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Why Preventing Rape Videos From Going Viral Is A Mammoth Task

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Taking note of the many shocking videos of sexual assault on women and children going viral, the Supreme Court has issued a notice to India offices of Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Facebook asking them to file a response. A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur asked the social media giants to file their views on how the phenomenon can be curbed. The Court first took cognisance of the matter in February last year after the then Chief Justice H L Dattu received a letter and copies of two videos of sexual assault that were being circulated on WhatsApp from Hyderabad-based NGO Prajwala.

Need For A Central Agency

Before going to the Court, Sunitha Krishnan, one of the founders of Prajwala, began an online campaign called ‘Shame the Rapist’, where she uploaded photographs of the alleged rapists and asked people to trace them. Hours later, her vehicle was vandalised by unknown persons. It was only after the videos reached the Chief Justice and the court directed the CBI to investigate the matter that officials started making arrests.

In court, Krishnan made a specific plea that a central agency be made responsible for investigating such cases. The need for such an agency, she told me, is the vast jurisdiction in which the videos are circulated which literally makes catching the culprits nobody’s responsibility. “The crime happens in one place, the video lands in somebody’s hand in another part of the country. As a concerned citizen, I cannot file a case although I see the crime. It’s there on my phone but I can’t file a case because the jurisdiction is different,” she said.

How The Videos Are Circulated

“Rape is a crime. A video of the crime is being circulated. If we are going to be endorsing crimes and circulating videos of the crime, it’s not done, right?” asks Krishnan, when I asked her about the necessity of asking tech-firms to do something about the issue.

In fact, rape videos in India have a huge market, according to many reports. Asad Ashraf, a journalist who reported on sale of such videos in Uttar Pradesh, told me that the videos are available for sale over the counter, where they aren’t called rape videos, but have more generalised names – a ‘WhatsApp video’ or ‘sex video’. It is only when one watches a video that one can spot its contents.

While Krishnan is seeking an order from the court solely for rape videos and not porn, Ashraf says that rape videos are sold among a set of pornographic videos, making it that much difficult to also control its dissemination.

Explaining the modus operandi, Ashraf told me that videos of sexual assault are shot usually for blackmailing the rape survivor. It is when someone takes their phone to a shop to get his phone repaired or formatted that the shopkeeper gets hold of the video and starts selling them.

Ashraf also added that it is only through known contacts that one can get these videos and that they are not sold openly. This makes it difficult to determine who has shot the video in the first place.

Challenges

The Ministry of Home Affairs has already granted approval for setting up and for an Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) and a Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCPWC) unit to fight cyber crimes against women. It is also setting up Investigative Units for Crimes against Women (IUCAW) for tackling heinous crimes against women.

However, tracking circulation of videos of sexual assault poses a problem even for social media companies like WhatsApp whose communication is end-to-end encrypted. Nikhil Pahwa, who runs Medianama, a media organization focussed on digital and telecom sector, says that the only way under present circumstances to flag such videos is when people report such content. He added that companies should be able to trace the origin of the video after it has been flagged and report it to authorities.

The sheer amount of content being shared online poses another problem. Pahwa says that it is not yet possible to monitor videos using algorithms and companies will probably have to rely on a community policing of sorts online. He added that quick prosecution of those found guilty can act as a deterrent and prevent rape videos from being uploaded.

The matter will be heard in the Supreme Court again in January.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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