Rape threats and abuse against women have become commonplace on the Internet. Is it because of the limits of our law or the fact that only a few women seek legal guidance in such matters?
Imagine you posted a personal picture from your vacation. Immediately a comment pops in, abusing you. Shocking isn’t it? But this is the kind of abuse women face with stocking density in the big bad virtual world today.
If you thought being whistled or ogled at on the street was bad enough, think again. Rape threats and abuse in the virtual world have turned out to be a new way of harassing women. According to a survey commissioned by cybersecurity solutions firm Norton by Symantec in 2017, 8 out of 10 people in India have experienced some form of online harassment while 41% of women have faced sexual harassment on the web.
Since ages, women have been considered meek and treated as objects that need to know their limits. An empowered and free-thinking woman doesn’t match the standards of a patriarchal society. Posting views or pictures and wearing clothes of their choice offend patriarchal mindsets. Thus, they get trolled by people driven by misogynist thoughts. In most cases, the threats are simply put out because the person on social media is a woman and the idea is to silence her.
Online harassment has become a real nightmare for women who constantly have to deal with unpleasant comments for their views on almost everything. The barrage of such trolls and rape threats targeting women is a new menace. Starting from pornography to cyber-stalking and voyeurism, web-based businesses thrive on such anti-women activities finding little or no regulatory hurdles.
Every day, women, female journalists, and celebrities post disturbing rape threat stories received for their posts. Open any newspaper or news portal, incidents of women being trolled are nothing new. They get harassed by trolls and their momentous response acing every second. According to an Amnesty International Report, 23% of the women surveyed across the 8 countries had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once, 59% of women revealed the abusers were strangers. Social media trolling is usually targeted at one person but then more people join in and the trolling continues for days and at times even for months together.
Although our country is in a transition phase from developing to developed country, it is worthy to note that societal development including women empowerment is at a slow pace. Women being abused and harassed on streets is nothing new to hear. However, abusers online wear a mask of anonymity which makes it easy to slip away from the clutches of law. While it may not be common or easy to call someone a slut, body shame or scare to gang rape her in the real world, it becomes effortless to express these sentiments freely, without fear in the online world.
So what does one do when faced with online abuse? Many go to the police, lodge a complaint yet the anonymity of social media account handles makes it difficult even for the law to track down the culprit. Tracing the culprit through their IP addresses seems impossible as they are often masked.
Many experts suggest to report about the abuse on the particular platforms. However, almost all social media promoters such as Facebook and Twitter have their headquarters abroad. In that case, whenever a complaint is raised they take time to revert back with the identity of the abuser. Though the comment is deleted immediately, revelation about the account details takes time.
The kind of trolling that is happening to women on social media platforms, especially Twitter, is painting a sad picture to the idea of free speech. Here, one needs to quickly realize that we do not have adequate legal mechanisms and redressal options to deal with such situations. When companies like Facebook and Twitter or any other international company headquartered abroad does not respond to a complaint or objectionable content, immediate redressal of the issue becomes a challenge.
Although online harassment cases are new in India, we need to be aware and keep abreast with the latest technology to deal with the situation. The Indian Penal Code under Section 354A has the provision of imprisonment for 1 year and fine for posting lewd comment on social media. Under Section 354D, a person can be held up to 3 to 5 years, if attempts to contact a woman to foster personal interaction despite her clear disinterest, monitoring her through Internet, email or through any other electronic communication. However, limited awareness about these laws often make the offender go scot-free for the crime.
The government here needs to invoke strict monitoring and implementation of these laws in the direction of regulating online intimidation. Strong deterrent legal provisions need to be put under the Indian Cyber Law to deal with the current plight.
While the authorities have not done enough to deal with rising incidents, we need individuals to imbibe the culture of safe surfing. Following few tips like periodic review of internet contacts and online activities to prune out everyone you are no longer in contact with. Block people you don’t want to interact with. You don’t have to accept invitations to be friends with people just because they ask. People often find it difficult to turn someone down and creeps count on this very thing. If anyone has been subjected to any form of harassment report it at once.
Together, the onus lies on all the stakeholders and the government to make constant efforts to make the online world more safe and secure. The foreign service provider cannot act as mute spectators to the rising threats of abuse and cyber crime on women. They need to implement strong and steady redressal mechanisms to protect their female users.
By Team CCSE (Centre for CSR & Sustainability Excellence)