In the case of GYH v Persons Unknown ([2018] EWHC 121 (QB)) a transgender woman who works as an escort has won the right to a damages payout – if she can trace her anonymous online abuser. The claimant, identified only as GYH, was granted an injunction in December to protect her privacy after being subjected to a “campaign of harassment”.

The woman, who provides sexual and companionship services and is an active user of social media, said she was caused considerable distress by online publications about her sex life and her physical and mental health. These include allegations that she has HIV/Aids, which she says are untrue.

GYH had to sue “persons unknown” in the High Court in London because, despite extensive efforts, it had proved impossible to identify any individual who had posted the material.

On 1 February 2018 Mr Justice Julian Knowles granted her claim for damages, but said the amount would not be assessed unless or until the person  harassing her is found.  The judge also continued the injunction to protect GYH’s identity.

He said that if the person was traced, they would have the opportunity to argue why they should not have to pay damages to GYH.  He said

“At this stage, no defendant has been identified or come forward, but in the light of the nature of the claimant’s case as set out in her claim form, and of the court’s findings in the judgment, I conclude there is no real prospect of any defendant successfully defending the claim,”

The court has previously heard that the campaign of harassment and vilification started in December 2015 after GYH received a text message from someone claiming to be a student who wished to meet her socially, but not pay for her services.

When she declined, the conversation deteriorated into abuse, including an allegation that she spread sexually transmitted diseases. She also received anonymous phone calls with abuse of a similar kind, and was then targeted by a “wide-ranging” campaign of online harassment.

In a judgment given in December 2017, Mr Justice Warby said GYH had suffered “a sweeping attack on the values of autonomy and dignity which are at the heart of the right to privacy” ([2017] EWHC 3360 (QB)  [35]).

This article originally appeared on the online subscription service Media Lawyer and is reproduced with permission and thanks.