Today it is almost impossible to imagine our lives without the internet. We are dependent on it for nearly every aspect of our daily routine. People are able to communicate with their friends and family across the world. We can now do things that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Though the internet provides great opportunities for new development, it also provides fertile grounds for criminal activity. This global network is a boon for most individuals. But just as there are good and bad people in the real world, you will find them online.
Cyber crime today is growing at an incredibly fast rate as more and more people get connected to the digital sphere. There is no international standard for what can be labeled as cyber crime. It generally refers to a criminal act where a digital device is either the tool used in the commission of the act or is the target of such an act. It first gained public attention in 1945, when the United Nations created a network of 192 nations urging them to cooperate and work on the growing international risk of cyber crimes. Cyber crime can threaten individuals as well as entire nations.
The virtual world mirrors the real one. Therefore it also reflects the real-world social dimensions and privileges This means that the sections of the society which are more vulnerable to crime are also more likely to be targeted online. Women are soft targets for virtual criminals as they have already been victimized by society. Though crime against women is on a rise in all fields, being a victim of cybercrime could perhaps be one of the most traumatic experiences for a woman. Among the various cyber crimes committed against an individual, crimes like harassment, cyber-stalking, cyber pornography, defamation, and image morphing are especially targeted towards women.
Cyber-stalking relies on the anonymity that the internet offers. It usually involves women being stalked by men, or minors being stalked by adults. Revenge, ego, obsession, and sadistic power trips are often the motives behind this. Many a time the woman actually knows the stalker offline. Given that there is an immense amount of personal information available online, a stalker can find out potentially everything about the intended victim. Even though it is easier to put cyber stalker behinds bar by tracing the IP address, this never really happens. Women very rarely report these cases due to fears of social ostracism.
Another danger to female netizens is cyber pornography. The internet has facilitated the growth of the pornography industry. It has also facilitated the circulation of pornographic imagery in social circles. Women have been put at risk of having their privacy violated. These images tend to portray women as mere sex objects, having no other value. There have been numerous cases of young women, quite often minors, having their risqué images being leaked by jilted ex-lovers. It now also possible to morph the images, putting someone’s face on someone else’s body. There has thus been the emergence of a new type of crime by the name of revenge porn, where men who feel that they have been treated unfairly by a woman release explicit images of her. In the words of Kamlesh Vaswani, nothing can more efficiently destroy a person, fizzle their mind, evaporate their future, eliminate their potential or destroy society like pornography. In a society that demonizes women embracing their sexuality, a leaked or morphed image of a nude woman might just as well ruin her life. She is mocked by her peers, faces harassment at the workplace and is leered at by others. Worst of all she is blamed for having taken the pictures when it is the fault of the man who breached her trust.
Defamation in India is both a tort and a crime. Like all other types of crime, it too has now found its way online. Cyber defamation occurs when a person’s name is smeared on the internet. The Internet allows people to spread their opinions way too easily. Defamatory material could be circulated by the means of email, online messaging and social media sites. A false rumor when widely spread causes unprecedented damage to someone’s reputation. Women suffer the worst because in Indian society their reputation and honor are held to extremely high standards and put on a pedestal.
The IT Act 2000 attempts to draft new laws to deal with cyber crimes. Chapter XI of the Act deals with offenses such as tampering with computer source documents, hacking and publishing of obscene material among others. But there is no special provision in the Act for crimes against women and children. Neither is there any mention of crimes like cyber-stalking or email spoofing. It is clear that the act leaves a lot to be desired.
Another issue that comes up when legislating about cyber crimes is the lack of evidence and jurisdiction. There can be no statistical study of the extent of these activities as most of these cases go unreported. The Indian society is such that a woman is expected to tolerate a certain degree of harrying, in the fear of social humiliation. Harassment on streets and in public places is so commonplace that most people don’t even blink when witnessing it. Women too have accepted it as being a part and parcel of life. With the development of the internet, this has now moved to the virtual space. People send explicit images to women ask them out or send sexually suggestive messages to women. The women are expected to ignore these messages and not go to the police for the fear of negative publicity. And of course, because society finds a way to blame the woman. Always.
Edited by Ojaswi Gupta
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje