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Cyberstalking And Its Impact On Vulnerable Group: Women And Minors

This research paper talks about "Cyberstalking and Its Impact on Vulnerable Group: Women and Minors." Today being the era of modernization, digitization and networking are at its peak. With the increasing trend in digitalization and networking lives have become much easier, which without any doubt has brought various benefits in various field like e-commerce, communication, technology etc. But where it has made our lives easier on the other hand it has also given birth to various types of cybercrimes and Cyberstalking being one of them.

In simple layman terms "Cyberstalking can be defined as a crime where one person makes repetitive attempts to contact the other person through various digital platforms thereby creating a sense of threat in the mind of the other person." The major victims of such crimes being the women and the minors. Through this paper an attempt to highlight various issues related to cyberstalking has been made.

This paper is divided into various chapters and all such chapters talks about various aspects of cyberstalking. Starting with the first chapter which deals with the basic introduction of cyberstalking and its types. The first chapter also lime-lights the various types of stalkers in the digital world. After the basic introduction of cyberstalking, the second chapter talks about the various legislative provisions related to cyberstalking which are mentioned in the Information Technology Act, 2ooo and Indian Penal Code, 1860 along with which are incorporated some case laws.

Following with the third chapter which deals with the impact of cyberstalking on the vulnerable groups including the women and the minors. The fourth chapter talks about the rise in cyberstalking during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since we all know "Prevention is better than cure" so in the last and final chapter the paper deals with some suggestions and preventive measures that could be taken to prevent the increasing number of crimes in the cyber world.

Introduction
"Cyberstalking" can be defined as a cybercrime where one person (stalker) stalks or harasses the other person (target) electronically through the use of digital media or various online platforms. "Cyberstalking is the act of persistent and unwanted contact from someone online. It may involve any number of incidents including threats, libel, defamation, sexual harassment, or other actions in which to control, influence, or intimidate their target."[1]

Cyberstalking can also be termed as psychological and a neurotic action where the stalker obsessively and illegally keeps a check on the target's online activities. Other synonymous words that can be used for cyberstalking are "online harassment" and "online abuse".

With the recent trend in technology, internet has opened up various mediums for communication among the people. The technology has advanced so much that one can have access to other's data just with a single click. But every pros comes with its cons too. This advancement of technology has given an upper hand to the criminals too who leaves no stones unturned to misuse the freedom of access of information leading to an increase in the number of cybercrimes, and the major victims of the crimes being the women and the minors.

"There are various psychological reasons behind stalking like severe narcissism, hatred, rage, retribution, envy, obsession, psychiatric dysfunction, power and control, sadomasochistic fantasies, sexual deviance, internet addiction or religious fanaticism."[2]

Reasons for cyberstalking:

  1. Obsession and attraction:

    Obsession and attraction has been coined as one of the major reasons behind stalking. The stalker could be obsessed or attracted towards the target mentally, physically or sexually.
     
  2. Jealousy:

    Jealousy can also be considered as one of the reasons of cyberstalking. A jealous intention towards the ex-partner or the current partner, or people in an around can be regarded as a strong motive behind stalking.
     
  3. Erotomania:

    "Erotomania is a rare mental health condition that happens when someone is fixated on the idea that another person is intensely in love with them. The other person may be a celebrity, wealthy, or of a high social position."[3] Here, the person tries to make persistent efforts to contact the other persons through stalking, messages or by means of some distressing behaviour.
     
  4. Sexual harassment:

    Sexual harassment can be regarded as one of the major reasons behind stalking. It can also be considered as the prime motive of the stalker behind stalking because it's believed that the internet depicts the real life of the person.
     
  5. Hatred and revenge:

    Hatred and revenge are yet another reasons of cyberstalking. The feeling of hatred and revenge pushes the stalker to take illegal steps towards the target and harass them mentally and emotionally. And the internet seems to be quiet comfortable platform to vent out their feelings of hatred and retaliation towards the other person.
     
Depending upon the abovementioned reasons behind cyberstalking, the stalkers could also be differentiated accordingly. Starting from the obsession stalkers to the delusional stalkers to vengeful cyber stalkers.

Types of cyber stalkers:

  1. Obsession Cyber Stalkers:

    These are the categories of stalkers who are obsessed with the target. The obsession cyber stalkers are so obsessed with the target that they are not ready to accept that their relationship is over yet. In such cases the target group should not be under the belief that the stalker is harmlessly in love instead they could be dangerous too.
     
  2. Delusional Cyber Stalkers:

    These are the stalkers who suffer from some kind of mental disorders like schizophrenia, erotomania etc. that keeps them tied with the other person (target or victims). Delusional cyber stalkers are under the impression that the victims are in love with them though they have never met them in person or on any online networking site. The target group for such type of stalkers are generally celebrities, minors or married women.
     
  3. Vengeful cyber stalkers:

    Vengeful cyber stalkers are the ones those who are angry at the victims due to minor or major reasons. These types of stalkers develop a sense of hatred and revenge towards their victims due to some real or imaginary reasons. Some of the examples of such types of stalkers may include: ex-employees of an organization, ex-spouses etc.

Cyberstalking And Its Legislative Provisions:

Under this head the major focus shall on the legislative provisions related to cyberstalking in Indian laws. Major emphasis shall be laid upon the Indian penal code, 1860, the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Cyber Tort. Since, there are no direct provisions that deals with cyber stalking so with the help of the provisions of the Indian penal code, 1860 and the information technology act, 2000 that have some link with this offence an explanation has been given with regard to the relation between the provisions and the crime.

The laws with respect to cyberstalking in India are discussed below:

  • The Indian Penal code, 1860 Section 354D of IPC Any man who:
    1. follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or
    2. monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, commits the offence of stalking".[4]
    The Section expressly states that anyone who attempts to monitor a woman's online activities is guilty of stalking. As a result, if the stalker engages in any of the offences listed in the section, he violates the Indian Penal Code Section 354D."[5] But the major loophole of this section being that this section lays down a major emphasis on the word "women" and specifically categorising them as victims and ignoring the fact that men can be victims too.

    Section 507 of IPC
    "Criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication- Whoever commits the offence of criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication, or having taken precaution to conceal the name or abode of the person from whom the threat comes, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, in addition to the punishment provided for the offence by the last preceding section."[6]

    Section 509 of IPC
    "Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman- Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any words, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, [shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, and also with fine]."[7]
     
  • Information Technology Act, 2000
    Section 67 of the IT Act
    "Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form- Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees."[8]

    Section 67A of the IT Act
    "Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form"[9]- Section 67A of the IT Act was added after the 2008 Amendment. This section states that the stalker shall be liable for punishment under this section if he publishes any "sexually explicit" material in "electronic form" with the help of any online social media, messages or through email.

    Section 67B of the IT Act
    "Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material depicting children in sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form"[10]- Section 67B was added to the Act for the first time by the 2008 Amendment. This section lays down special emphasis on the stalkers who targets the minors i.e., children who are under the age of 18 years and "engaged in sexually explicit act or conduct" to terrify them.

    Section 66E of IT Act, 2000 and Section 354C of IPC
    "Voyeurism"[11]- Section 66E of Information Technology Act, 2000 and Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code deals with "voyeurism."

    "The act of voyeurism is covered by Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code. It has a limited reach because the victim must be a "woman" to be eligible for this clause. On the other hand, voyeurism is covered by Section 66E of the Information Technology Act, which has a broader scope than Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code. The victim is referred to as "any individual" in Section 66E. As a result, the victim does not have to be a "woman" to receive justice under this clause. If the victim is a guy, he can use Section 66E of the Information Technology Act of 2000 to sue."[12]
     
  • Indian Constitution
    Article 21

    "Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law."[13] "This article condemns any person from depriving another such person the right to personal liberty. The stalker aims at entering into the private space of the victim thereby ruining his/her right to privacy and right to personal liberty.

    Following the victim on social networking sites, e-mails, messages or through telephone calls or through any other mode the stalker always tries to monitor each and every move of the victim. This causes distress and a sense of threat in the mind of the victim. The victim cannot enjoy his personal space. Thus, the offender/stalker must be charged under Article 21 as well because his actions are violative of this article."[14]
     
  • Under Cyber Tort
    "Cyberstalking has been mentioned as a cyber-tort and as a cyber-crime. The extent and degree of the act decide whether or not it's to be unjust during a civil or tribunal. The causes of action for many relevant torts are expressed below to grasp whether or not cyberstalking might fall under any one of them".[15]

Case Law:

Ritu Kohli Case

In 2001, India's first cyberstalking case was reported. Manish Kathuria was stalking an Indian lady, Ms. Ritu Kohli by illegally chatting on the web site, www.mirco.com using her name; and used obscene and obnoxious language, and distributed her residence telephone number, invited people to chat with her on the phone. As a result, Ms. Ritu Kohli was getting obscene calls from various states of India and abroad, and people were talking dirty with her.

In a state of shock, she called the Delhi police and reported the matter. The police registered her case under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for outraging the modesty of Ritu Kohli. But Section 509 refers only to a word, a gesture or an act intended to insult modesty of a woman. But when same things are done on Internet, then there is no mention about it in the said section. This case caused alarm to the Indian government, for the need to amend laws regarding the aforesaid crime and regarding protection of victims under the same."[16]

Impact Of Cyberstalking on The Vulnerable Group: Women and Minors

Cyberstalking can have major psychosocial impacts on individuals. Victims report a number of serious consequences of victimization such as increased suicidal ideation, fear, anger, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptomology. Research is largely limited to quantitative outcome research. This study examines the diversity of experiences reported by people who define themselves as having been cyberstalked.[17]

The impact of stalking may vary according to the victim's characteristics, past experience, current circumstances, and what they know, or don't know, about the stalker. How others respond to the victim's situation, including how the stalking is managed by authorities, can influence the overall effect that the stalking episode has on the victim.

Despite the complexities that may vary an individual's experience and reaction to being stalked, research has demonstrated common patterns of response. Although female victims usually report greater levels of fear, studies have found that males subjected to stalking experience similar symptoms to those reported by their female counterparts.
Although not exhaustive, the following are some of the more common effects that victims of stalking experience:[18]

Effects on mental health:

  • Frustration
  • Denial, confusion, self-doubt, questioning if what is happening is unreasonable, wondering if they are over-reacting
  • Guilt, embarrassment, self-blame
  • Apprehension, fear, terror of being alone or that they, others or pets will be harmed.
  • Feeling isolated and helpless to stop the harassment
  • Depression (all symptoms related to depression)
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia (frightened to leave the house, never feeling safe)
  • Difficulty concentrating, attending and remembering things
  • Inability to sleep - nightmares, ruminating
  • Irritability, anger, homicidal thoughts
  • Emotional numbing
  • Symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder e.g., hypervigilance (always on the lookout), flashbacks of frightening incidents, easily startled
  • Insecurity and inability to trust others, problems with intimacy
  • Personality changes due to becoming more suspicious, introverted or aggressive
  • Self-medication alcohol/ drugs or using prescribed medications
  • Suicide thoughts and/or suicide attempts

Effects on physical health:

  • Fatigue from difficulty sleeping, being constantly on guard, symptoms of depression
  • Effects of chronic stress including headaches, hypertension
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Fluctuations in weight due to not eating or comfort eating
  • Development or exacerbation of pre-existing conditions e.g., asthma, gastric ulcers and psoriasis.
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Impact on health of increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical injury due to not concentrating or being under the influence of substances
  • Heart palpitations and sweating

Effect on social life:

  • Insecurity and inability to trust others impacting on current and future relationships and friendships,
  • Problems with physical and emotional intimacy.
  • Avoidance of usual activities e.g., going to the gym, going out.
  • Isolation through trying to protect others, feeling misunderstood or psychological symptoms.
  • Others withdrawing from the victim because they don't believe the victim, they are unable to cope with the victim's mental state or as a direct consequence of third-party victimisation.
  • Victim moving to a new area, changing their phone number, name or even their appearance.

Cyberstalking And the Covid-19 Pandemic

Cyberstalking has achieved an altogether new level of increase during the covid-19 pandemic. The covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly turned physical stalking into online stalking since it has opened up new, easier and multiple ways to stalk people virtually with the help of various online platforms. With the option of anonymity available to the stalkers it has become more difficult to trace criminals and detect fake profiles.

The immense increase in the usage of online platforms by the youngsters amid the covid-19 pandemic has given birth to number of cyber-crimes and cyberstalking being of those. Since everything being turned into online from offline has given a new perspective to everything in and around. According to experts and statistics women and minors are more prone to be the victims of cyberstalking than men.

"The rate of cyberstalking has escalated enormously in the past few years with the spread of the Internet,"[19] and then the pandemic where everything all of sudden went from offline to online led to increase in the number of cases of cyberstalking in the country. "Online stalking is most common among Gen Z, who spend more time on social media and dating sites. Young adults aged between 18 to 24, particularly women, are at highest risk."[20]

Cyberstalking Prevention and Suggestions

There is no one size fits all solution available to prevent cyberstalking. Therefore, one has to take some preventive measures and steps from being trapped by the stalkers and being victims of such crimes.
  1. Limited personal information:
    One should limit oneself from giving any personal information online more than what is needed. Personal information should not be shared online, nor to any stranger or chat rooms.
     
  2. Reset passwords:
    One should keep resetting their password frequently. The password should be strong enough and should not be related to any person, date or anything that can be easily guessed by the stalkers.
     
  3. Non-disclosure of sensitive information:
    Sensitive information should not be shared out of social media. Many of us share several information by filling up various questionnaires etc. we should be cautious about that.
     
  4. Keep a tap on privacy settings:
    We all must keep checking our privacy settings on various social networking sites. We should make correct and wise choice as to what setting is right at what platform.
     
  5. Hide IP address:
    We should make sure that our IP address is hidden because many applications and websites reveal our IP address to the one's whom we are communicating. Thus, to prevent ourselves from being victims of any cybercrimes we should make sure our IP address is hidden.

Conclusion
With the advancement of technology, there has also been an increase in the crime rates. In this virtual era, it can be said that technology and crime go hand in hand. Technology has played a very vital part in several crimes taking place in and around the globe. The rate of cybercrimes has increased immensely and cyberstalking was explored to be one of them. Physical stalking was a common phenomenon but with the increase in technology and the criminals being given the advantage of anonymity via internet, there has been double the rate of cyberstalking since the stalkers are hard to trace.

"For the emerging trend of cybercrimes, it is important to have a cyberlaw enforcing momentum because cybercrime has the prospective to destroy each and every aspect of the life as it is easy to commit but it's really hard to detect. Though India has extremely detailed and well-defined legal system but all the existing laws in place in India was enacted way back keeping in mind the relevant political, social, economic, and cultural scenario of that relevant time. Nobody then could really visualize about the internet.

The coming of the Internet led to the emergence of numerous sensitive legal issues and evils which necessitated the ratification of Cyber laws. Internet requires supportive legal infrastructure in harmony with the era. This legal infrastructure can only be given by the enactment of the relevant Cyber laws as the existing laws have failed to contribute the same. All these considerations created encouraging ambience for the need for enacting relevant cyber laws in India."[21]

End-Notes:
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/cyberstalking (last visited on 05/10/2021)
  2. Ms. Heena Keshwani, Cyber Stalking: A Critical Study http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/455C1055-C2B6-4839-82AC-5AB08CBA7489.pdf (last visited on 05/10/2021)
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/erotomania (last visited on 05/10/2021)
  4. Indian Penal Code, 1860, No.45, Acts of Parliament, 1860
  5. https://blog.ipleaders.in/virtual-reality-cyberstalking-india/(last visited on 05/10/2021)
  6. Indian Penal Code, 1860, No.45, Acts of Parliament, 1860
  7. Indian Penal Code, 1860, No.45, Acts of Parliament, 1860
  8. Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000
  9. Section 67A of the Information Technology Act, 2000
  10. Section 67B of the Information Technology Act, 2000
  11. Section 66E of the Information Technology Act, 2000
  12. https://blog.ipleaders.in/virtual-reality-cyberstalking-india/(last visited on 05/10/2021)
  13. INDIA CONST. art.21
  14. Ms. Heena Keshwani, "Cyber Stalking: A Critical StudY"
    http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/455C1055-C2B6-4839-82AC-5AB08CBA7489.pdf (last visited on 05/10/2021)
  15. https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-6072-cyberstalking-is-it-a-crime-or-a-tort-.html(last visited on 05/10/2021)
    http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/FDF5EB3E-2BB1-44BB-8F1D-9CA06D965AA9.pdf (last visited on 05/10/2021)
  16. Dr. Sapna Sukrut Deo, "Cyberstalking And Online Harassment: A New Challenge For Law Enforcement"
  17. https://acadpubl.eu/hub/2018-119-17/2/138.pdf(last visited on 05/10/2021)
  18. https://www.stalkingriskprofile.com/victim-support/impact-of-stalking-on-victims(last visited on 05/10/2021)
  19. https://www.wired.com/2000/05/the-epidemic-of-cyberstalking/ (last visited on 06/10/2021)
  20. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/spotlight/beware-cyberstalking-is-on-the-rise-during-the-pandemic/articleshow/81924158.cms (last visited on 06/10/2021)
  21. (PDF) A Study on Emerging Issue on Cyber Law (researchgate.net) (last visited on 06/10/2021)

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