Whether it’s verbal abuse, threats, or sexual harassment, nothing’s off the table on the internet. hatefree offers legal help to victims of digital violence – without the hassle or financial risk. Co-founder of the legal aid organization, Dr. Sara Siakala tells us just how it works.
Online hate often causes the victims a great deal of mental stress. The dangers of digital violence extend much further than the individual’s own suffering, however. As studies have shown (German only), online hate has already taken on a dimension which poses a threat to democracy. hatefree was founded in order to counteract this development by human rights expert Dr. Sara Siakala and attorney Markus Hampel, who specializes in the right to free expression. The non-profit organization offers specialized legal support to those affected by digital violence – without the hassle or financial risk.
“With hatefree, we want to do our bit so those affected are better protected and perpetrators are held responsible by judicial means. Our team is made up of attorneys, human rights experts, and economists. With their help, we make perpetrators stop spreading hate, delete comments, and, in the case of severe legal infringements, pay financial compensation to the victims,” says Dr. Sara Siakala.
I’ve fallen victim to digital violence – what can I do?
The service is aimed at private victims of verbal abuse, threats, defamation, a violation of the individual’s right to their own image, a violation of intimate parts of body by taking photographs or other images (overview of potential legal violations). The first step for those affected is to submit the information concerning the incident via a contact form. It is important to secure legally watertight evidence right away in order to take legal action against someone later on. This means saving screenshots of hateful comments or messages. The hatefree website summarizes everything you need to keep in mind for this.
The hatefree team then gets in touch with those affected once a three-level legal review has been completed, explains Dr. Sara Siakala. “We then decide on our best course of action for the case in question in consultation with the person affected. We also take it upon ourselves to check whether anyone wants psychosocial support throughout the process. We provide them with the right contacts where necessary.”
Legal support is also psychological support
At hatefree, attorneys, human rights experts, and economists work in close collaboration with one another. It is the sole non-profit advisory service in Germany which is authorized of offering legal reviews, legal counseling, and law enforcement services. Thanks to her team’s special expertise, Dr. Sara Siakala and her colleagues have already been able to enforce numerous claims to cease and desist, deletions, and financial compensation payments. This kind of success is also important for the victims of digital violence from a psychological viewpoint.
“Legal successes against digital violence help those affected regain emotional stability. I’m also convinced that people who know how to defend themselves under (civil) law no longer feel vulnerable to digital violence. It strengthens their faith in the state and in democracy,” says Dr. Sara Siakala.
How is hatefree financed?
The non-profit help service is currently fully financed by donations, foundation grants, and partial contributions from successfully enforced financial compensation payments. hatefree’s founder believes state support would help the team continue pursuing this work in future. “We’re all the more delighted to be a partner for Deutsche Telekom’s “No hate speech” initiative starting this year. This will help bring more awareness to the work we do.” In light of their success and the ever rising number of hateful comments on the internet, the team welcomes any kind of support.