Trigger warning: This post deals with family and intimate partner violence, and may be triggering for some readers.
So far you have kept your pain a secret, but finally you reach out to others on Facebook for help and understanding – only to find that, because you named your attacker online, you’re being sued for ruining his reputation.
Imagine that, after years of suffering in silence, with your children under constant threat, you finally find it within yourself to tell your family and friends about the nightmare you’ve been living – and the result of that brave decision is having to pay tens of thousands of dollars.
To your abuser. With interest.
A recent court case has made these scenarios a real possibility, with very concerning ramifications for the survivors of family and intimate partner violence.
Last week, a Western Australian court ordered a woman to pay $12,500 in damages to her estranged husband after finding she had defamed him on Facebook by telling people that he had abused her.
In December 2012 Robyn Greeuew wrote that she had separated from her husband “after 18 years of suffering domestic violence and abuse. Now fighting the system to keep my children safe.”
Robyn’s post about her husband remained on her page for six weeks.
In that time, the post was seen by a woman who her husband had been dating. This woman logged on to Facebook after a date, to “see what his ex-wife looked like”. She went to Robyn’s Facebook page and when she saw the post, she felt “shocked, horrified, confused and upset”, according to the evidence in the trial.
The post was removed in February 2013. The husband sued his wife for defamation, seeking damages for the pain and suffering her post had caused him.
Robyn did not have a lawyer – she represented herself at the trial.
In court, she denied writing the entire Facebook post, saying that it had been doctored and that she knew little about Facebook. But she went on to defend the central allegation in the post, saying that she had been subject to domestic violence and abuse during their 18 year marriage.
To prove her case, she presented a letter written by her husband in which he apologised for an incident that occurred in 2010 while they had been on holidays together.