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This article has been written by Kartavya Nema, pursuing a Diploma in Cyber Law, FinTech Regulations and Technology Contracts from LawSikho. It has been edited by Zigishu Singh (Associate, LawSikho) Ruchika Mohapatra (Associate, LawSikho).

Introduction 

The sharing of personal information includes intimate photos, videos or any other things which are private between two partners. They are uploaded on the public or social media platforms or any adult websites, for example, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, by another partner for the purpose of harassment, blackmailing, extortion or as revenge, intending to harm the reputation or create a wrong perception amongst people and the society.

There is no clear definition of revenge porn in Indian laws or any specific punishment for the accused. Different provisions of the Indian Penal Code and Information Technology Act, 2000 deal with the offence of revenge porn. Therefore,  the victims currently have those two laws as a remedy. It is very necessary that the victim should know the right steps to follow and the right way to approach the appropriate authority. In this article, we will talk about these approaches in a step-by-step manner. First, we will discuss which measures shall be taken by the victims by themselves for removing content on the platform. The second part discusses how the victim should approach the police and the Cyber cells of various states, for ensuing penal action against the accused   

What is revenge porn and how does it impact the lives of women ?

The act of sharing of personal information without the consent of that person on a public platform, with the intention to humiliate, harass, and mentally torture the other person is covered under revenge porn. They can grossly impact the mental health of the victims. One study conducted on 18 women who are survivors of revenge porn found that they have to cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and a plethora of other mental problems. 1

Revenge porn is a serious problem faced by the whole society. It is faced by men also but mostly women are targeted when it comes to revenge porn. Nobody in the society should take these problems lightly or ignore these problems because they have a negative impact on the minds of the victims and create a bad perception in society with respect to such victims. If a person is suffering due to an act of revenge porn or knows anyone who is suffering, they should seek help immediately or encourage the victims to take immediate action. 

Applicability of laws 

There are no direct provisions in Indian laws that deal with offences related to revenge porn, but a few prevalent laws deal with the specific components of revenge porn. Revenge porn generally includes the involvement of digital and electronic mediums. So, it is also classified as an offence committed on the internet and therefore comes under the purview of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT). 

Section 67 of Information Technology Act, 2000, deals with publishing or transmitting obscene material in an electronic form. The section applies to the act of  obscene material being posted by the accused on the public platform using electronic material.. The accused shall be punished the first time with either upto 3 years imprisonment or a fine of up to 5 lakh rupees. In the second and subsequent offence, the punishment is extended to 5-year imprisonment or a fine of up to 10 lakh rupees or both. 

In cases of revenge porn, the accused has violated the privacy of an individual or another partner by sharing personal information in a public place without consent. This section applies to the accused who can be punished with  imprisonment up to 3 years or a fine of 5 lakh rupees or both. 4 If the victim of revenge porn is a woman, then the penal provision shall apply to the accused under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Mentioned below are the sections of IPC that deal with revenge porn:

  • Section 500: Defaming the concerned persons
  • Section 504: Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace
  • Section 506: Punishment for criminal intimidation
  • Section 509: Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman
  • Section 354: Outraging the modesty of a woman
  • Section 354A: Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment
  • Section 354C: Voyeurism
  • Section 354D: Stalking

The intentions of the accused in revenge porn are to affect the victim’s reputation, defame her and make the society perceive her in a wrong manner. This is a clear assault on her modesty and the accused can be punished with imprisonment for 2 years or with a fine or with both. 5

Section 509 talks about the punishment of a man who tries to insult the modesty of a woman by words, gestures, sounds or object, intending for it to be seen or heard. Such a person will be punished with imprisonment up to 1 year or fine or both. This provision is applicable in the act of revenge porn because it fulfils two essential conditions: first, there are insults and attacks on the modesty of women and second, there is interference in the privacy of women. 6

The Government has also issued a new intermediary guideline and has given directions to the intermediary companies to remove objectionable and obscene content or material on the platform within 24 hours from receiving complaints from the person or anyone related to the victim of revenge porn.  According to the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, as per rule 3(2)(b), the intermediary shall remove any material, within 24 hours of receiving a complaint from an individual or any person, which shows nudity, private parts of an individual, shows or depicts sexual acts or conduct they need to takeall necessary measures to remove and disable access to that material. 7

Action to be taken by the victims 

The first step that shall be taken by the victim, whenever they find material related to revenge porn on the social media platform, is to immediately report that message, video, picture. An option to remove such content is generally given by all intermediaries operating in the country. 

The  platform on which the material is posted, generally mentions the address of the grievance officer and necessary information related to filing a complaint. The victim should proceed to  lodge a complaint and submit the necessary information to the grievance officer of the company. As per the provision of the new IT guideline, intermediaries shall remove content within 24 hours from the date of the received complaint. 

Approaching the concerned authority 

These matters are very serious in nature and need to be dealt with appropriately, hence the victim should report any incident of revenge porn immediately.. They can approach the nearest police station or cyber cell to lodge a First Information Report (FIR) against the accused.

It is not compulsory for victims to go to the police station to file a complaint. Anyone can approach for filing a complaint on behalf of the accused. This is very helpful for the protection of victims’ privacy. 

At the time of filing a complaint, usually victims are hesitant to share information with male officers and prefer sharing such sensitive information with a woman officer. For this purpose, they can write an application to a senior police officer for appointing a  female officer for her case but currently there is no official government directions on this matter. 8

Judicial view on the revenge porn 

The State of West Bengal v/s Animesh Boxi was the first case in Indian judicial history to recognize revenge porn as a crime. The accused had uploaded intimate and sexual material on a pornography website which was discovered by the victim’s brother; the act was recognized as a particular kind of crime known as revenge porn. The accused was convicted under sections 354, 509 of the Indian Penal Code and sections 66 & 67 of the Information Technology Act. The accused was given a punishment of 5 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 9000 was imposed. The victim was also provided compensation under the Victim Compensation Scheme. 9 

Many High Courts (HC) have also recognized revenge porn as a growing menace, wherein the sharing; allowing objectionable photos or videos on the social media platform without consent is a direct attack on the modesty of women and affects her fundamental right, right to privacy. The courts have said that with the right of privacy is now recognized in India, it also guarantees the “right to be forgotten” to be applied especially in the cases of revenge porn where the victim wants her personal data to be erased from all public sources  10

Others important points to be considered 

In most cases, the material or content related to revenge porn is uploaded on adult and pornography websites. The operation of pornography websites is not allowed to run or function in India and the government has blocked many such websites from time to time. However, they can be accessed by people through VPN (Virtual Private Network) and other means. The ways in which victims can approach a website for removing material and other private photos or videos.

There are certain steps followed by the victims who want to remove content put up on adult websites: 

1. The victims have to find material or videos on a concerned website then immediately report.  

2. They should approach the investigative authority or police. The police or cyber cell can help and take action to delete content or approach the website for taking appropriate action.

3. The victims need to take these steps with the help of a lawyer or person who knows the laws of that country in which country the website company is registered. They can give a written complaint about removing content with reference to that country’s revenge porn laws. This would help to remove content. 

Conclusion 

The victims of revenge porn are both men and women but it’s mostly women who get targeted. They face many challenges like ridicule by society, violation of privacy and damage to their reputation as well as the reputation of the family, etc. In most cases, women do not report and file complaints against the accused. It is the duty of every person to encourage and enumerate steps to take action against revenge porn. This is a serious issue against women and their right to privacy, as held by many courts. The government has also taken this menace seriously and has taken active steps to bind every intermediary to remove content within 24 hours from the time information is received. The government should implement effective laws to provide compensation to victims and special guidelines for dealing with cases by police officers. This article attempted to give a direction regarding what kind of action should be taken when private photos or videos are leaked, on a public platform and the ways to approach the police and the laws that should apply to revenge porn.   

References

  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1557085116654565?journalCode=fcxa
  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/morocco-women-revenge-porn/feature-moroccan-revenge-porn-victims-smash-taboos-by-speaking-out-idUKL5N2EL2OR
  3.  https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1318767/
  4. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/326206/
  5. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/203036/
  6. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/68146/
  7. https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_and_Digital_Media_Ethics_Code_Rules-2021.pdf
  8. https://www.huffpost.com/archive/in/entry/what-can-victims-of-revenge-porn-in-india-do-to-punish-the-perpe_a_23027563
  9. https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/State-of-West-Bengal-v.-Animesh-Boxi.pdf  
  10. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/hc-bats-for-victims-right-to-be-forgotten/articleshow/79378100.cms
  11. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/concerned-about-abuse-of-platforms-for-fake-news-porn-companies-should-be-accountable-ravi-shankar-prasad/articleshow/73979297.cms?from=mdr 

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