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Harassed Online, Years On, My Friend’s Scars Still Haven’t Healed

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Facebook logoEditor’s Note: With #NoPlace4Hate, Youth Ki Awaaz and Facebook have joined hands to help make the Internet a safer space for all. Watch this space for powerful stories of how young people are mobilising support and speaking out against online bullying.

The rise of cyber assault in India is a very bothering issue. Considering the number of people that now have access to the internet, the matter’s become worse. Every time I tune into the TV to watch Crime Patrol and Savdhaan India, it actually shows the dark side of cyber crimes. These crimes go unnoticed, because the target population is easily influenced by the virtual world, and even if such matters are brought to light, the hearings go pending. The most alarming fact is that the cases of cybercrime that do get reported usually involve the death of the victim, which is shocking. Social media has given power to the youth to voice out their opinions. Such tools are rarely used for a good purpose, by many people.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

I wish to share a story about my friend who is a survivor of internet crime that she faced as a teenager. It’s been many years since she was harassed online, but her story is one of the millions of stories that are part of cyber crime, prevalent till date.

Like everyone else, my friend had an Orkut account during her teenage years, then the most popular social networking site. There she met a man. He was around eight years older than her. The first thing that he said to her was how pretty she looked in her profile picture. She was happy. For the first time, she heard someone say that. Usually, the boys in her school would either call her fat or ugly. The virtual appreciation uplifted her confidence and she started to feel good about herself. All thanks to the man who called her pretty. But were the intentions really right?

Initially, the communication was restricted to casual talks online until they exchanged phone numbers. He started telling her how good her voice was, how beautiful her smile seemed and other stuff that impressed her way too much.

The conversations turned dirty. He asked my friend which colour bra she wore, which sex position did she like. My friend couldn’t decide if it was all right to talk about such things. When she would refuse to answer such questions, he would usually go mad at her and stop talking for days. This continued till she finally submitted. She started replying to all his insensitive questions and would fall apart when he wouldn’t talk about anything else.

Then one day, he asked her to meet him. He asked her to meet outside her school gates from where he would pick her up. The girl was happy, and scared. Happy because she loved him (or she thought she did) and scared because she didn’t want to do all the things he talked about doing to her. It freaked her out. But she decided to meet him anyway.

The day arrived. My friend looked out for his car and saw it across the road. What made her doubt her decision were the tinted car glasses and the presence of more than one man in the car. She had heard about some really bad things in the news about how a girl was raped and killed the previous day. She dropped the idea, walked back into the school.

At home, her parents were waiting. She didn’t know they had traced the calls she had made from the landline. What happened after that is too heartbreaking, and I don’t wish to elaborate more on her plight. But, her parents made sure that she is safe and doesn’t keep any further contact with this man.

She is now all grown up and knows how to make right and wise decisions. But her parents don’t trust her anymore and she only wishes that she could do something about it. But she says she can’t.

My friend escaped at the end moment from a major problem, but there are many who aren’t that lucky. I would like to point out another incident that happened two years ago in my hostel. It was a male friend this time. He was being cheated on by a girl he met on the internet, who in the end looted him with the help of a male partner. To make things worse, she posted pictures of him on the internet saying that he had raped her and that she demanded justice. Both of them filed a case which they were asked to settle outside the court considering the huge amount of pending cybercrime cases. Surprisingly, the case was dismissed because the parties settled. Over what terms I wonder.

Considering the growing population that now has access to the internet, cyber assault becomes a major concern. The Government needs to intervene in this matter and address these issues. There can be a separate body dealing with cyber assaults. Awareness campaigns regarding ‘assaults in the virtual world’ can be carried out in schools and colleges which are the most vulnerable population. An article ‘Pin The Creeps‘ published on Youth Ki Awaaz discussed an initiative, Safecity, that identifies hot spots where such crimes usually happen. It also allows users to fill in forms anonymously to file reports of such assaults.

I have shared this story for my friend and many others who are survivors and their voices have been shadowed. Some assaults leave scars that never really heal. They stay. And virtual assaults happen way too often but are not brought to light.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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