Online harassment
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This article is written by  Kiran Malik pursuing a Diploma in Cyber Law, Fintech Regulations and Technology Contracts from Lawsikho.com

Introduction

Covid alongside the pandemic has brought many other issues for the already troubled citizens, be it getting treatment for other illnesses, loss of jobs, migration, online classes, examination, etc, and ever-persistent cyber harassment faced by women has come out to be a crime at rising. 

In these testing times, when the second wave of the COVID-19 virus has brought our country on its knees leaving it gasping for oxygen, many relatives or friends of the infected, which include women, are turning to social media to ask for help and to spread the word. There has been an increase in the usage of internet services and social networking via platforms predominantly like Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook that is enabling users in need to connect, communicate and share information with others who are in a position to help and vice versa. While this tremendous growth in the use of social media platforms has resulted in providing huge help to many in need it has also become a fertile ground for cybercriminals to engage in illegal activities predominantly. The author of this article has written about the evils faced by Indian women online, even in times of distress and how to tackle it. 

Discovering the ground reality

Recently, a woman, Shasvathi Siva, who was frantically searching for ventilators, plasma and other medical supplies online for a family emergency, posted her requirement along with her phone number on her social media platform. It was thereafter that her number got circulated on different platforms by her friends and by a few social media influencers as well. In a matter of hours, along with a lot of help, she also received plenty of sexually explicit messages, calls and images. One may ask, despite knowing that circulating one’s number on social media platforms means inviting unwarranted attention, why did she put out her number? “I gave the public the benefit of doubt,” said Siva in her article in Vice. This is just one of the thousands of such harassment cases that have unfortunately occurred in the midst of this major health crisis.

The situation of the pandemic has witnessed and is witnessing violence against women, especially its manifestations in 2 different forms – physical abuse and online abuse. COVID 19 pandemic has already created economic and social stress coupled with restricted movement and social isolation measures, and to add to the foregoing, gender-based violence has also increased exponentially. As per the Oxfam India 2020 Domestic Violence Reporting in India during COVID – 19 there has been a 15-30% hike in the number of distress calls received from women who were confined in closed spaces with their abusive partners. There has also been a significant increase in cybercrime against women, especially sextortion, followed by online stalking and image manipulation.

According to the National Commission for Women, at the beginning of the lockdown in 2020 the number of cybercrime complaints against women had increased from 21 complaints in February to 37 complaints in March to 54 in April in comparison, and these are just the reported numbers. As per Ms. Rekha Sharma, Chairperson; the National Commission for Women cases of online harassment have seen an increase by five times since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. At a digital dialogue organised by Gujarat National Law University, she said “while earlier we would record 300 complaints of online harassment, this shot up to 1,500 post-Covid-19 pandemic.” The increasing number of crimes against women is a huge concern for any state however, cybercrimes make it even more challenging as criminals have the opportunity to hide behind fake identities and then indulge in online cybercrime.

What is online cybercrime?

In general, cybercrimes may be defined as “Any unlawful act where computer or communication device or computer network is used to commit or facilitate the commission of the crime.” Cyber Harassment is characteristic repetitive behaviour by the harasser intended to disturb or agitate a person through the use of the internet. A particular class of harassment that is sexual in nature is known as sexual harassment, among several other things it majorly includes persistent and unwanted sexual advances. Section 67 A and 67 B of the Information Technology Act specifically deal with sexual harassment in respect of offences of publishing or transmitting material containing sexually explicit act and child pornography in electronic form. In the cyber world harassment including blackmailing, threatening, bullying, and even cheating is often done through e-mail. Cyberstalking basically is behaviour wherein an individual willfully and repeatedly engages in a known course of harassing conduct directed at another person which reasonably and seriously alarms, torments, or terrorizes that person.

What to do when faced with cyber harassment?

Ministry of Home Affairs has approved a scheme namely ‘Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCPWC)’ under which an online Cyber Crime reporting portal, has been launched to enable the public to report complaints pertaining to Child Pornography/ Child Sexual Abuse Material, rape/gang rape imageries or sexually explicit content. This portal facilitates the public to lodge complaints anonymously or through report and track options. Steps have also been taken to spread awareness, issue of alerts/advisories, training of law enforcement agencies, improving cyber forensic facilities etc. These steps help to prevent such cases and speed up the investigation.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development had also enacted the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) as a special law to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. 

  • Section 13 to Section 15 deals with the issue of child pornography. 
  • Section 14 and Section 15 lays down the punishment for using children for pornographic. purposes and for storage of pornographic material involving children. 
  • Further Section 28 of the POCSO Act 2012 provides for the establishment of Special Courts. for the purpose of providing speedy trial of offences under the Act.
  • Section 43 of the POCSO Act, 2012 provides that the Central Government and every. 

State Government takes all measures to give wide publicity to the provisions of the Act. In accordance with this, MWCD has taken various steps from time to time to create awareness of the provisions of the POCSO Act through electronic and print media, consultations, workshops and training programmes with stakeholders concerned. Further, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCRs) are also mandated to monitor the implementation of the POCSO Act, 2012.

A cyber complaint can also be filed at the cyber cell of your district. If there is no cyber cell in your district, you can simply file an FIR at your local Police Station, in the same manner, you file FIR under Section 154 of CrPC, within the jurisdiction of your home office or the location where the incident took place. All complaints related to social media must include details of: 

(a) the app, 

(b) screenshot of the alleged profile and content, 

(c) URL of the alleged content, content to be provided in hard copies and 

(d) soft copies must be given on a CD. Also, most of the social media platforms provide an option to “report abuse” to an account, which however is not the most effective form of complaint.

Despite the above efforts by the government, the majority of instances of cyber-harassment or cyber-crimes goes unreported in India, as women are unaware of their rights and the existence of such offences. While people do not live in cyberspace, it is difficult to track the offenders. This provides the offenders with the chance to escape after the commission of cybercrime. The biggest problem of cyber-crime lies in the modus operandi and the motive of the cyber-criminal. Many websites and blogs provide security tips for the safety of women and children while using the internet.

Tips to avoid harassment on social media

Tips to avoid being the cause of online harassment and sexual exploitation:

  1. Don’t contribute to online bullying, even if your social group is encouraging you to.
  2. Don’t spread lies online. Call out misleading information when you see it.
  3. Don’t send unsolicited images or videos to women and men.
  4. Don’t contact a woman when you see her number displayed on any social media platform unless asked to or unless you can genuinely provide any help.
  5. Don’t share a woman’s image, video, chat or other content shared with you by a woman, who trusted you with the foregoing, irrespective of your relationship status with the woman;
  6. Don’t resort to abuse even if you see an opinion posted by a woman on something you do not agree with, please ignore and unfollow her.
  7. Don’t stalk, instead if you wish to know details about a man or woman’s whereabouts or life in general.
  8. Don’t be under the misconception that your acts will go unnoticed or unreported. A harasser can be reported against and technology is such that it makes getting hold of the culprit easier. Consequences do await an online abuser.

Conclusion

Digital space must be used for innovation, expansion and communication and not for one gender’s power play over the other. In an already troubled time, no one deserves to live under emotional distress and constant fear of physical harm. Freedom of expression also implies a responsibility towards the freedom and dignity of others. Women should come forward to tackle any cyber harassment head-on and use the right to REPORT.

References 

 

  • Victimization of Women Beneath Cyberspace in Indian Upbringing – Dr. Monika Jain

 


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