Gender Violence in India Report 2014: ICTS & Gender Violence

With the proliferation of computers, mobile phones and the Internet, violence against women involving the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has become more prevalent. In her submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Bishakha Datta lists the various forms of ICT-based gender violence, which can include ‘hacking, morphing of images, fake profiles on social networking sites or circulation of images without their consent, … gendered hate mail, sexualised slurs, uncomfortable references to body, nudity, sex life, and rape threats, which are sometimes explicit and graphic’.[1] It can also include cyber-stalking, showing a woman pornography against her will and making persistent demands for sexual favours online.

Perpetrators of ICT-based gender violence can be strangers or people known to their victims. In the latter case, gender violence using ICTs can be accompanied by harassment in the ‘offline’ world, and can be used alongside offline harassment to further intimidate a victim. Datta also points out parallels between online and offline harassment, with women experiencing ‘the Internet as a street and the attendant forms of online violence as equivalent to harassment and abuse faced on the street’.[2] As with street harassment, many women are reluctant to report ICT-based harassment, because it may lead to restrictions on their own access to the Internet or raise questions about their behaviour online.

Know the Law

Certain sections of the Information Technology Amendment Act, 2008 (ITAA), may be utilised to fight ICT-based gender violence. Section 66A addresses offensive and menacing messages, and false information that aims to cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will’, sent using ‘a computer resource or a communication device’.[3] This can be applied to women facing sexual harassment and threats online, and can result in a prison term of up to three years, in addition to a fine.[4] However, as an article for the Internet Democracy Project points out, the terminology in Section 66A is vague and open to several interpretations.[5] The article suggests that several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) can be used as alternatives, including Section 499 (‘Defamation’)[6], Section 503 (‘Criminal intimidation’)[7] and Section 507 (‘Criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication’)[8], among others.[9]

Another relevant section of the ITAA is Section 66E, which criminalises the intentional capture, publication or transmission of ‘the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person’; such a privacy violation is punishable with up to three years’ imprisonment, or a fine of up to two lakh rupees, or both.[10]

Section 67 of the ITAA covers the publication or transmission in electronic form of ‘obscene material’, which is defined as ‘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’. It prescribes a punishment of imprisonment for up to five years, along with a fine, for first-time offenders, and imprisonment for up to ten years, with a fine, for repeat offenders.[11] Section 67A prohibits the publishing and transmission of any ‘sexually explicit act or conduct’, which is punishable with imprisonment for up to five years for first-time offenders and up to seven years for repeat offenders, along with a fine. Finally, Section 67B addresses various aspects of sexually exploiting children using ICTs.[12]

In addition to these laws, the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 also includes some sections that can apply to cases of ICT-based gender violence. Under Section 354A, demanding or requesting sexual favours, and showing a woman pornography against her will, are categorised as sexual harassment and are punishable with three years’ imprisonment, or a fine, or both. Section 354A also covers ‘making sexually coloured remarks’, which is punishable with imprisonment for up to one year, or a fine, or both.[13] All these offences could potentially be committed using mobile or web technology.

Section 354C criminalises ‘voyeurism’, which includes capturing or disseminating an image of a woman ‘engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed’. Crucially, this section also criminalises the distribution of images where the victim consented to the capture of the images, but not to their distribution. A ‘private act’ has been defined as occurring in a place where the victim would generally expect privacy, and when she is either nude or only wearing underwear; or using the lavatory; or engaged in ‘a sexual act that is not of a kind ordinarily done in public’. Voyeurism is punishable with between one and three years’ imprisonment for first-time offenders, and three to seven years for repeat offenders, along with a fine.[14]

Section 354D of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, holds that a man may be charged with stalking if he tracks a woman’s use of the Internet, or monitors her email or any other online communication. A first-time offender can be imprisoned for three years, in addition to being fined, while a repeat offender can be imprisoned for up to five years.[15]

Keeping Count

As with many other forms of gender violence, there is little data specifically about technology-related crimes against women. In India, the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) has compiled data on complaints registered under the IT Act. According to the NCRB, 1,203 cases were registered in 2013 for ‘obscene publication/transmission in electronic form’, a 104.2% increase from 2012 (589 cases).[16] Moreover, 737 people were arrested for this offence in 2013, a 48.2% increase from the previous year.[17] In addition, nearly 60% of those arrested for all crimes under the IT ACT (not just transmission or publication of obscene material) were between the ages of 18 and 30.[18] However, these cases do not necessarily pertain to crimes against women alone.

Table 1 and Figure 1 below show the incidence of cases registered and arrests made under the ‘obscene publication/transmission’ provision of the IT Act between 2009 and 2013, as reported by the NCRB. Again, these cases do not deal exclusively with crimes against women, but rather serve as a proxy measure in the absence of more specific data.

Table 1: Complaints and Arrests under IT Act ‘Obscene Publication/Transmission’ Provision[19]

Year 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Complaints Registered 139 328 496 589 1203
Arrests

 

141 361 443 497 737

 

Figure 1[20]

ICTS I

A 2012 Times of India article mentions that Chennai’s cyber crime wing received around 80 complaints from women who said they had been ‘abused or indecently represented on websites’.[21] However, it does not indicate a time frame within which the complaints were received. The article also raises an important issue: perpetrators of these crimes can easily stay anonymous, for instance by using Internet cafes, fake profiles or proxy servers. Sometimes, they might not even be in the same country as the victim, leading to jurisdiction issues.

In spite of the dangers the Internet poses, it can also be a powerful tool for mobilising people and effecting change. Moreover, it can provide a safe space for women to share their stories of all forms of gender violence. Our anti-street harassment initiative, Hollaback! Chennai (part of the global Hollaback! movement), for example, uses mobile and web technology to allow both victims and bystander witnesses of street harassment to share their stories and engage in discussions on this issue.

Related Issues: Youth, Awareness and Barriers to Reporting

Of particular importance are patterns of Internet use and the incidence of ICT-related crimes among young people; this demographic group tends to use ICTs at higher rates, and may offer data that can enable us to predict future patterns of ICT-based gender violence.

A pilot survey of 70 persons in the age group of 18-30 years from the Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu, India was conducted by Halder and Jaishankar and published as a report.[22] The report studied usage of and attitudes towards cybercrimes among young adults in rural and semi-urban India. 41.4% of the respondents were male and 58.6% female, while around 74% of the respondents were in the age group 18-21 years. [23]

Survey responses regarding cybercrimes were helpful in opening avenues of further study, despite the survey’s small sample size. In awareness of cybercrimes, 17 respondents (24.3%) reported being aware that hacking was a crime; 10% were aware that identity theft was a crime; 5.7% were aware of phishing; only 2.9% were aware of the illegality of stalking.[24] This starkly low number suggests that many may not know about laws relating to ICT-based gender violence.

In terms of attitudes towards reporting cybercrimes, only 4.3% said they would report all cybercrimes they witnessed; 34.3% said they would report a crime only if they became victims of a cybercrime themselves. 27.1% revealed that they would not report a cybercrime out of fear that their family would be harassed by the police and others if they did, while 18.6% said they would not report it in order to avoid their names being mentioned in the media. 12.8% felt it unnecessary to report such crimes, while 2.9% believed the police would be ‘worthless in such cases’.[25] Overall, though the reasons varied, a total of 61.4% of respondents said they would not report cybercrimes.

Halder and Jaishankar have also investigated what they refer to as the ‘secondary victimization’ of victims of cybercrimes through the ‘trivialization of the problems by laws or criminal justice systems’.[26] They argue that legal systems are ‘trapped in the concept’ of harassment of women that only includes ‘physical assault and … workplace discrimination’.[27] In India especially, such cases are seen as ‘less-important sexual harassment’, with only 9 cases being registered in 2009 by the Mumbai city police, although women victims had brought 286 cybercrimes complaints during that year.[28] In their 2013 report ‘Use and Misuse of the Internet by Semi-Urban and Rural Youth in India’, Halder and Jaishankar found 48.6% of respondents were afraid to report cybercrimes, fearing this type of negligence or harassment by the police and media.[29]

[1] Datta, B., ‘Women and online abuse in India: Submission to Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women’, GenderIT.org, 8th May 2013, http://www.genderit.org/resources/women-and-online-abuse-india-submission-special-rapporteur-violence-against-women, accessed 2nd September 2014

[2] See above note 1.

[3] Information Technology Amendment Act, 2008, Sec. 32(66A), p. 9, http://comtax.up.nic.in/Miscellaneous%20Act/IT%20ACT%20AMENDMENTS.pdf, accessed 25th November 2014. Section 32 of the ITAA substitutes new legislation for sections 66 and 67 of the original act.

[4] ITAA, Sec. 32(66A), p. 9-10. See above note 3.

[5] Padte, R. K. ‘Section 66A, Sexual Harassment and Women’s Rights’, Internet Democracy Project, 10th December 2012, http://www.internetdemocracy.in/2012/12/10/section-66a-sexual-harassment-and-womens-rights, accessed 2nd September 2014.

[6] Indian Penal Code, Sec. 499, http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1041742/, accessed 25th November 2014. Sec. 499 prohibits making or publishing ‘any imputation concerning any person intending to harm … the reputation of such person’, except in certain cases listed in the remainder of the act. Defamation charges could, for instance, be filed in response to false or damaging social media profiles.

[7] Indian Penal Code, Sec. 503, http://indiankanoon.org/doc/878688/, accessed 25th November 2014. Sec. 503 addresses ‘criminal intimidation’, or threatening someone ‘with any injury to his person, reputation or property … with intent to cause alarm to that person’ or coerce him or her into some action. This could be used to address online threats, including rape and sexual harassment threats.

[8] Indian Penal Code, Sec. 507, http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1255223/, accessed 25th November 2014. Sec. 507 addresses ‘criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication’, which can include anonymous messages, comments or posts on a chat threat or social media profile.

[9] See above note 5.

[10] ITAA, Sec. 32(66E), p. 10. See above note 3.

[11] ITAA, Sec. 32(67), p. 10. See above note 3.

[12] ITAA, Sec. 32(67A-B), p. 10-11. See above note 3.

[13] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(7)(354A), http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf, accessed 8th October 2014.

[14] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(7)(354C), http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf, accessed 8th October 2014.

[15] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(7)(354D), http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf, accessed 8th October 2014.

[16] ‘Chapter 18: Cyber Crimes’, Crime in India: 2013 Compendium, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, p. 175, http://ncrb.gov.in/CD-CII2013/compendium%202013.pdf, accessed 28th November 2014.

[17] ‘Cyber Crimes’, NCRB, p. 175. See above note 16.

[18] ‘Cyber Crimes’, NCRB, p. 176. See above note 16.

[19] ‘Cyber Crimes’, NCRB, p. 175-177. See above note 16. Data for 2010-2013 are from p. 175; data for 2009 are from p. 177.

[20] Figure 1 was generated from the data in Table 1.

[21] Selvaraj, A., ‘Women now suffer harassment online’, Times of India, 20th October 2012, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-20/chennai/34605436_1_internet-cafe-police-officer-websites, accessed 2nd September 2014.

[22] Halder, D. & Jaishankar, K., 2013, ‘Use and misuse of the Internet by semi-urban and rural youth in India: A baseline survey report (2013)’, Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling, http://www.cybervictims.org/CCVCresearchreport2013.pdf, accessed 30th November 2014.

[23] Halder, D. & Jaishankar, K., ‘Use and misuse’, p. 7, see above note 22.

[24] Halder, D. & Jaishankar, K., ‘Use and misuse’, p. 15, see above note 22.

[25] Halder, D. & Jaishankar, K., ‘Use and misuse’, p. 15, see above note 22.

[26] Halder, D. & Jaishankar, K., 2011, ‘Cyber gender harassment and secondary victimization: A comparative analysis of the United States, the UK, and India’, Victims and Offenders, Vol. 6 (386-398), p. 386, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15564886.2011.607402#.VIWZaPSUc5g, accessed 30th November 2014.

[27] Halder, D. & Jaishankar, K., ‘Cyber gender harassment’, p. 391. See above note 26.

[28] Halder, D. & Jaishankar, K., ‘Cyber gender harassment’, p. 393. See above note 26.

[29] Halder, D. & Jaishankar, K., ‘Use and misuse’, p. 15, see above note 22.

*****

This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014

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