This article has been written by Anurag pursuing a Diploma in Cyber Law, FinTech Regulations and Technology Contracts. This article has been edited by Ruchika Mohapatra (Associate, Lawsikho).
When people hear the word cybercrime, the immediate word that pops up in people’s minds is hacking. However, cybercrime is much more than that. After a new revolution took place on the internet with the introduction of various social media and dating applications, cybercrime has taken a new turn and has opened up a new horizon. People often cannot interpret how serious gender-biased cyber-crimes can be in modern times. People who complain about the same, more often than not, are asked to develop a thicker skin. These crimes are often committed against women and therefore, gender-based crimes can be defined as “crimes that are directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. Through this article, we are going to discuss everything about gender-based cyber-crimes and understand the laws in place to mitigate such crimes.
What is a gender-biased cybercrime
When we talk about gender-based crimes, crime against women comes to the top of our minds because there have been many instances of such kinds of crimes as rape, sexual harassment, stalking, workplace sexual harassment, and many more. The fact that cannot be neglected is that crimes against women and girls are more in number in comparison to others. Therefore there arises a need to study these crimes because it helps shape effective responses, interventions, and services related to such gender-based crimes and especially cybercrimes because it has been seen that women and girls are most vulnerable to many crimes online as well.
Cybercrimes in themselves are not gender-oriented, it can happen with anyone who has a presence over the internet. However, the internet over the years has become a place where cyber violence and online abuse is often targeted towards women and girls. Moreover, as the name suggests, these crimes with each passing day are becoming more gender-biased. What this suggests is that both genders have the same kind of experience online but some have it worse than others. No doubt about the fact that many men might have also had such experiences, however, the number of women facing issues like these is a lot more and the severity of these crimes faced by women is by far greater. To put this in perspective, NCRB data in 2018 revealed that 6,030 complaints against cyber-crimes were registered by women.
Types of gender-based interpersonal cybercrime
When talking about types of cyber-crimes the list can be endless. However, as we have discussed above, in this article, there is a clear distinction between cybercrime and gender-based cybercrime. Therefore, we will be focusing on gender-based interpersonal cyber-crimes. Hence the types of gender-biased interpersonal cybercrimes are:
Cyberbullying & cyber harassment
Cyberbullying is bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms, and mobile phones. It is repeated behaviour, aimed at scaring, angering, or shaming those who are targeted.
Illustration: You are with your friends and they accidentally capture an embarrassing picture and then post and spread lies about you is a form of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying and in-person bullying are alongside each other. Moreover, cyberbullying is known to have similar biological reactions to face-to-face bullying.
Cyberstalking is the act of persistent and unwanted contact with someone online. It may involve any number of incidents including threats, libel, defamation, sexual harassment, or other actions in which to control, influence, or intimidate their target.
Illustration: You have an Instagram account and an account is continuously messaging when you don’t wish to have their messages. Moreover, you inform the sender you don’t wish to receive messages from them and even then they are persistent, this is a form of cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is an extension of the physical form of stalking. Moreover, it can be even more dangerous than physical stalking as cyberstalkers can easily locate private information about a potential victim with a few mouse clicks.
Online child grooming
Online grooming is where someone befriends a child online and builds up their trust intending to exploit them and cause them harm. The harm caused by grooming can be sexual abuse, both in-person and online, and exploitation to obtain sexually explicit images and videos of the child.
Illustration: If you are talking to a person online and then he becomes your friend and you think you found a friend in him. However, the intention of the other person was just to harm you, this is what you realize after some time. This is online child grooming, anyone could, unfortunately, groom a child online, regardless of age, gender or race. Groomers are very skilled at what they do and can often befriend a child by appearing to have the same hobbies and interests as them. Using fake accounts and photos, they may also appear to be the same age as the child.
Voyeurism is defined as observing unsuspecting people while they undress, are naked, or engage in sexual activities. However, the act of voyeurism is not restricted to observing, nowadays the act of recording and clicking pictures of the same also qualifies as voyeurism.
Illustration: If you’re changing clothes in the changing room, and some person secretly observes you and clicks your pictures that qualify as voyeurism. It is the most common cybercrime against women after cyberstalking. A key element of voyeurism is that the person being watched doesn’t know they’re being observed. The person is typically in a place where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as their home or other private areas.
Morphing means changing smoothly from one image to another image without any corrections. Usually, girls are affected due to morphing of the type where they download girl’s pictures from various social websites through fake or real profiles and then morph them.
Illustration: Everybody is on social media these days. Let’s say that you have uploaded a picture on Facebook, if someone takes your picture and then replaces your body with a naked body the perpetrator can be held liable for having committed the crime of morphing. Morphed images may be used to blackmail the girl or her family by threatening to publish the morphed images.
Sextortion is a form of online abuse, wherein the cybercriminal makes use of various channels like instant messaging apps, SMS, online dating apps, social media platforms, to lure the users into intimate video/audio chats and makes them pose nude or obtains revealing pictures from them.
Illustration: You are in a relationship with a person and during that relationship, you send them sexually explicit images and videos during the time of the relationship, and after it ends they start threatening you regarding those images and videos being published on social media, this a form of sextortion. However, you need not always be involved with that person, recently with technological developments, a person can have access to your phone with only a click on some link or by picking up a wrong number.
Laws governing gender-based interpersonal cybercrime
There are provisions to protect against cybercrimes in The Information Technology Act (IT ACT), 2000 as well as the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Provisions under IT Act
Section 67, 67A, and 67B of the Act talks about the punishment regarding stalkers and cybercriminals wherein they can be booked for their acts of publishing or transmitting obscene content via electronic form. Moreover, Section 67B, specifically talks about Child pornography being illegal and prohibited in the entire country.
Section 66A of the IT Act was struck down in the year 2015 in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India. wherein it was stated by the Supreme court that because its intended protection against annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, or ill-will fall outside the purview of Article 19(2), and are very vague, the section has been declared as unconstitutional.
There is also a provision for granting protection against voyeurism irrespective of their gender. Section 66E of the IT act punishes the act of voyeurism
Section 345D of the Indian penal code (IPC) deals with stalking. This section particularly deals with anyone that monitors the use of the internet, email, or any other form of electronic communication of a woman wherein his acts are deemed to fall under the purview of committing the offence of stalking.
We have discussed voyeurism with the perspective of the IT Act before. However, it has also been discussed in the IPC under section 354C. The key difference between both the provisions is the fact that voyeurism in the IT Act deals with both genders, however, under IPC, it specifically deals with women.
Section 292 of the IPC deals with publishing and distributing obscene images. Therefore any act involves recording explicit content and publishing it regardless of consent or not. Moreover, using it to gain profit can be punished under the ambit of this section.
Gender-based crimes have finally started getting the attention that they should get as they are a very serious crime against women. Though Indian laws are not at par with the international standard, there exist many provisions aimed at preventing such gender-based cyber crimes. However, the country is still in the phase of recognizing online behaviour targeted towards a particular gender as a crime, efficiently. Therefore, what we need are separate laws for these kinds of crimes and once that happens then the online world will be a far better and safer place for women.
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