A Handy Guide on How to Report Online Harassment of Women

A Handy Guide on How to Report Online Harassment of Women

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Report Online Harassment of Women

Women are breaking the glass ceilings and making their presence felt in all walks of life. However, the issues of women’s safety and well-being still remain rampant. Since centuries, women have been typecast as being physically inferior. Therefore, women continue to remain the most vulnerable sections of society. Miscreants wait to prey on the emotional and physical weaknesses of women, the latest menace being in the cyber space. At least one woman in India gets tricked into a cyber crime every single second! The numbers are staggering. It is time that we take prompt and sturdy steps to prevent online harassment of women. At the same time, women must also be increasingly made aware of cyber harassment laws applicable to their case.

What Constitutes Online Harassment or Online Abuse?

Women constitute 30% of India’s over 500 million internet users. It may seem like a skewed user base, but thank God for it! Even with a mere 30% presence, nearly 50% of women in metro cities have experienced online harassment and abuse.

Online abuse or harassment refers to any form of harassment, defamation or bad-mouthing in any online setting. The online setting could be social media, emails, blogging platforms, messaging apps, or the comments section on personal blogs, news platforms, social media pages etc.

The common forms of online harassment of women include, but not limited to, cyber stalking, revenge pornography, cyberbullying, doxxing, email spoofing, trolling and morphing. Often these incidents of online harassment leave greater and graver impacts on a women’s life than physical abuse.

Online Harassment of Women – The Physiological Impact on Victims

Any incident of harassment or abuse tends to rob victims of their dignity, self-confidence, and personal conviction. The plight of the victims of online harassment is no less. Especially, when they comprise the fairer sex! Voyeurism, trolling, threatening, abusing, stalking and revenge pornography are only some of the many forms of online harassment of women.

In a survey, 66% of female victims of online harassment confessed to feeling a sense of powerlessness in responding to online abuse. Other common impacts include:

  • Insomnia
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Fear of the cyber space
  • Declining focus on day-to-day tasks
  • Stress, anxiety, and panic attacks
  • Feelings of isolation and withdrawal
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of concentration for long periods
  • Indecisiveness

Apart from the aforesaid, victims of physical or online harassment constantly face social humiliation and mudslinging.

How to Report Online Harassment?

Since times unknown, patriarchy has forced women to stay within the shackles of their households. Even to this day, many victims of physical and online harassment shy away from reporting the incidents of abuse. And the ones who wish to do so are not aware of the steps to report online harassment and abuse.
First things first, you must be aware of the cyber harassment laws that cover citizens of India.

Cyber Harassment Laws in India to Combat Online Abuse

Here’s what the Indian legal framework has to say about online harassment. Following is a broad range of cyber harassment laws in India that protect you from online abuse.

Section 66E (IT Act)

Publishing any visual content about an individual in an electronic or print form that violates his/her privacy. The punitive action includes imprisonment up to three years or a fine ranging from ₹2 lakh to ₹10 lakh.

Section 292 (IT Act)

This provision covers any paper, drawing, book, figure or painting distributed through an electronic medium that contains ‘obscene’ content. Section 67 of the IT Act offers more clarity in this respect. Section 67 covers the transmission and publication of vulgar content in electronic form.

Section 354A (Indian Penal Code)

The provisions under this section cover posting nasty or vulgar comments on social media. Perpetrators can face imprisonment up to one year and a heavy fine. It also covers publishing sexual content against the will of a woman and demanding sexual favors. The penalty for the same ranges from imprisonment up to three years or a heavy monetary fine or both.

Section 354C (Indian Penal Code)

This section covers acts of voyeurism. For instance, when a man harms the modesty of a woman by capturing her image/video during a private act. Punitive action includes imprisonment up to three years or heavy monetary penalty or both.

Section 354D (Indian Penal Code)

The provisions under this section cover instances of ‘online stalking’. For example, any attempt of contacting a woman through email or any other form of electronic communication against the consent/interest of the woman. The punishment is imprisonment up to three years in the first instance, followed by five years on the second instance. These are in addition to a heavy monetary penalty.

Section 499 (Indian Penal Code)

This covers online defamation caused by offensive content or obscene images/videos published on the internet or social media. The perpetrator can face imprisonment up to two years with or without a fine when charged under this provision.

Section 507 (Indian Penal Code)

The provisions under this section cover acts of threatening or intimidating a woman anonymously. Such acts are punishable with imprisonment for up to two years.

Section 509 (Indian Penal Code)

Any word, gesture or act that insults the modesty of a woman is punishable with imprisonment up to three years or fine or both.

When to File a Complaint Against Online Harassment?

You can report an online harassment incident even if you have suffered on a very minor level. When it comes to any form of abuse, no amount defines a minimum threshold for registering a complaint. Similar is the case with incidents of online harassment of women. Report the very first instance of such abuse, first on the very platform where the harassment took place.

Every online platform (social media, messaging apps, forums etc.) has clearly defined steps and policies to report online harassment. Nevertheless, if the response and results do not satisfy you, don’t hesitate to file a complaint at the cyber crime cell or local police station.

What Information Do You Need to File a Complaint?

It is essential that you maintain records of the online harassment or abuse to file a complaint. You need to submit proofs when you report online harassment at the police station or cyber crime cell. So, we recommend that you gather as much information and evidence as you can!

Take screenshots clearly showing the alleged profile and content. Also, take a screenshot of the URL associated with the alleged content (if applicable). You need to provide the evidence in a soft copy form (CD-R) to the cyber crime cell and police station.

How to File an Online Harassment Complaint?

The Government of India has now launched a cybercrime reporting portal: www.cybercrime.gov.in under the National Mission for the Safety of Women. It is a progressive initiative by the Indian Government for the speedy reporting and redressal of online harassment incidents. Moreover, an online platform encourages women worried about social embarrassment to report such crimes from the confines of their homes. One can also report complaints anonymously on this portal.

Apart from this, one can also approach the city’s cyber crime cell or police station (in the absence of a cyber crime cell) with a written complaint. In one of our previous blogs, we had provided a detailed list of the cyber crime cells in India. Remember that cyber crimes do not fall under a specific jurisdiction of the state. You can report it to any cyber crime cell or police station regardless of where the offense is committed.

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) – Combating Cyber Crimes Against Women

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) is a private forensics lab in Bangalore specializing in digital and cyber forensics. It houses a state-of-the-art digital forensics laboratory equipped with the latest digital and cyber forensics tools. This, coupled with the backing of the best-in-class forensics professionals and industry veterans makes IFF Lab a class apart. Apart from its core services for investigation and cyber security, IFF Lab also offers various awareness and training programs to law enforcement agencies, and other private and public institutions.

Consult IFF Lab for Consultation & Assistance on Reporting Online Harassment.