Sydney man gets court date for legal test case over alleged Facebook rape threats

A Sydney man who allegedly made explicit rape threats on Facebook has had a hearing date set in a case described as a test of both legal and police responses to the online harassment of women.

Zane Alchin, 25, of Caringbah, was charged in late October with using a carriage service to menace after allegedly threatening rape in comments posted on Facebook in August.

His legal representative pleaded not guilty on his behalf at the Newtown local court in mid-January.

The offence of using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence covers harassment carried out online or over the phone, and carries a maximum jail sentence of three years.

Alchin allegedly posted the comments after one of his friends shared a screenshot of a woman’s Tinder profile to his Facebook page with a derogatory caption, sparking a heated argument between the two individuals’ friend groups.

The several posts allegedly made by Alchin include “You’ll be eating my cock till you puke” and “I’d rape you if you were better looking.”

A hearing date was set for 20 June at the Downing centre on Tuesday. Alchin was not present in court but his legal representative indicated to the magistrate the case for the defence would rest on a legal argument as to whether or not the internet was a carriage service.

He declined to expand on this to Guardian Australia, but said another representative from the same firm would represent Alchin at the hearing.

Documents filed in the Newtown local court on 1 March confirmed that there would be four witnesses for the prosecution and three for the defence. Two experts would also be called upon, although Alchin’s representative said on Tuesday he was still finalising the one for the defence.

The case has received considerable media attention in Australia as concerns over the online abuse of women seem to be approaching a global tipping point.

Paloma Brierley Newton, who was the target of several of Alchin’s alleged rape threats on Facebook and first reported him to her local police, formed an advocacy group to campaign for better resources to tackle online harassment after the incident.

A study released by Norton for International Women’s Day found 76% of Australian women under 30 had been the target of online abuse or harassment, and that the practice was at risk of becoming “an established norm”.

Of the women surveyed who had experienced online harassment, 38% chose to ignore it, and only 10% reported it to police.

A United Nations report published in late 2015 indicated that 73% of women around the world had been exposed to or had experienced some form of online violence “in what must still be considered a relatively new and growing technology”.

There is a precedent for social media-related convictions in Australia, but not specifically relating to threats made against women.

In 2012, Ravshan “Ronnie” Usmanov pleaded guilty to publishing an indecent article after posting nude photographs of his former partner to Facebook.

In March 2011, Bradley Paul Hampson was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment after defacing the Facebook memorial pages of two murdered children. (His sentence was subsequently reduced to six months.)

In 2010, Jessica Cook, of Gympie, Queensland, was given a three-month suspended sentence for hateful posts and crude images she posted to the Facebook memorial page of a murdered woman, Justine Jones.

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