Queentah Wambulwa was living with her aunt in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa three years ago when she started receiving messages and photos on her phone – intimate images which had been taken of her a few years earlier.
And now, they were being widely shared without her consent, and even posted to Facebook, which she says hit her hardest.
“Coming from the village, we had a Facebook page. So when the pictures were sent there, then everyone saw them. Everyone downloaded them so people were sharing. My parents were sent the same, my mom, my dad, my uncle, the church, in school, everywhere.”
Queentah grew up in a religious family in a village where her parents are well known, and the fall-out was devastating. Her mother, a community activist, has to deal with her opponents still saying “she doesn’t know how to bring up a child”.
The village was also where Queentah felt the loneliest and most humiliated. She recalls being “called all sort of names” by motorbike taxi drivers when she went to the market.
What happened to Queentah is known as revenge porn – an issue which has escalated with the proliferation of smart phones, social media and platforms such as WhatsApp, which allow private or sexual images to be widely distributed in a short period of time, without a person’s consent.
Legislation has been slow to catch up with what advocacy groups prefer to describe as image-based sexual abuse, but there are signs of change. In 2020, South Africa introduced a law that says anyone who knowingly distributes private sexual images or films without consent could face a fine and/or up to four years in prison.