Here's How You Can Stay Alert When It Comes To Online Sexual Harassment

Published on 26 Apr 2018 . 1 min read

online sexual harassment online sexual harassment

A  2015 UN report - ‘Cyber Violence against Women and Girls: a Worldwide Wake-Up Call’ - states, online violence is just as lethal to women as physical violence, and has warned that women are growing even more vulnerable to cyber violence as internet access spreads to more areas. It estimates that 73% of women have endured cyber violence and that women are 27 times more likely than men to be harassed online.

Cyber harassment includes stalking, offending a person online with unwanted sexually explicit messages, and threats of violence or hate speech. The most disturbing form of online violence is non-consensual pornography.

Research shows that an estimated one in 10 women, globally, have already experienced some form of cyber violence since the age of 15.

We talked to women from different walks of life united due to the existence of cyber-harassment.

A stand-up poet and a literature student, Shabnam, talks about her perception of cyber harassment -

“Since the age of 15, most of us start experiencing some form of sexual harassment. Online harassment involves stalking or offending a person with sexually explicit texts/pictures and also with threats of violence. It's high time for the women in India, or in any other place apart from India, to speak for themselves and take a solid stand against the harasser. But instead, what we all do is either ignore or block the assailant because we are worried about the consequences.

We the Millennials, who have spent more than half of our lives being 'online', are vulnerable to such odious activities. One should have enough guts and the confidence to speak against it, by either reporting it to the particular website or by clicking screenshots of the conversation as proofs. We are women of strong character and must emerge even stronger over the period of time, making it through all the pros and cons of social media.”

How To Make Yourself Safe Online?

#1. Regularly Check and Update Privacy Settings

While you are on social media make sure to regularly check and update your privacy settings. It’s better to always be aware of who can see what you’re posting online.

#2. Don’t Share Your Social Media Credentials

Do not give anyone access to your social media platforms. You should also maintain a habit of regularly changing your passwords.

#3. Be Cautious with What You Share Online

Do not share pictures with any stranger online. If you like someone and they ask for nudes, it’s better to know them better before doing something so drastic.

While being on the internet can help you make connections, advance your knowledge, even help you start a business, however, the online space doesn’t come harassment-free. So what can you do in such a situation, where not being online isn’t even an option we should ever consider?

Asma Shah, an entrepreneur who created her business through an online mechanism, further deliberates about her journey while dealing with harassment in an online space -

“The best thing is to confront. It not only deters the harassment you are facing but I believe it deters these miscreants for future also. The victims are both men and women. I have a lot of friends who face this kind of harassment in the most ‘decent’ and unsuspected place i.e work. Sometimes victims feel too weak to defend themselves due to the seniority of the perpetrator. Even at times, the HR doesn't seem supportive, especially if the victim is a male but you should always take a stand THE FIRST time it happens and create a scene if needed. It is better to live with that than being harassed.”

When you are being harassed online you should immediately report the offenders via official, never suffer in silence. Online mechanisms like Facebook allow you to report people for harassment and even block them from contacting you. You can also take a legal recourse while dealing with the harassers.

Steps in enabling this:

“Social media is a great thing, especially Twitter. They record all the threats, incriminating evidence and fake news cyberbullies and their gangs put out there to harass an individual. It's out in public, is traceable and it's all for law enforcement to see. The act of harassing an individual online through "cybergangs" is a worse crime than what they are posting about that individual.

- Strong by Kailin Gow about Social Media's Role in Aiding Law Enforcement Against Crime

Laws in Indian Penal Code for Online Abuse 

IPC Section 354A

This Section punishes - with 3 years imprisonment and/or fine - as ‘Sexual Harassment’ instances where a man makes “a demand or request for sexual favours”, shows “pornography against the will of a woman” or makes “sexually coloured remarks”.

IPC Section 354D

This Section punishes - with three years and/or fine on first conviction, and five years and/or fine on second conviction - under ‘Stalking’ any man who “follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly, despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman.”

IPC Section 509

This Section provides that any person who utters any word or makes any sound or gesture, intending that such word, sound or gesture be heard or seen by a woman and insult her modesty, shall be punished with one-year imprisonment and/or fine.

For all the nudes that you get asked for or the pictures of male genitalia flooding your inbox, the IT Act comes to your rescue. It punishes transmission of obscene as well as sexually explicit content in electronic form.

IPC Section 67A

The following Act carves out a special category of obscene content i.e. material containing a ‘sexually explicit act’. The publication, transmission or causing of transmission or such material is punishable with imprisonment extending up to five years and fine for the first conviction, and up to seven years and fine upon second conviction.

How to go about report Cyber-Stalking in India?

#1. File/Report an FIR

One must register a written complaint to her immediate cyber-cell in the city. In case of non-availability of cyber-cells in the city, one can file an F.I.R. in the local police station.

#2. Report to High Authorities (If no/non-satisfactory action is taken)

In case of non-acceptance of your complaint, one can always refer your complaint to the commissioner or judicial magistrate of the city.

#3. Entitled to Legal Assistance

If a woman approaches the police station with an allegation of cyber-stalking, she is entitled to a legal counsel who can help her file a case.

#4. Privacy While Reporting

The victim’s statement would be taken down in private. Often, the cyber police station has women police officers/constables who can help the complainant to file a complaint.

Iqra, a law student and an activist, shares her experience of being at the helm of such affairs.

“It really affects your mental peace and stability. It's really hard and you can't focus on things well. I used to get many messages and phone calls and they were very disturbing. So I called a friend of mine whose father was a policeman and I talked to him about everything. He told me to give him all the details like phone numbers and FB IDs of such people, then he solved the matter. It really gave me strength and after that, I used to handle it on my own. I remember saying to a guy who was harassing me that I’m going to file an FIR and I made him realise that it's not a joke, it is really horrible to deal with. Then he stopped.”

What to keep in mind while reporting Online Abuse?

#1. Don’t delete Evidence

The first rule is to not delete. You need a proof of the emails, photos, etc. This is important so as to enable investigators to track them down and collect evidence.

#2. Take Screenshots For Proof

You should take screenshots. You can do this using your phone as well.

#3. Report it Instantly

Most platforms have a mechanism for reporting abuse. The social media websites are obliged under the IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011 to remove the offending content within 36 hours of receiving a complaint. In addition, under these rules, the websites also have to retain all information relating to such complaints about a period of 90 days. The information on the website will prove critical when an investigation is launched.

#4. Don’t forget To File an FIR

Cyber crimes require specialised investigation and a First Information Report is the first step.


Fakiraah Irfan

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