As Valentine’s Day approaches, a senior criminal lawyer is warning online daters that people can be charged with a criminal offence if they engage in inappropriate behaviour both online and in person.
Slater and Gordon senior criminal lawyer Ersel Akpinar said while it was becoming the norm for singles to use online dating services, it didn’t come without its risks.
“As people’s lives get busier and our digitally connected society continues to evolve, there is no doubt that online dating services are a convenient way to meet people,” he said.
“But it is important that people are aware of the potential consequences if they do not use the services as they are intended.
“When two people begin conversing online, it is important that they are mindful of language and tone.
“There are very serious consequences if someone is found to be harassing another person, whether it’s online or in person.
“In NSW under the Crimes (Domestic & Personal Violence) Act 2007, an Apprehended Domestic Order can be issued to stop harassment and inappropriate behaviour, and if severe enough, can also result in a criminal charge.
“Harassing, stalking or physically intimidating another person with the intent to cause fear of physical or psychological harm carries a maximum penalty of five years jail or $5,500 fine, or both, under NSW laws.”
He said there were also specific laws that protected people if they were harassed by someone using an electronic device.
“With social media playing such a dominant part in our lives, it is very common for “sexting” (sharing explicit images online or via mobile phone) to get out of control,” he said.
“Sending graphic text messages or starting an explicit discussion online that is not welcomed by the recipient can lead to potential criminal charges.
“Under the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth), if a person uses a computer, a mobile phone or even a mobile app to offend or harass someone, the maximum penalty carries three years imprisonment.”
Mr Akpinar said while he was seeing more cases involving inappropriate “sexting”, he was also seeing cases of “revenge porn” where someone (usually an ex-partner) threatens to publish explicit material online if a demand is not met (such as money).
“Unfortunately with the increasing usage of cloud technology and the ability to share across multiple online platforms, it is hard to destroy photographs and electronic data,” he said
“Because of this, I am definitely seeing a rise in cases involving people threatening to publish explicit material to distress their former partners.
“Under the NSW Crimes Act 1900, someone who intimidates or annoys another person in order to compel them to do something or to abstain from doing something can face a penalty of two years’ imprisonment or a fine of $5,500 or both.
“At the end of the day common sense must prevail for anyone going online to find their Mr or Ms Right.”