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This article is written by Sneha Mahawar from the Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies, Bangalore, and Vanya Verma from Alliance University, Bangalore. This article discusses the concept of sextortion and ways to deal with it legally. 

Introduction 

The term “Sextortion” is a blend of two words “sex” and “extortion”. Sextortion is a dangerous crime in which someone threatens to reveal your private and sensitive information if you do not offer them sexual photographs, sexual favours, or money. Sexual extortion is a horrific and dehumanising assault that feeds on the humiliation of victims. Sextortion is similar to online blackmails in that the blackmailer demands the victim to participate in sexual activities, such as posing for naked images or masturbating in front of a camera, or demanding a large sum of money.

The most popular method of sextortion is through social media. Through online conversation and/or SMS, sextortonists form tight relations with their potential victims. Once confidence has been established, they encourage their victims to provide nude photos or videos. They then use those photographs as a kind of blackmail to force their victims to generate additional film to their perverted standards.

The worst thing about sextortion is that the victim, who is generally a woman, is filled with guilt and shame and is unwilling to seek treatment for fear of being judged and humiliated. The perpetrator’s ability to control the victim is greatly enhanced by the victim’s silence.

“Was I naive and oblivious enough? Was it a mistake to trust him/her? What will be his/her next demand? What will happen now? Is there no way to get out of this?” These are some of the common questions that a sextortion victim can have on their mind.

Definition of sextortion

The definition of sextortion incorporates both components of sexual favour and a corruption component. The former entails a request – whether implicit or explicit – to engage in any type of unwelcome sexual action, but the latter occurs when the individual demanding the sexual favour holds a position of power that is abused. The fundamental concept is quid pro quo, in which a sexual favour is demanded or accepted in exchange for a benefit that the offender has the authority to withhold or give. Because of the power imbalance between the offender and the victim, the perpetrator can use psychological coercion similar to that used in monetary corruption. Thus, the concept of sextortion tries to create a new worldview of corruption by looking at it from a different perspective. As a result, it calls into question standard ideas of financial damages in anti-corruption laws, and it inserts itself in the context of sexual harassment and corruption.

The accused is generally a person who has been entrusted with power, such as judges, government officials, teachers, elders, doctors, and employers. These individuals seek to coerce sexual favours in exchange for anything within their power to grant or withhold, such as government officials requesting sexual favours in exchange for permits or licences, interviewers requesting sexual favours in exchange for a job, or teachers requesting sexual favours in exchange for grades.

Sextortion also involves blackmail in which the victim is threatened to share sexual photographs or information in order to extort money or sexual pleasure. Texts, movies, and photographs can all be used. The most prevalent form of blackmail is through social media websites, for example, a boyfriend threatening to share an intimate or nude photo of his online girlfriend. He can then force her to engage in sexual acts or pose naked in front of a camera, resulting in nonconsensual hardcore pornography.

In 2018, the case of the State of West Bengal v. Animesh Boxi was regarded to be India’s first “revenge porn” conviction. In this case, the naked videos that were sent to multiple persons were recorded by the girl herself on her phone. The accused had access to the footage and decided to share it in a fit of rage. The culprit was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of Rs. 9000 in this case. This decision was made based on equity, fairness, and good conscience by the Hon’ble Judges.

Types of sextortion

Sextortion through social media

Sextortion scams sometimes begin with seemingly innocuous contacts on social media or dating services. The victim will eventually be forced to transmit obscene photographs, get naked on camera, or perform sexual actions while on video by the offender. The photographs and videos that result can then be kept for ransom.

Phishing schemes through email

In your mailbox, you receive an email indicating that the sender has one of your passwords (which they will include in the email). They threaten to publish your private images or videos until you give money, explicit material, or engage in sexual activity. Many of these frauds rely on password harvesting, which could be a bluff unless you still have sensitive data on an old site.

Sextortion through hacked webcams

Some of the creepiest sextortion situations involve the victim’s device getting infected with malware. Once inside, a hacker can gain access to cameras and microphones, as well as install keyloggers. This implies that someone could be watching your every step (in the vicinity of your computer). They can also find the passwords to all of your accounts using keyloggers. This may seem unlikely, but it happens more frequently than you might imagine.

Sextortion through account hacking

Someone could get their hands on your sexual photographs or videos if you’ve ever sent them over social media or a chat app, or if you have them saved on one of those platforms. If you don’t comply with the demands, they may use your account to distribute the photographs with friends, relatives, and coworkers.

How to lodge a complaint against sextortion offline

It is necessary to file a complaint as soon as possible since it makes taking action against criminals much easier. It is very simple to make a complaint; if you want to do so offline, follow these steps-

  • You must first file a formal report with the nearest police station’s cybercrime cell. It can be registered in any city in which you happen to be at the time, regardless of jurisdiction.

Section 80 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 authorises police officers and other officers named in the section to investigate, search, and arrest suspected offenders without a warrant for an offence under the act.

  • Give your personal details, such as your name, phone number, and address. You must address the head of the cybercrime cell where the complaint is being filed while writing this complaint.
  • If you are unable to make a complaint with the cyber cell, you may register an FIR with any police station; if they refuse to file, you may appeal to the commissioner or judicial magistrate.

It is mandatory to record the complaint under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), regardless of jurisdiction.

Many cybercrimes are punishable under the IPC, making it simple to file an FIR (that has been discussed below).

  • Many cybercrime actions are also regarded as cognizable offences under the IPC. As a result, a warrant is not required for police to investigate or arrest someone in such cases. In these circumstances, the police are bound to submit an FIR and send it to the police station that has jurisdiction over the crime.
  • You must submit documents connected to your complaint while submitting or registering it. Depending on the type of complaint, several types of documents are necessary for registration. The list of documents that must be submitted is mentioned later.

How to lodge a complaint against sextortion online

You can make a complaint online with the Ministry of Home Affairs of India if you don’t want to go to the police station. It is easier to make a complaint online through a portal than it is to submit a complaint at a police station because it requires less time and effort.

Go to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal. To visit the website click here- https://cybercrime.gov.in/

  • Click on the ‘File a Complaint’ tab. Then click the ‘Accept’ option to accept the terms and conditions. It will take you to a different page.
  • You will be given two alternatives on the new page. If your complaint is about a cybercrime involving a woman or a child, select the option “Report cybercrime involving women/children” and click “Report.” You can also report anonymously in these situations. 

Click on ‘Report other cyber crimes’ if your concern is not related to this.

Documents required during registration of a complaint

Different categories of complaints require different forms of proof in order to conduct an investigation. It is critical to be aware of the essential documentation when filing a complaint.

Cybercrime via email

  • Details about the offence in written format.
  • CD-R containing a soft copy of an email with the email address.
  • Original sender email address with a header on a hard copy.

Cybercrime via social media networks

  • Screenshots of content available in both soft and hard copy formats.
  • Details of that person’s identity proof.
  • Provide details of the individual if you know.
  • A soft copy of all the proofs in a CD.

Laws governing sextortion in India 

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

This Act was designed to enable recourse to women who have been victims of domestic violence. It is a statute that provides for more effective protection of the constitutionally given rights of women who are victims of violence of any sort happening within the family and for matters related to or incidental to such abuse.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 

It is a statute to offer protection against sexual harassment of women at work, as well as the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment complaints.

Section 108(1)(i)(a) 

Section 108(1)(i)(a) of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 allows the victim to contact the local magistrate and alert him (or her) of the individual she feels is capable of disseminating any obscene material. The magistrate has the authority to detain such individuals and to require them to sign a bail prohibiting them from disseminating the material. This may serve as a deterrent to the accused.

Section 292 

The distribution or circulation of obscene material is dealt with in Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The sale, letting to rent, distribution, and public exhibition of obscene literature, among other things, are all prohibited under this law.

Section 354 

The criminal force or assault on a woman with an intent to insult her and outrage her modesty is defined by Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. A person who commits such an offence faces a sentence of up to two years in jail or a fine, or both if convicted.

Section 354A

Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that a male who engages in any of the following acts—physical contact and approaches including unwanted and explicit sexual overtures, or a demand or request for sexual favours, or exhibiting pornography against the will of a woman, or making sexually coloured remarks is guilty of sexual harassment. The person charged might face a sentence of up to 1 year in prison or a fine of up to 5 lakh rupees, or both if convicted. 

Section 354B

Section 354B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that any male who assaults or uses unlawful force on a woman, or aids or abets such an act to disrobe or compel her to be nude, will be punished with imprisonment of either kind for a duration not less than three years, but not less than seven years, and must also be fined.

Section 354C

Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that any male who views or takes the picture of a woman indulging in a private act under circumstances where she would ordinarily expect not to be viewed, either by the offender or by anybody else at the perpetrator’s request, and then disseminates such image will be punished to jail. On a first conviction, he or she shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term of not less than one year, but not more than three years, and fined, and on a second conviction, he or she shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term of not less than three years, but not more than seven years, and fined.

Section 354D

Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: On a first conviction, stalking is punishable by imprisonment of either type for a duration up to three years, as well as a fine; and on a second or subsequent conviction, stalking is punishable by imprisonment of either type for a time up to five years, as well as a fine.

Section 406 

The punishment for criminal breach of trust is specified in Section 406 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and includes imprisonment for up to three years, as well as a fine or both.

Section 499 

A person who commits an act that intends to hurt or has grounds to believe that doing so would hurt an individual’s reputation or character is punished under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Section 500 

Anyone who defames another is subject to simple imprisonment for up to two years, a fine, or both according to Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. 

Section 506 

Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 establishes a penalty for criminal intimidation, which includes a sentence of up to two years in jail, a fine, or both. If the accused threatens the victim with death, serious bodily harm, or property damage, or if the accused imputes unchastity to a woman, the accused faces a sentence of up to 7 years in jail, a fine, or both.

Section 509 

The punishment for a man who tries to insult a woman’s modesty by words, gestures, noises, or objects, intending for it to be seen or heard, trespassing on the woman’s seclusion, is outlined in Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. A person who does so will face a sentence of up to one year in jail, a fine, or both.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act of 2012 is aimed at combating child sexual exploitation. Its goal is to address the issue of child sexual exploitation.

Section 66E 

The Information Technology Act of 2000, Section 66E, defines a violation of privacy as when the accused willfully takes, publishes, or transmits a photograph or image of the victim’s private body part without the victim’s permission or agreement. The offender of the crime faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison or a fine of not more than two lakh rupees, or both in some cases.

Section 67

The publishing or transmission of obscene and sexual content over an electronic medium is punishable under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act of 2000. The person charged might face a sentence of up to 3 years in prison or a fine of up to 5 lakh rupees if convicted, and a sentence of up to 5 years in jail or a fine of up to 10 lakh rupees if convicted of a second offence. 

Section 67A 

The publication of obscene material in electronic form is punishable under Section 67A of the Information Technology Act of 2000, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of ten lakh rupees, with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a fine of ten lakh rupees if it is a second conviction.

Section 67B of the Information Technology Act

The publishing of sexual and obscene information portraying a kid is prohibited under Section 67B of the Information Technology Act of 2000. For committing the offence, such a person might face a sentence of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to ten lakhs.

Section 72 of the Information Technology Act 

Unless otherwise allowed by law, a government employee who discloses data and information acquired in the course of his or her responsibilities without the agreement of the person involved faces a criminal penalty under Section 72 of the Information Technology Act. Penalties include up to two years in jail, a fine of up to Rs100,000, or both.

Section 4 of Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, (IRWA)

Section 4 of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, (IRWA) prohibits the printing or mailing of books, pamphlets, and other materials that feature indecent representations of women. On a first conviction, any person liable under this section shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding two years and a fine not exceeding two thousand rupees, and on a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment for a term not less than six months but not exceeding five years and a fine, not less than ten thousand rupees but it might go up to one lakh rupees.

Section 6 of Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, (IRWA)

The perpetrator faces punishment under Section 6 of the Indecent Representation of Women Act, 1986. If a second or subsequent prosecution happens, the punishment may not be less than six months but may extend to five years and may also extend, at least, to ten thousand rupees shall replace for words or fines that may exceed two thousand rupees. The words shall be substituted with the terms in the event of a second or subsequent conviction to a term of not less than six months but not more than five years and not less than fifty thousand rupees but not more than five lakh rupees. They will not be sentenced to more than five years in prison.

The international scenario on sextortion

In the international arena, only a few nations have recognised the need of enacting legislation that prohibits and punishes sextortion-related offences. The offence of ‘Sexual Intercourse by Abuse of Position’ is defined in the Criminal Codes of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Philippine Anti-Rape Law of 1997 covers rape committed by a “severe abuse of authority,” while the Tanzania Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act of 1998 covers rape committed by someone “who takes advantage of his official position.” The United States of America has passed the ‘Workhouse Statute,’ which tackles the interstate crime of sextortion.

Legislation that addresses the crime of sextortion and offences linked to it is critical. It’s crucial to remember that sextortion crimes don’t simply happen on the internet; they may also happen in the workplace, in schools, in families, and so on.

It is impossible to accuse and hold the perpetrator accountable if the crime of sextortion is not defined and the consequences are not explicitly stated. It is vital to have devoted people and trained policemen who can find, monitor, and apprehend the offender while also providing appropriate assistance to the victims.

How can one protect oneself against sextortion

Avoiding sending sexual content to anyone else by phone, tablet, or computer is the easiest approach to avoid being sexorted. When someone invites you to transmit intimate images or videos online, keep your wits (and a good dose of suspicion) about you. Sending intimate images or video-chatting with someone you haven’t met in person is not a good idea.

Use the following tips to avoid being a victim of sextortion:

  • Set all of your social media accounts to private;
  • No matter how close you are to someone, never email them compromising photographs of yourself.
  • Do not open attachments from unknown senders;
  • When not in use, turn off your electronic devices and webcams.
  • Be aware of unknown persons on social media or dating websites who try to swiftly move the conversation to another platform.
  • Be cautious of new online connections who give you unsolicited sexual images that they claim are of themselves. This is a common approach used by sextortionists to steer the conversation in a sexual direction and reduce their victim’s defences.
  • Do not pay the ransom asked by the extortionist;
  • Stop interacting with the offender right away;
  • Keep a record of all communications with the extortionist.
  • Ensure that all social media profiles are secure.
  • Notify the appropriate social media platform of the material;
  • Speak with a knowledgeable attorney from the field of cybercrime.

What to do if you have been sextorted

Contact someone close to you

We understand how difficult it is to confess that you have been manipulated by a faceless, anonymous criminal. You may be anxious that your friends and relatives might not understand how the problem arose. Or you’re afraid the offender will follow his threat to post the compromising video online.

Keep in mind that you are the victim of a malafide abuser who relies on your silence to carry on the assault.

Cut all communication with the offender

You might panic at the possibility of not responding to the sextortonist out of the blue. “Will they call your family?” your mind will race with panicked thoughts. Is it possible for me to send messages to my friends?”

“Am I willing to do this forever?” you should also ask yourself. And the answer should always be no. You deserve the right to be freed of this. Any further discussions or sessions keep you in your abuser’s manipulative grasp. The effort to bring him to justice can begin once the communication is severed.

Do not delete anything related to the incident

Evidence is required to determine the extent, duration, and timeline of the exploitation. You may feel the urge to delete any traces of the incident from your computer to avoid embarrassment but avoid that. Keep everything. You don’t have to live with your shame any longer once the legal action starts.

Inform the police

It is important to inform the police from the beginning of the incident so that legal action starts immediately. How one can lodge a complaint online and offline has already been discussed in the article earlier. 

Meet with the lawyer who deals with sextortion cases

Make sure that you speak to a lawyer who is aware of how the sextortionist behaves and what steps they will take next. Sextortionist keeps control of your actions and will convince you that you don’t have any remedies available with you or there’s no way out, but that’s not the case.

Conclusion

Hence, sextortion is a serious crime and one should take it seriously. If one has been a victim of sextortion, he/she must report it immediately so that legal proceedings can start soon after the incident. One must follow the safety precautions mentioned earlier to save oneself from extortion.

References 


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