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A spike in the number of proceedings connected to the Harmful Digital Communications Act in the Waitaki district highlights an increased awareness about online abuse, Sergeant Blair Wilkinson says.

The HDCA was introduced in 2015 to legislate for serious instances of bullying and harassment by people using digital technology. It made it illegal to send messages and post material online that deliberately causes a victim serious emotional distress.

Figures released to the Oamaru Mail under the Official Information Act reveal there have been 15 police proceedings under the Act in the Waitaki district since it was introduced.

Proceedings included prosecutions (nine cases), referrals to youth aid (one), informal warnings (one) and formal warnings (four).

Until last year, there had been no prosecutions in Oamaru under the Act, just formal and informal warnings.

In 2019, eight cases were prosecuted and two resulted in formal warnings. There was another further prosecution between January and May this year.

The most common offences under the HDCA in the Waitaki district were abuse and the sharing of intimate images, Sgt Wilkinson, of Oamaru, said.

“I think people are becoming more aware when it comes to taking and sharing intimate images of themselves. It crops up with people of all age brackets.”

Sgt Wilkinson said there was an increasing awareness in the district that abuse was not always physical.

“Digital communications can be a way of abusing people,” he said.

“There are now investigative techniques and procedures to hold people to account.”

Causing harm by posting digital communication is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of $50,000 for individuals and a fine of up to $200,000 for companies.