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Sexual Harassment as Cyber Crimes in India

While India goes forward with more advancement in internet penetration, it is also one of the countries where the rate of cybercrime is rapidly increasing. Other than the threats and breaches of internet connectivity for data stealing and scamming money out; there are multiple more crimes which can hurt a victim in crucial manner:
Cyber-attacks, Phishing, the man in the middle attack, and many more offences continue to grow as a threat to the entire cyber community.

Unfortunately, cybercrimes has developed a disastrous category of sexual harassment and threat to dignity of the victim of the same. This paper has been formed to raise awareness about sexual harassment through cyber ware and the provisions under Indian Laws that deal with them.

Cyber sexual harassment pertains to the detrimental behavior carried out by one or multiple individuals towards a victim in the online realm, leading to a range of negative consequences, including emotional and mental anguish, gender-based mistreatment, invasion of privacy, and more. These offenders may induce feelings of physical harm, issue threats, spread damaging information about the victim, or even stoop to the extent of fabricating explicit content involving the victim.

Cyber sexual harassment is not specifically outlined in any legal statutes; instead, it is recognized as a type of sexual harassment that transpires via digital means, such as emails, text messages, social media platforms, and online forums.

Section 345A IPC:
Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code, defines the term sexual harassment and provide punishment for sexual harassment. According to this section,

Sexual Harassment and Punishment for Sexual Harassment:

  1. A man committing any of the following acts:
    1. Physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or
    2. A demand or request for sexual favors; or
    3. Showing pornography against the will of a woman; or
    4. Making sexually colored remarks,
    shall be guilty of the offense of sexual harassment
  2. Penalties:
    1. Offenses specified in clauses (i), (ii), or (iii) of sub-section (1) can lead to rigorous imprisonment for up to three years, or a fine, or both.
    2. Offense specified in clause (iv) of sub-section (1) can lead to imprisonment of either description for up to one year, or a fine, or both.

Types of Cyber Sexual Harassments:

  • Sexual comments/messages: Unwanted or inappropriate comments or remarks of a sexual nature.
  • Unsolicited explicit content: Sending unsolicited sexually explicit images, videos, or links.
  • Cyberstalking: Persistent and unwanted attention or contact online.
  • Revenge porn: Sharing sexually explicit images or videos of someone without consent.
  • Sexual blackmail: Threatening to share or release sexually explicit content unless demands are met.
  • Harassment/bullying: Using offensive language or comments to harass or intimidate someone.
  • Impersonation: Creating a fake account or pretending to be someone else online to harass or intimidate others.
  • Unwanted sexual advances: Unwanted sexual invitations or advances that make someone feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Cyber Flash: Cyber flashing is a form of sexual harassment that involves sending unsolicited sexual content to someone without their consent. The perpetrator may send an explicit image or video to shock, outrage, or embarrass the recipient.
  • Legal Provisions:
    In India, there are several laws that provide protection against cyber sexual harassment. These laws include sections 66A, 66C, 66D, 66E, 67, 67A, and 72 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Additionally, sections 354C, 354D, and 509 of the Indian Penal Code also offer protection. These laws cover various offenses such as cyber defamation, trolling, cyber pornography, online impersonation, privacy infringement, cyberstalking, voyeurism, and harassment of women through electronic media. It is important to note that these laws aim to safeguard individuals from such harmful acts.
  • Sharing Disturbing Images of Women:
    As per Section 345C of IPC, it is possible for individuals to face penalties for capturing and distributing non-consensual, intimate images of women. It should be noted that if these images were shared online with the women's consent, no illegal activity has occurred. Nevertheless, if the pictures were taken with consent solely for capturing purposes, sharing them without consent becomes an offense that can be punished. IPC states that imprisonment for a period of up to 3 years, with the potential for extension to 7 years, as well as a fine, may be applicable for such offenses.
  • Voyeurism:
    Section 66E of the IT Act prohibits voyeurism, which is the act of intentionally or unintentionally taking pictures of someone's private areas without their consent, distributing them to others, or making them public. Those who violate this law may be subject to imprisonment for a maximum of 3 years and fines of up to two lakh rupees.
  • Section 67A of the IT Act establishes a legal provision that prohibits the publication or transmission of sexually explicit material online. In order to maintain the integrity of online platforms and ensure the safety of users, this offense is considered a criminal act. The consequences for committing this offense include a possible imprisonment of up to 5 years and a fine that could reach ten lakh rupees. Repeat offenses are subject to even stricter penalties, with a potential imprisonment of up to 7 years and a fine that may extend to ten lakh rupees.
  • Sharing Obscene Messages:
    Section 354A of the IPC deals with the act of sharing pornographic or sexually explicit content without obtaining a woman's consent, which is regarded as a form of sexual harassment through social media. This offense is subject to punishment under the IPC, and the perpetrator could potentially face imprisonment for a period of up to 3 years, a monetary penalty, or both.

    Section 292 of IPC prohibits the sale, distribution, exhibition, or possession of any obscene material, including books, drawings, and other objects. Individuals committing this offense may face imprisonment for a maximum of 2 years and a fine of up to two thousand rupees. In the case of repeated or subsequent offenses, the penalty becomes more severe with imprisonment for up to 5 years and a fine of up to five thousand rupees.

    Section 294 of IPC prohibits engaging in indecent behavior or using indecent language in public places or areas adjacent to public spaces. These offenses can result in imprisonment for a maximum of 3 months, a monetary penalty, or both.
  • Online Stalking:
    Detecting online stalking can be challenging due to the anonymity provided by the digital space. At present, there is a lack of specific legislation that directly addresses this issue. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Section 72 of the IT Act can be utilized to punish the unauthorized disclosure of someone's personal information online. Violating this offense can result in a maximum penalty of two years of imprisonment, a fine of one lakh rupees, or both.
  • Impacts of Cyber Sexual Harassment:
    Cyber sexual harassment can have negative implications not only for the individual targeted but also for society as a whole. It can cause significant emotional distress, potentially leading the victim to consider extreme measures such as suicide, leaving their job, or abandoning their education. Moreover, it can inflict mental suffering, resulting in trauma, decreased productivity, and reduced engagement.

    Additionally, the harassment of women online contributes to the objectification and stereotyping of genders. In today's digital era, where social media is widely used for making connections, job searching, and professional networking, incidents of cyber sexual harassment can profoundly impact the lives of those affected.
  • Measures taken by the Government to Prevent Cyber Sexual Harassment [i]:
    The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 aim to enhance user safety on social media platforms by giving users more power and requiring intermediaries to establish a strong mechanism for addressing complaints. Intermediaries are expected to clearly communicate their terms and conditions, which prohibit any harmful, unlawful, obscene, or invasive content, and promptly remove any information that violates Indian laws. Moreover, Significant Social Media Intermediaries (SSMI) are obligated to actively detect and address child sexual abuse material using technological methods.
The 'Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCPWC)' project is being implemented under the Nirbhaya Fund with the purpose of increasing awareness regarding cybercrimes, issuing alerts and advisories, offering capacity building and training for law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, and judicial officers, as well as enhancing cyber forensic facilities.

The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) was established by the Government, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, with the aim of providing a comprehensive and coordinated framework for law enforcement agencies to effectively address and combat cybercrimes.

The National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal has been launched with the intention of allowing the public to report instances of cybercrimes, specifically those targeting women and children. To facilitate the process, a toll-free number - 1930 - has been established to aid in filing online complaints. Moreover, incidents reported on the portal will be promptly forwarded to the appropriate state authorities for further action, based on the details provided by the complainant.

It would be beneficial for individuals to be more mindful and cautious when using cyberspace in order to protect women from falling prey to cybercrime, specifically cyber sexual harassment. However, the existing legal measures in place are insufficient in fully addressing this issue. What is necessary is a stronger and more proactive system that can successfully prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place. Nevertheless, accomplishing this objective will require a cooperative endeavor involving both governmental and non-governmental organizations.


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