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Is There A Way Towards Achieving Gender Justice In The Times Of Sexting And ‘Send Nudes’?

Posted: June 11, 2020

In light of the ‘Bois Locker Room’ row, it is essential to discuss the exposure that young adults have in the era of sexting and sharing of nudes!

Earlier this week, one of the women who shared screenshots of the chats on private Instagram group Bois Locker Room registered a complaint against some people for sending her threatening messages. This was done after the woman and her friends revealed that certain groups on Instagram shared pictures of underage girls without their consent. The group chats also revealed that the boys on the group, most of them underage too, were discussing how to rape the girls. 

Some details of the story still seem sketchy including the gender and age of the administrator of the group. And other than the initial arrest report details, the Delhi Police have made no official statement on the matter. 

Does age have anything to do with normalised misogyny?

Following the #MeToo movement in late 2018, the internet is rife with polarising debates around gender justice. Some argued that the underage boys should be prosecuted (if at all they were underage, or boys). On the other hand, people also said that their behaviour was a manifestation of everyday misogyny normalised by society.

Some contended that platforms like Instagram and Snapchat should be held accountable. Meanwhile, others said that punitive action against such platforms will have a ‘chilling effect on free speech.With multiple discourses taking place, all at once, there is hardly any attention being paid to the nuances of gender relations and sexual expression through technology, especially in urban India. 

As certain details of the chats were revealed, it was also stated that some of the images shared were self-taken sexual images. Digital spaces constitute an important part of the social landscape of youth – their romantic relationships, and friendships are established, reinforced, and broken here. This makes it important for the state to develop strategies that make online spaces safe, enjoyable, and bereft of gendered harassment.

Why are we still discussing ‘males vs. females’?

In today’s internet age, it has been observed that social media platforms are increasingly reproducing the age-old gendered norms for women online.

So when these spaces fail to challenge sexism and the oppression of women, it becomes important for us to question where we are headed in terms of gender parity. One of the examples of these double standards is the difference in interpretation of males vs females.

On one hand, where male behaviour online is constructed as ‘pranks’ and normalised, female behaviours online, are termed dramatic and slutty. This is particularly obvious when the behaviour takes the form of digital sexual expression known as ‘sexting.’ 

(The term sexting, a combination of the words “sex” and “texting.” It means sending sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone. And was added to the 12th Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011.)

For young adults living digitally mediated lives, sexting is a common phenomenon. Once considered deviant behaviour, the term now has entered everyday vernacular. And especially so after the smartphones was invented.

Sexting is a part of life for a lot of young adults

Minors are exposed to sexting at a very young age through news, music, movies, television and social media. And at least 75 percent young adults have sexted. Sexts can be categorised, broadly, in  two ways – solicited or unsolicited, with the latter being increasingly common in online dating or app-based matchmaking.

From a legal standpoint, in India, publishing or transmitting obscene material and material containing sexually explicit acts in electronic form is a violation under the sections of the Information Technology Act, 2008. The person posting the content is therefore liable to be charged with committing a crime.

In the Bois Locker Room row, Instagram stated they have policies that disallow the sharing of non-consensual intimate imagery and threats to share it. However, there is not much clarity on how they maintain that kind of surveillance, especially when done in private group chats. 

In the last two decades, India has been witnessing a growing trend towards liberalisation with respect to sexuality. This can be attributed to the economic processes that have influenced the cultural arena in the country.

It did highlight why we need sex education

The Bois Locker Room row has once again brought the discussion about the importance of sex education in schools to the centre stage, At the same time, there is no standard protocol on how to handle cyber-crimes. There are especially no protocols when it comes to dealing with the crimes that are sexual in nature with underage parties involved.

Similar issues are being faced in the developed countries as well. For example, prosecutors in Maryland have been grappling with how to address sexting when the contents of the same come in the public domain. There is no statutory framework for sexting among minors. And the composition of sexts squarely falls within the definition of child pornography in Maryland.

In some cases, girls took selfies and consensually sent them to boys, who, then uploaded it on social networking sites. Here it was determined that the images did not meet the legal definition of child pornography and no legal action was taken. However, in another county (Anne Arundel), if the intent was “bullying or maliciousness,” the cases were tried as child pornography.

In India, with no clear approach for the police, cyber-cells, prosecutors and digital platforms, and each one passing the buck on to the other, it could lead to an inconsistent application of law. It could also lead to a knee-jerk reaction contingent only on subsequent public outrage. This was evident in the treatment of the matter by the Delhi Commission of Women.

Sexting is here to stay but the laws around it need to be clearer

Sexting is becoming a normative component of teen sexual behaviour and development. And right now, it is imperative that the criminal justice system catches up to this development in technology, especially in cases like Bois Locker Room. In a case like that, majority of participants were purported to be minors.

If minors were removed from the particulars of the case, chances are that the legislation pertaining to it would have been much clearer. When minors are involved, it becomes imperative for the state to understand how young people interact online. And here, law need to consider how any prosecution can have a devastating impact on minors.

A combination of diversionary programs that are traditionally pretrial programs, should be adopted. The minors should go through therapy or educational classes for rehabilitative purposes rather than pushing them into the judicial system.

As old adage goes, prevention is better than cure. Schools should provide presentations to students on the importance of privacy and technology. At the same time sex education, especially in the times when sex is increasingly going online should also be a part of the school teaching.

Picture credits: Pexels

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