this kind of offending extremely seriously.

"People need to think very seriously about what they are posting in any digital media forum and if the intention is to cause harm to another person the consequences could be very serious as we have seen here."

He said that even using offensive language in digital communications with the intention of causing emotional harm to another person could be considered an offence under the act.

"People need to take the message the judge has sent in this case very seriously as their use of social networks and electronic communications could land them in a lot of trouble."

James Ting-Edwards, issues advisor to internetNZ and Auckland District Law Society member, said such cases were "right in the bullseye" of what the new law was trying to capture.

But he pointed out that only part of the legislation was operational.

A key part of the legal framework will see the Government appointing an "Approved Agency", which will act as a mediator in disputes between complainants and those hosting the allegedly harmful content.

It is understood Netsafe will compete with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for the role and a decision will likely be made by the Ministry of Justice before July.

Netsafe's chief technology officer Sean Lyons said the Approved Agency would work with parties to find a solution rather than swamping the court with civil cases.

"We think it's great there's now legislation," Mr Lyons said. "This is not like the UK legislation where a guy puts a nasty tweet up and does six months [jail]."

He said the act provided judges with a range of non-punitive options including issuing takedown notices, ordering rights of reply to be published or apologies alongside offensive material.

The system was "unrivalled", he said.

But there have already been murmurings of concern within the blogging community about freedom of speech.

Those worries were exacerbated in December when a Dunedin-based blogger was ordered, under the act, to censor his website by a District Court judge, only for the judge to rescind his judgement six days later because the sections he cited were not yet in effect.

Mr Lyons believed any concerns were unwarranted.

"There a feeling out there... that there's something really badly wrong with the legislation, probably based on infringing on people's rights to express their opinions. The truth is, at some point it might. But if your freedom of speech breaks the law and harms people there has to be a conversation about that," he said.

The numbers

• 60 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute

• 483 million people around the world actively engage on Facebook every day

• 1 billion tweets are sent by Twitter users every day

• 2.9 million Trade Me users who publish 20,000 new posts on message boards every day

Source: Law Commission ministerial briefing paper