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OPINION: Govt must outlaw Roast Busters

Wednesday 6 Nov 2013 1:00 p.m.

The Roast Busters case has shown the Government up - it's far too soft on this disgusting kind of online behaviour.

Sadly, the humiliation dished out by the Roast Busters goes much further than their alleged victims - they have embarrassed the New Zealand Police and the legal system by getting away with it.

The question everybody is asking is this - why can't we stop them?

The Roast Busters have made New Zealand law look like an ass.

It is not often that anyone would accuse Justice Minister Judith "Crusher" Collins of being too soft, but in this case she's been caught on the hop.

Collins introduced cyber-bullying laws to Parliament yesterday with a press release saying "Collins calls time on cyber bullies".

But the Harmful Digital Communications Bill wasn't even a day old and the question was already being asked: would it really stop Roast Busters?

I honestly don't think it would stop them.

Under the proposed cyber-bullying laws, the worst Roast Busters might face is three months in jail or a fine for posting objectionable material. There's also "take down" and "cease and desist" notices.

Yes, this is a good start. Yes, this would help - but I think most New Zealanders would agree the alleged behaviour by Roast Busters is deserving of much greater punishment than that.

We already know the Roast Busters are skirting around the age-old sexual violation laws - the police can't even investigate because they have not got a complaint. Once again it's shown up the institutional weaknesses in dealing with victims of sexual crime.

But even the modern cyber-laws don't really counter what the Roast Busters are up to.

So we have got the Roast Busters-style offending escaping our established sexual violation laws and, we have got them hardly touched by our new cyber bullying laws. It slips straight through a gap between the sexual and cyber laws.

The Roast Busters case is making both our old and our new laws look like an absolute ass. We need to outlaw it.

The Roast Busters case is a unique and disturbing cross between sexual offending and cyber bullying.

The existence of cell-phone cameras and video, omni-present online life, and changing youth culture means there are going to be more Roast Busters-type cases.

Judith Collins cyber-bullying laws were designed before the Roast Busters case. It's not too late to change them.

Collins can add a Roast Busters offence to her cyber bullying bill - and she knows it. The offence would be to do with online "sexual" objectionable material and doesn't necessarily require evidence from the victim. The proof is there in the postings.

This offence would carry a deterrent sentence, well above the three months for cyber bullying but below that given for rape (which given its severity requires different standards of evidence).

In short, a new offence that covers a cross between sexual offending and cyber bullying that doesn't actually require victim's evidence but carries a sentence of up to five years in jail following a court case of course. Add it into Collins' cyber bullying bill before it passes next year.

There's plenty of legal brains and bureaucrats sitting around Wellington - get them onto it today.

We know that technology outstrips the law. But that is no excuse.

The Roast Busters case has shown us flaws in the system. The Government cannot ignore them. The Government must outlaw Roast Busters-type behaviour.

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