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Harassment Of Women In Digital Space

Introduction

“Woman, you are strong as earth and are on a very high pedestal. Protect the world from path of vices and violence”.- Yajurveda 13.18

These are the lines from one of the prominent ancient Vedas where women are portrayed as strong individuals who have the power to segregate right and wrong and protect the world by grappling against violence. From the Vedas to the social media posts during women’s day, we can see an endless number of messages that praise women. But when we undergo a reality check, we can easily understand that women, being half of the population had undergone constant subjugation and mistreatment. From portraying women as sex objects, treating inferior to men, bashing their right to live life on their terms, harassment, rapes, assault, molestation, marital rape, etc. are examples of crimes committed against women. There has been a huge saga of crimes occurring against women.

As society develops, technology also evolves accordingly. But the societal attitude towards women hadn’t changed but got shifted to a whole new platform. The introduction of the internet and technology had contributed a lot to the crimes against women. getting access to a brand new world where you can create any identity you want and preach new methods of committing crimes without having a fear of getting penalised, there is a huge plight in cybercrimes day by day.

Even though digitalization had strengthened our economy, education and governance but it also leads to the introduction of cybercrimes. Even though the crimes target any group of the society but it is the women who become the major victim of the harassment of women in digital space.

Definition of Cybercrime

Cybercrime is defined as the usage of a computer, a computer network or a networked device as an instrument to further the legal ends such as:

1. Email and internet fraud.

2. Stealing of personal information.

3. Theft of financial data.

4. Cyber extortion or demanding money to prevent a threat.

5. Ransomware attacks.

6. Crypto-jacking or mining cryptocurrency using resources that you do not own.

7. Cyberespionage or accessing government or company data.

The lists of cybercrimes are endless. It can harm a person’s security and financial health. Cybercriminals can be individuals, organized crime groups to state-sponsored factors. They use techniques like social engineering, phishing and other kinds of malware to satisfy their needs. Cybercrimes are done for profits and also for personal and political reasons.

Cybercrimes against Women

Day by day online platforms had become a stage where the dignity, privacy and security of a woman get challenged. Research conducted by the world health organization states that one in three women will have experienced a form of violence in her lifetime. The rapid growth of the internet and its ensemble opportunities had led to the estimation that one in ten women has already experienced a form of cyber violence since the age of 15.

Cybercriminals try to harass women by defaming them by stalking those using websites, sending obscene e-mails, messages, developing pornographic videos which are mostly without consent and are also made by morphing the images by using various software which is easily available online. In this world where we all are a bundle of numbers and identifiers in computer databases owned by government and corporations, the major target of the criminals is to access personal information and use it as an instrument for harassment and exploitation of an individual. Women became the victims of the malafide intentions of perpetrators like taking revenge, to have an illegal gain, to insult the modesty of women, extorting, blackmailing, sexual exploitation, defamation, inciting hatred against the community, prank satisfaction of gaining control.

Our constitution ensures dignity, privacy and personal liberty to an individual. Due to the increase in such crimes women are constantly denied these basic rights. One of the major solutions for these crimes is initiatives taken by women to take legal action. But most of the time, women push themselves back due to social embarrassment. Even though she is the victim, but she is the one who gets blamed for the actions which she hadn’t done. It is mainly due to the societal norms and prejudices that exist in society. But the mental harassment of women in digital space has to go through is miserable. Women fall into depression, hypertension, and anxiety disorders, etc. as an effect of mental and physical harassment.

Types Of Cybercrimes Against Women

Some major types of cybercrimes against women are:

1. Cyber Defamation

In India defamation is regarded as both crime and a tort. The dignity and prestige of a person are guarded religiously by the law. Due to the invasion of the internet, cyber defamation had gone up and social media had become a center of massive hatred.  It’s an intentional infringement of another person’s right to live life with reputation and dignity. Here the defamatory material is being circulated among a large population and a single false accusation against a woman can create huge damage to her dignity before the public. Due to the informal environment of social media people find it quite comfortable and fearless to speak their minds too easily.  In the context of cyber defamation, the biggest issue is that as most of the bloggers who use blogs or other media sites like newspapers or magazines as their platform choose to keep their identities hidden to protect themselves. Thus it becomes really hard to find the real culprit. Once the information circulates in sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc. it will be read by a huge number of people and the damage caused to the woman cannot be compensated. There are lots of situations where women had become soft victims of such acts and committed suicide and it also makes them fall into mental disorders. The laws related to cyber defamation are:

Indian Penal Code

1. SECTION 499: Whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs and visual representations makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation of such person is said, except in cases hereinafter excepted to defame that person.

2. SECTION 500: Any person held liable under section 499 will be punishable with imprisonment of two years or fine or both.

3. SECTION 469: It deals with the concept of forgery. Here if anyone creates a false or fake document that harms the reputation of a person he will be punished for 3 years with a fine.

4. SECTION 503: It states the offence of criminal intimidation by using electronic medium to harm a person’s reputation.

Information Technology Act, 2000

SECTION 66 A:  It deals with the punishment for sending ‘offensive’ messages through a computer, tablet or mobile. As the government doesn’t define the word offensive and started using it as a tool to suppress the freedom of speech, the Supreme Court struck down the law in the year 2015.

According to Sections 65A and 65 B of the Indian Evidence Act, the forms of defamatory publications which are admissible under the courts in India are:

  • Online chats
  • Electronic mails
  • Any printed, recorded or copied electronic document in optical or magnetic media is considered as a document and shall be admissible by the court.

Case laws:

Kalandi Charan Lenka vs. State of Odisha[1]: In this case, the petitioner was stalked continuously and a fake account was created in her name and sent obscene messages and morphed her naked picture and pasted on hostel walls. The court held the culprit to be liable for the offence.

2. Cyber Pornography

It is defined as the usage of digital space to create, display, distribute, import or publish pornography or obscene materials.  With the advent of the internet, the traditional method of pornography had got shifted to online. Women being the major target of cyber pornography and the structure of their modesty, dignity and social standing are too delicate in the Indian society; it completely bashes her future, her potential and deteriorates her mental health. Many pornographic sites visualize women as mere sex objects who are recipients of violent and abusive acts. This leads to creating unrealistic expectations and abuse towards women. It portrays women as mere creatures with no value and reputation.

Cyber pornography is banned in many counties and is legalized by some. In India, it is neither banned nor legalised. In India, during 2015 the government asked the telecom companies to block access to 857 porn sites by highlighting the necessity to protect public morality. But later the telecom minister was forced to withdraw the ban because people stated that it questioned the right to choose. The law that states about cyber pornography are:

Information Technology Act, 2000

SECTION 67: It states that publication by uploading on the website, WhatsApp group or any other digital portal where third parties can have access to such content, the transmission of obscene photos to any person via email, messaging, WhatsApp or any other digital media will be liable for 3 years imprisonment and a fine up to 5 lakhs.

SECTION 67A: Publication, transmission and causing to be transmitted and published in electronic form any material containing sexually explicit act or conduct punishable with 5 years of imprisonment and fine up to 10 lakhs.

Case law:

Avinash Bajaj vs. State[2]: The CEO of bazee.com, Avinash Bajaj was arrested for an ad by a user for selling the DPS sex scandal video. Even though the video wasn’t uploaded on the website, Mr. Bajaj was arrested under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. It was after this case, intermediary guidelines were passed in 2011 whereby an intermediary’s liability would be absolved if they exercised due diligence to ensure obscene content is not displayed on their portal.

3. Cyberstalking

As the internet creates a new utopian world with faceless accounts; it had become quite easy for stalkers to follow a person’s movements across the internet by posting threatening messages, constantly messaging them through mails and social media. The stalkers don’t have to follow them physically to harass women but can be easily done via the internet without the fear of being suspected. Most of the cybercrimes from cyber pornography to cyber defamation, every case have a touch of cyberstalking in them. The culprits morph the images of the victims or hack their accounts by using multiple email IDs and IP addresses. It is easy to track a virtual stalker than a physical stalker because as the stalking is done virtually then their details can be tracked using an IP address. The best way to prevent the crime is to bring the culprit before the law. Most of the time women push them back from lodging a complaint against these stalkers and follow their demand and commit suicide at the end.

Case law:

Ritu Kohlia case:  it is the first case of cyberstalking reported in India.  In this case, her identity was used by a stalker for creating a social media account and he further gave her address and personal details to people. Her contact details were also leaked and it leads to frequent calls during odd hours. The police tracked the IP address and the culprit was arrested under section 509 of IPC for outraging the modesty of the woman. But none of the sections had mentioned cyberstalking. So, new section 66A has added to the IT act, 2008 and it stated imprisonment for the term which can be extended to three years and with a fine. The Indian parliament made amendments to IPC 1860 introducing cyberstalking as a criminal offense.

4. Harassment through e-mails

It works under the same concept of harassment through letters. It includes blackmailing, threatening, bullying and cheating using e- mail. The criminal law advocates various provisions of law to curb verbal attacks.

Indian Penal Code

SECTION 509: Pertains to stalking, explicitly including the crimes that involve monitoring the electronic communication of a woman.

The It Act, 2008

SECTION 67 A and 67 B: It states the penal provisions of committing the offence of publishing and transmitting material containing sexually explicit acts and child pornography in electronic form.

Case laws:  State of Tamil Nadu vs. Suhas Katti[3]: in this case, the victim, a divorcee has forwarded emails with obscene content which the culprit created in her name and send to random people. This led to mental harassment of the victim as annoying phone calls were coming to her. The Chennai cyber police arrested the culprit and were charged with section 469/509 IPC and section 67of the IT act, 2000.

Suggestions And Preventive Measures

Some suggestions to curb the cybercrimes against women are:

1. The women should report the crime without any hesitation. Most of the time, due to certain social stigma women tend not to report the offence.

2. Block the people you don’t want to interact with.

3. Always should be careful posting about personal details and activities.

4. Always have a strong password and not share the password with anyone.

5. Special statutes on cybercrime against women should be introduced.

6. In most of the statutes made by legislatures are only related to physical harm but more than physical harm it’s the mental condition of the victim which is mostly affected with.

7. A special judicial bench should be introduced to deal with cybercrimes against women.

Conclusion

As the technology is progressing at a fast pace, it’s important to be updated with the latest developments in web-based applications so that it will help to identify the culprit as fast as possible. The government and the judiciary must prevent the technology from being a device for harassment and bullying. Harassment of women in digital space is a topic that should be given major attention as we should educate the people to respect and to be aware of the rights of other individuals. The core reason for the increasing harassment of women in digital space both online and offline is due to our social conditioning where women are portrayed as mere objects created for being enslaved. Other than implementing the laws it is important to educate our children on respecting women, their privacy and security. Women should also need to gather the courage to speak up against crimes and injustice.

REFERENCE

1. Yajurveda 13.18

2. Indian penal code 1860

3. Information and technology act,2000

4. Information and technology act, 2008

5. cyberlawtimes.com/articles/103.html

6. https://Indiankanoon.org/

[1] Kalandi charan Lanka vs. State of Odisha, no: 7596

[2] 2008 Indlaw DEL 763, 2008(150) DLT 769, 2008(3) JCC 1726, 2008(supp5)

[3] C NO.4680 of 2004

This article has been written by Nourien Nizar, 1st Year B.com LL.B (Hons) student at Government law college, Ernakulam.

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