Online harassments need to be recognized especially with greater technological advancements, it has been witnessed that India bags top rank for having the largest number of internet users but there is an adverse side to this also, wherein we also have high statistics of global sexual harassment done physically and virtually too! Online harassment faced by women has become quite prevalent, as women are easy targets especially when the alleged person can hide behind the veil of internet providers.
There was a recent survey conducted by Feminism in India wherein it was recorded that 50% of women have faced online harassment or abuse in some or the other way, and not only women the cases of cyber stalking against men are increasing on faster rate. Forbes has defined “Online harassment” or cyber harassment as, repeated instances of online expression which amounts to course of conduct targeting a particular person and it causes substantial distress and fear in the minds of the targeted person or audience, that they can be caused some bodily harm.
Online Harassment is part of sexual harassment as defined under Section 2(n) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013, where any unwelcome
- Physical contact or advances by anyone
- Any demand for sexual favours
- Making any sexually coloured remarks
- Showing pornography
- And ant unwelcome verbal, non-verbal conduct of sexual nature
Shall be considered as form of sexual harassment. These kinds of remarks made online via any apps or messages will also come under the purview of sexual harassment. There are various forms of online harassment identified under the IT Act 2000, some of them are explained below.
Forms of Online Harassment
As stated above there are many kinds of actions and conduct which can be called as online harassment. Some of the recognized ones are-
1. Cyber bulling- cyber bulling is one of the most common forms of harassment which is inflicted via electronic or communication gadgets or devices such as mobile phones, computers, and they involve texts, phone calls, e-mails, comments on social media platforms etc. Cyber bullying can range from posting any upsetting or cruel comments, fake information, derogatory messages on public blogs and pages or worst they can also include threats to kill or rape.
Bullying of women also happens via mails and the purpose of such mails don’t just stop at bullying, but they can go to the extent of threatening, blackmailing, cheating and causing financial frauds etc. The mails sent are often aggressive, obscene and hurtful for the victim.
The Information Technology Act 2000, hasn’t explicitly covered the harassment caused via mails, but there is section in the IPC which applies to the printing and publishing of such obscene and offensive matter. Section 292A of IPC deals with this printing and publishing of obscene matters and further, one can also invoke Section 509 of the IPC, in cases of any gesture or statement made insulting the dignity of a woman, even if it is done through an online medium.
2. Cyber Stalking- this is another kind of online harassment faced by many women and now men too. Cyber stalking is referred to as the extension of physical stalking which is done through internet, via messages, social media platforms and mails and it can take different forms of crimes such as slander, defamation and threats. Cyber stalking contains among the other things, which are as follows-
- Sending any threatening or obscene messages, posts, comments, emails;
- Stealing the identity or creating fake identity of other person and circulating fake information of that person, with the intention to humiliate or harass them;
- Uploading any edited or fake obscene pictures
- Tracing location of victim or targeted person through illegal means
- Posting critical or derogatory remarks online with the intention to harass the victim
3. Cyber Defamation- this is part of Defamation, which shall include sending and posting of derogatory and offensive material about targeted persons on internet and making them viral. Perpetrators usually put such defamatory content about the victim by hacking into their social media accounts or under the veil of any fake ids. They disseminate all kinds of wrong and defamatory content against the victim. Usually, the victims of cyber defamation are again women, and are inflicted with great emotional and mental trauma.
It is unfortunate, that there are no specified laws for cyber defamation under the IT Act 2000, and the criminal justice usually counts such defamation under the same provisions of cyber pornography or publication of obscene material online.
4. Cyber Pornography- this is said to be one of the most dangerous threats women are subject to in the entire world. Cyber pornography is the act of generating, sharing, downloading or importing any adult content with the help of cyber space. This also includes all among the other things such as magazines produced/ published/ printed using the computers.
Cyber social platforms are open for all kinds of genders, and there has been surge in the number of women users on social media platforms, but this has also led to incidents of cyber pornography involving women. It has become super easy for crooks to download pictures and videos of women and misuse them by producing all kinds of illicit adult content. This can cause heavy mental agony on the minds of victims resulting in permanent psychological scars and also tarnish their and their family’s reputation on large scale.
Pornographic content should be under strict regulations, especially in cases where such videos and pictures are made without the consent of the person.
5. Doxxing- this term is new and not much heard of, this is one of the most sinister cyber crimes committed against women. Doxxing basically means sharing of personal information or documents without the consent of the owner. It is often seen that every online service or social media platform prompts for demographic details of the user and it usually includes their personal and bank details. All this pool of data needs to be protected by illegal hackers and crooks, who often get into such systems and disable them and use this data for obtaining illegal funds. These kinds of information need to be well protected by laws as well as by the online portals and sites or else, it can be used in various manners such as prank calls, harassment and for extorting finances from the victims.
6. Online Sexual harassment- cyber harassment includes various activities such as making repeated calls by different unknown numbers, making vulgar conversations, sending vulgar SMSs, putting pressure on women to engage into friendship or establishing sexual relations. However, there is loophole in our legal provisions which states that Section 354A of the IPC, requires physical contacts or any physical advances made towards the victim, and hence harassment via online means will fall out of the purview of Section 354A.
Thus, in the same way even cyber stalking will amount to online sexual harassment if it is having any sexual overtones, but usually stalkers have hidden personality unlike the sexual harasser who is unlikely to hide their identity from the victim.
Legal Provisions Under IT Act 2000
India is one of the few countries to have their own cyber harassment statutes and legislation specifically dealing with the cyber-crimes and the perpetrators. They are not gender specific, and cites some of the common and prevalent cyber offences such as hacking, tampering of data and publication of obscene content as punishable offences. The 2 main legislations covering cyber crimes are Information Technology Act 2000 and Indian Penal Code 1860. Let’s, look at some of the provisions under the IT Act-
- Section 67- this section covers the publication and transmission of vulgar material via an electronic form such as internet websites, social media platforms etc. The amendment in IT Act 2008 even made some substantial inclusions of certain cyber offences such as child pornography and custody of records of intermediaries.
- Section 66A- this section covered the act of sending offensive messages via computing or communication device, that can cause any kind of insult or annoyances. This section also provides for online communication done to deceive or mislead the recipient about the source of message (email spoofing). The punishment granted under this Section was penalty or imprisonment upto 3 years. But this section was later struck down in the landmark judgment of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India.
- Section 66B- this section penalises perpetrators for fraudulently and consciously receiving and retaining a stolen communication device or any computer resource or gadget. The punishment includes a fine of upto Rs 1 lakh or imprisonment upto 3 years.
- Section 66C- this section covers identity thefts which is also known as phishing wherein the perpetrator attempts to use someone else’s identity by misusing another individual’s password, digital signature or any other unique identification feature.
- Section 66D- This section recognizes offences of cheating done by using the computer resource or other online communications device by impersonating some other person.
- Section 66E- this provision deals with the punishment for violation of privacy, and as per IT Act, violation of privacy involves publication or sharing of images or videos which pertains the private areas of an individual without their consent.
- Section 72- This section books the person for breaching the confidentiality or privacy of another individual by making an illegal or unauthorized access to their electronic records, books, register and documents.
There are certain judgments with respect to cyber offences committed against people as per the provisions of IT Act 2000. Some of them are-
- In the prominent case of Hareesh v. State of Kerala, the applicant had created a fake Facebook profile and posted the morphed obscene pictures of the victim online and even mentioned her phone number below that picture, so as to enable strangers to call her. Before, the police could arrest him, an anticipatory bail application was made by the accused apprehending his arrest for the offences committed under Section 354D of IPC, Section 67 and 67E of IT Act.
The Kerala High Court had denied the application for anticipatory bail of the applicant on the grounds that material records confirm the involvement of the applicant in the abovementioned offences and it will not be righteous for the court to grant anticipatory bail to the applicant, as he might interfere with the investigation of the case.
- In the case of Prakhar Sharma v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the accused had created fake Facebook account of the victim and posted vulgar comments and messages along with downloading the pictures of the victim and pasting them in the fake account, to make it look real. The accused was charged with Section 66C, 67 and 67A of the IT Act and even the bail application of the accused was denied by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh.
India has huge number of internet users especially there has been rise in the number of internet users in this last decade. And even though women constitute only 30% of the users, they are one of the most targeted groups of such online harassment. They are usually targeted on the belief that they are easy to oppress and will not complain about such activities to the police. There are numerous Acts and statutes to protect women specially from such online abuse, but they need to gather the courage to speak about such harassment openly, or else these perpetrators will never get their lesson.
Internet and social media platforms have provided a sense of confidence and liberty to many women, but when they are subject to such cyber-crimes, it is better for them to not ignore such conduct and report it to the police or cyber cells as soon as possible to trace the perpetrator, because the more delay you do, it becomes easier for the wrong doer to run away from the situation. The major key to this problem, is to create awareness among the victims and make sure that people speak up about such harassments rather than ignoring it casually.
This article was authored by Rhea Banerjee pursuing BA.LLB from Indore Institute of Law.