Does The IPC Needs Some Work To Catch Up With Sextortion, A New Cyber Crime?

Sextortion is a rapidly growing new cyber crime where the perpetrator uses nude photographs of victims to gain even more sexually explicit content from them. Read on.

If you thought extortion had nothing to do with your privacy, then you’re in for a rude shock. Sextortion is a new form of cyber/online harassment that appears to be on the rise.

Operating through the use of nude or racy photographs of a person to demand even racier photographs or videos, Sextortion is fast becoming a dangerous crime that targets adolescent and adult women alike.

In October 2015, in Cincinnati, USA, three men were charged for pressuring several young women into giving them sexually explicit photographs of themselves, threatening them with vengeful consequences if they did not comply. Sextortion becomes all the more possible thanks to the many devices that enable a person to get on the grid with visual imagery.

Sextortion presents a horrible threat that women are forced to guard against: one more to an already terribly long list of crimes that women face on a daily basis. Needless to say, sextortion as a crime has its roots in patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes, in that a woman’s body is objectified and appropriated through blackmail and extortion.

In a profiling of the victims by a recent study by the Brookings institution, most victims happen to be adolescent minors. Of the adult victims, a majority are women. In a profiling of victims of cyber stalking, abuse and harassment by the Pew Center in 2014, it came to light that a majority of those targeted are women who have low self-esteem, teenage girls who are lonely or looking for friends, or even simply trying to fit in.

It is no surprise that the existence of Sextortion throws up manifold consequences. Today, sex-positive feminism and body-positive imagery is growing to be one of the most powerful tools to spread positive messages of empowerment.

On the other hand, the appropriation of the pictures of a person to extort even racier images is a dreadful crime that also has the potential to single-handedly wipe all the marginal gains that have been made vis-à- vis sex-positive feminist activism. That photo manipulation and redesign makes everyone equally vulnerable and it is alarming.

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So far as the law goes, in India, Sextortion is not defined as a distinct crime – although the confluence of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and cyber laws may be brought forth to bring a perpetrator to book. Section 383 of the Indian Penal Code defines Extortion as a crime when coercion, blackmail and fraud is used to extort something – which this section confines to valuable property or signed documentation. This could be interpreted creatively to include photographs and imagery – while reading alongside Sections 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code that  penalise obscenity as a crime.

Section 72 of the Information Technology Act, 2008, addresses cyber stalking and harassment. Sextortion is every bit a nuanced crime in the manner in which it is perpetrated – and the legal approach, until such time the law evolves to specifically define and punish, it will be just as nuanced.

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