How To Protect Yourself From Online Violence: A Guide For Women In India

Amnesty International India
30 June 2020 3:02 pm

India has the highest number of Facebook and TikTok users in the world and the eighth highest on Twitter. Our country has one of the largest and fastest growing presence on various social media platforms. With such a large population accessing the internet and social media platforms, there is a likelihood of online abuse and harassment. As indicated by the most recent National Crime Records Bureau data, the number of cyber-crimes have been steadily increasing each year, with 2018 seeing 27,248 cyber-crimes. The curfew and lockdown measures imposed by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased the dependency of people on the internet for work, entertainment and information, putting many vulnerable groups including women further at risk.

In January 2020, Amnesty International India published Troll Patrol India, exposing the online abuse that women face on a daily basis in India. While the social media platforms and the government are primarily responsible for ensuring safe spaces for women, it is important to know not only how you can protect yourself online but also how you can be a more responsible netizen. Here is what you need to know:

 

What is online violence/online abuse?

Online violence or online abuse is not specifically defined under Indian law. There are several kinds of harassment and abuse that people face on the internet. Online violence and abuse can take many forms. This issue has a profound impact on the fundamental human rights of people, especially the right to equality, right to life and right to freedom of expression.

The following are some forms of online violence:

  • Threats of violence: Direct and indirect threats of physical or sexual violence.
  • Violations of privacy: Sharing of sexual and private images without consent, and ‘doxxing’ (revealing personal or identifying details without consent, with the aim to cause distress).
  • Discrimination: Targeted content that is sexist, racist, homophobic or related to an individual’s identity that aims to belittle, humiliate or undermine them.
  • Online harassment: Sustained or repeated communications involving one or more people working together to target an individual, using abusive comments or images online, over a short or coordinated period of time, with the aim of humiliating or otherwise distressing them.

It is important to remember that online settings where such violence can occur includes but is not limited to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They also include emails, messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber; blog sites such as WordPress and Blogger, and even comments sections of different websites like news sites and YouTube.

Online violence and abuse is experienced by Internet users of all gender. However, women’s experiences online often mirror the discrimination, sexism and violence that women experience offline.

  1. How do I report online harassment?

A complaint can be filed anywhere, as cybercrimes don’t have any jurisdiction. To report online harassment, the following options are available to you:

  • Reporting on social media websites: Most social media platforms have the option of reporting online harassment. You can check the reporting guidelines by clicking on a particular platform and accordingly report:
  • Cyber cells: They have been established especially to deal with victims of cybercrime. They come under the purview of the crime investigation department. Here are the Nodal Cyber Cell Officers for each state. You can also file a complaint at www.cybercrime.gov.in. The National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal also has a manual on reporting cyber-crimes to help guide you through the process.
  • Local Police Station: You can also file an F.I.R. at a local police station. Remember: It is compulsory for a police station to register an F.I.R, you have the right to this redressal if you choose it.
  • Ministry of Women and Child Development: A specific email account has been established by the Ministry which is dedicated to complaints related to abusive behaviour, harassment or hateful conduct on social media. You can email at: [email protected]
  • The National Commission for Women:  In the case of women, the National Commission for Women can take cognizance and enquire into cases of online harassment against women.  You can either make a complaint online, email at: [email protected]; or call the NCW at: +91-11-26944880.

    Do I need to give any proof when I report?

While it may be appealing to delete evidence of abusive/harassing interactions that you have faced online, it is important not delete the evidence. Consider keeping screenshots as well as print-outs of photos, emails, or any other information sent by the perpetrator, this will make it easier for the concerned authorities to trace evidence in the virtual world.

  1. What are other ways I can keep myself safe online?
  • Keep personal identifying information private. This is your location, date of birth, address, any identity documentation.
  • Be an active bystander. Do not allow cyber bullying to go unchecked. If you see someone else being harassed online, report it to the website. Help your friends.
  • Be cautious of those you meet online. Do not trust everyone who approaches you online. If you are meeting someone who you have only interacted with online, ensure that a trusted friend or family member knows where you are.
  • Trust your instincts. Ask yourself whether the interactions you are having feel right? Ask yourself, if your friends and family knew what was being shown and said, would you be embarrassed?
  • Stop the chain. Do not forward, copy, download content that you think is inappropriate. If necessary, contact the Cyber Cell to report the spread of inappropriate content.

The National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal has more tips on online safety and how to protect yourself on social media platforms.

 

What laws in India protect against online abuse against women? 

The following provisions under Indian law can help protect you against any online abuse that you may be experiencing.

Information Technology Act:

This law protects against the violation of a person’s privacy, transmitting obscene material, sharing of sexually explicit material and creation and publication of sexually explicit material involving children.

  • Section 66E penalizes the violation of a person’s privacy by intentionally capturing and publishing images of a private area of any person without his or her consent.
  • Section 67 punishes electronic publication or transmission of obscene material.
  • Section 67A deals particularly with the electronic publication or transmission of material that contains sexually explicit acts.
  • Section 67B relates to material depicting children in sexually explicit acts and includes under its purview not only those who create and publish but also whoever downloads digital images depicting children engaged in sexually explicit act or conduct.

Indian Penal Code:

Various provisions of the Indian Penal Code penalise sexually coloured remarks, stalking, voyeurism, and insulting the modesty and privacy of a woman.

  • Section 354A punishes sexual harassment, including making sexually coloured remarks.
  • Section 354C punishes voyeurism that is capturing or disseminating images of a woman engaged in a private act in circumstances where she expects privacy
  • Section 354D punishes stalking, especially online stalking.
  • Section 503 prohibits criminal intimidation, including issuing physical threats to a person.
  • Section 506 punishes criminal intimidation by ‘imputing unchastity’ to a woman.
  • Section 509 punishes words, gestures or acts intended to insult the modesty of a woman or to intrude upon her privacy.

There are additional sections of the Indian Penal Code that protect against hate speech on the basis of religion, class and other community identities.

The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act

This Act prohibits the publication of any printed material containing indecent representation of women.

  • Section 4 prohibits the publication of any printed material containing indecent representation of women.

Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act

Amongst other things, provisions in the Act prevent sexual harassment of a child as well as the use of children for pornographic purposes.

  • Section 11 defines and makes sexual harassment a punishable offence
  • Section 12 penalizes sexual harassment of a child.
  • Section 13 makes the use of children for pornographic purposes a punishable offence
  • Section 14 penalise anyone who uses a child for pornographic purposes

Many perpetrators of online violence take refuge in the fact that they will not be readily identified. It is important for us to be responsible netizens and try to ensure that online violence is curbed as much as possible by holding those who perpetuate such violence accountable.

Nayantara Raja is a Campaigner, Gender and Identity Based Violence at Amnesty International India.