The Twitter account @helpsurvivors, which “exposes” alleged rapists based on allegations sent in by other users, retracted an allegation it posted against an alleged rapist after it was found to be a prank.
The account, and accounts similar to it, was established as part of the #AmINext? movement in reaction to the high rates of femicide in South Africa as well as the brutal murder and rape of women like UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana, boxing champion Leighandre Jegels and Jesse Hess.
On Wednesday evening, however, @helpsurvivors retracted an allegation against the man, saying: “After thorough investigation, interrogation and confirmation after today’s incident, we have concluded that the account that had accused the alleged rapist … provided false accusations.”
It added: “The alleged was publicly humiliated today, because someone decided to prank him and take advantage of the platform we have created to let victims [survivors] voice their silenced pains. Again, we sincerely apologise to [the accused] and those associated with him.”
The man was accused by a user of raping her after a party, however, specific details are unknown.
News24 has decided to omit the name of the accused so as not to cause further harm.
The announcement came much to the dismay of many users who warned the account could be susceptible to more incidents like this.
Replying from another linked account, @helpsurvivors3 told News24 its aim was to provide a platform for survivors.
“Help survivors stands as an organisation that stands in the gap for victims of abuse, whether it be emotional, physical, mental. It is furthermore an organisation that provides victims of abuse with a platform to share their story, whether it be anonymously or not.”
It added it was in the process of becoming a non-profit organisation (NPO).
“It serves as a platform for a voice. It is currently a campaign/initiative and will soon be officially recognised as an NPO that is aimed at bringing a change, it is additionally also aimed at being a movement that will not die down. We as the HelpSurvivers group refuses to back down.”
Many high-profile politicians and celebrities have been accused, their pictures and names posted on the account. They include DJ Fresh, Tumi Sole, Northern Cape Premier Zamani Saul, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Njabulo Nzuza and EFF leader in Limpopo Jossey Buthane.
Attorney Tracey Lomax-Nixon said she could understand why women would take this route to out perpetrators.
“They’ve been let down by the police system or they haven’t had the courage to go to the police because they know they will be revictimised if the matter goes to court. They probably also genuinely want to warn other women about these men, so I don’t think this stems from a place of malice,” Lomax-Nixon added.
However, she said, going about it in this way could cause accusers themselves harm.
“If these men take action against these women, the only defence they’d have is to show that the comments are true and that they’re made for the benefit of the public and without intention to injure.”
“I wouldn’t want to be a woman with that kind of onus on me because you know you’re going to be re-traumatised, you know that when the trial happens you have to describe the rape, you’re going to have to go back through whatever it is you’ve been trying to avoid by making those comments,” she explained.
Lomax-Nixon suggested women should take alternative, more legitimate, routes to seek healing.
“If they want to find an alternative, we can start with restorative justice mediation, we can look at civil action but you need to use avenues which are legitimate and where your rights are protected and unfortunately this kind of vigilantism, as much as I understand it, is not legitimate.”
“I think it’s going to cause a lot of harm ultimately to what is starting to become an incredibly powerful movement.”
She said most of the women who had contributed to the site were “just at their wits end”.
“They don’t know what else to do, they don’t know who to turn to, they don’t know how to exact justice. They know what happened to them and they see their abusers walking free, it must be incredibly difficult to live with.”
“Your anonymity is not going to protect you that much… Pursue avenues which are not going to get you into trouble … if you don’t want to sue or take legal action we understand, it’s a traumatic process. Then we urge people to seek help and healing so that they can pass that trauma,” Lomax-Nixon said.