By Shannon Molloy

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.

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

Hagar Cohen, who spent months investigating the issue for the ABC Radio National show Background Briefing, spoke to about 30 women who had been raped or sexually assaulted.

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'."

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

READ MORE: • Consensual sex became violent rape

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 after 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 [was] asked but she doesn't believe anything is going to come from it."

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.

Despite her first experience, she took part in the case - and it unravelled again because of 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."

Sexual violence in New Zealand, by the numbers

• From July 2014 to the end of January this year 13,758 people reported a sexual assault to police.

648 in Canterbury
642 in Counties Manukau
576 in Central
566 in Auckland City
553 in Wellington
532 in Waikato
529 in Bay of Plenty
486 in Waitemata
458 in Southern
332 in Eastern
275 in Tasman
268 in Northland

• Between January 2016 and January 2017, 5865 people were raped or sexually assaulted in New Zealand.

• Of the victims, 4567, or 77.9 per cent, were female, 10.9 per cent or 639 were male. The remaining 11.2 per cent did not specify a gender.

• Most victims were aged 15 to 19.

• Of the ethnicities specified, European victims made up 36.3 per cent, Maori 21.2 per cent, Pacific Island 4.5 per cent, Asian 2.5 per cent, Indian 1.7 per cent.

• In New Zealand, up to one in three girls will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience by the age of 16. Most of those experiences would be considered serious, and more than 70 per cent involved genital contact.

• Up to one in five women will experience sexual assault.

• It is estimated that 90 per cent of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim.

• Reporting of sexual violence in New Zealand is very low; an estimated 9 per cent of attacks are reported to police.

- Source: NZ Police, Rape Prevention Education

If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so your neighbours can hear you.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.

Where to go for help or more information:

NZ Police
The Harbour, for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour
Help Auckland 24/7 helpline 09 623 1700
Rape Prevention Education
Wellington Help 24/7 crisisline 04 801 6655, push 0
Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz
- Additional reporting, NZ Herald