Nearly 40 people across the country have been charged under the new Harmful Digital Communications Act within the first year of the law passing.

Since July last year a cruel catalogue of sinister cyber harassment has come before the courts from Invercargill to Auckland as police take action against the very worst bullies targeting victims online.

Justice Minister Amy Adams is hailing the act a success with 38 people prosecuted as of last Thursday.

Of those 19 have been through the courts and 19 were still being processed.


The range of actions that has been caught by the new legislation is seemingly wide.

While some have been collared for publically posting explicit photos of ex-partners on social-media sites, others have been pinged over allegedly harmful private emails or text messages.

Ms Adams said she was surprised at the large number of prosecutions indicating the act was long overdue.

"I'm very proud of the legislation we have.

"In the time the law has been passed the real necessity for this legislation has become even clearer and the people who said we didn't need this law early on seem to have gone strangely silent."

"I've actually been a little surprised at the number of prosecutions there have already been under the act but the fact we've already had three people sent to prison because their offending has been that bad makes me realise this is a serious issue."

One of the first cases of its kind to come before the court was that of 28-year-old Aaron Stephen Tamihana.

He was jailed for 11 months after sending a video of his ex-partner involved in lewd acts to her mother in a message entitled "what your daughter's really up to".
Judge David Ruth at Nelson District Court recognised the reason for the new legislation.

"We live in a world where it is very easy and certainly in a very cowardly way and impersonal third-person way to communicate with others without fronting up yourself," he said.

"In my view, to not imprison you would send totally the wrong message to you and others who might embark on this sort of behaviour."

As well as jail terms, sentences handed down had so far included four of community-based punishment and one of reparation.

Read more: Our roll of shame

Ms Adams said when the bill was being debated police were initially concerned the threshold was too high to prove any intention of serious emotional distress.

"They thought the bar was set too high and the civil liberties group thought it was set too low but actually even with police's concern the fact that they have had quite a number of successful prosecutions and three so serious they were sent to jail shows me there is significant abuse."

She said while it was not unique to New Zealand it appeared cyberbullying was ramping up.

"I think it is indicative that there is a very nasty element at play and the particularly nasty trend of revenge and blackmail porn.

However, there were early signs the act was tackling the issue of cyberbullying as intended with the cases sitting at the pinnacle of abusive, harmful online behaviour appearing before the court.

She said this would soon be complemented by a comprehensive system to deal with bullying with the establishment of the approved agency to build a good education and awareness campaign.

This included campaigns on the effects of engaging in this sort of behaviour online and challenging the growing culture of cyberbullying.

" It's about awareness, trying to prevent the behaviour happening but where the behaviour is occurring giving people a quick, easy, low cost and effective means to deal with it but also making sure the law has the teeth for the really nasty stuff."

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A digital communication should not:

• disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual.
• be threatening, intimidating or menacing.
• be grossly offensive to the affected person
• be indecent or obscene.
• be used to harass a person.
• make a false allegation.
• publish material that is in breach of confidence.
• incite or encourage anyone to send a message to someone for the purpose of causing harm.
• incite or encourage someone to commit suicide.
• denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

Where to get help:

• In an emergency: call 111
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633, or text 234 (available 24/7) or or live chat (between 7pm and 11pm)
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 (weekdays 11am to 5pm)
• NetSafe: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723),