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Smartphones Are Only The Newest Means To Harass And Abuse Women Online

Posted: November 6, 2020

Smartphones are increasingly being used to harass women online and to film crimes like rape. Do we take pleasure in watching others in pain?

Recently, police arrested some youth in Ballia for having filmed the gang-rape of a minor girl which went viral. This just goes on to show how insensitive we have become that we film such acts instead of helping the victim. Additionally, the fact that the video went viral shows something else – that a majority of people are indulging in sadism. We seem to take pleasure in watching others in pain.

Increasingly, smart-phones are being used to film such crimes soon after which, they go viral as these videos are shared over social media. Moreover, porn sites are willing to pay for clips like these.

Women often bear the brunt of such crimes

Prajwala’s founder and anti-trafficking crusader Sunitha Krishnan believes that smartphones are used to film these acts as the perpetrators want to exhibit their crimes. In India, women bear the brunt of rapes and sexual harassment while the perpetrators are out free, possibly looking for new victims.

Often, people believe that the victim/survivor is the one who is ‘responsible’ for having been sexually harassed or abused. Meanwhile, the man (or men) who did it did so because they were aided and encouraged. In other words, the character assassination of the survivor is relentless while the perpetrators are projected as ideal people.

Sunitha Krishnan filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2014 when she was tipped about smartphones being used to forward such videos making them viral. The Supreme Court directed the CBI to investigate these crimes.

She also launched the #ShameTheRapist campaign to shame the perpetrators of such crimes. Often the survivor’s trauma increases exponentially with each share that continues to shame and blame them when such videos are shared. Thus, silencing them.

Women are shamed and bullied despite being the victims

Moreover, justice takes a long time to reach fruition. This, despite the establishment of fast-track courts after the Nirbhaya verdict came after seven long years. And even that happened due to the tremendous amount of public and media pressure. 

The shame is also one of the many reasons why the survivor often is coerced and repeatedly abused. At times, other people too join in, abusing and raping her because once she has been abused, she is unable to speak up due to the video going viral.

This is so because, according to Bishakha Dutta, the body of a survivor is considered public property and can be abused in many ways. Dutta is the executive director of Point Of View, a non-profit organisation that works for women and other marginalised genders.

Similarly, Sunitha Krishnan opines that it is as if a lifetime of silence is imposed on the survivor and often they are the ones paying for it all. This transmission is so easy that often the person is bullied, shamed and coerced by sharing their pictures and videos on the public domain. Thus, these platforms where such videos are posted also need to be taken to task. 

What needs to be done to curb such crimes?

There were a number of such videos on sale in Uttar Pradesh in 2016. And judging by the number of rapes that happen throughout the country, it appears that a lot of these acts are being filmed and circulated all over the country. 

The Supreme Court has formed a panel to stop such videos in the wake of Sunitha Krishnan’s petition. And the panel will have representatives from Google India, Yahoo India, Microsoft India and Facebook too. These platforms need to be held accountable for the content being published on them. 

Moreover, cybercrime is not as easily solved in India for the most obvious reasons. Firstly, the evidence may be erased before the investigation begins. And police in India often lack the training. Additionally, the equipment needed to trace the origins and trails of cyber crimes is difficult to acquire. 

Public needs to understand the severity of it

In 2018, as many as 2000 cases sexual harassment and 700 cases of online bullying were reported. The good thing is that there is a higher number as people are becoming aware of cybercrimes. Of course, there are umpteen cases which are never filed because the survivors are numb due to the virality of the videos. 

Another plus point is that in 2018, the Government launched the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal to record the complaints online. Police are being trained in digital crimes and the public has also been made aware of cybercrimes. 

The public needs to delete these videos from their devices when they come across such videos. They also must be able to complain anonymously to the police about such videos going viral, suggests Sunitha Krishnan. 

Another aspect that Bishakha Dutta pointed out was that the relevant sections of the IT Act need to be invoked to nail the accused. Only then, will the perpetrators understand cybercrimes payback with punishment. Lastly, cybercrimes must be routed through fast track courts as technology upgrades faster than human actions. 

A version of this was earlier published here. 

Picture credits: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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I am a law graduate from Government Law College,Mumbai.I am a Fellow in

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