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Harassment Of Women In Digital Space; A Challenging Issue For Law Enforcement

The Internet with its amazing property and plenty of resources offers a variety of good things but on the other hand, it simply provides a straightforward platform for committing offenses. Harassment in digital space is one of the offenses, the offense of harassment has also been magnified and rooted inside the cyber world and is now known as "cyber-harassment".

This is one such offense that has evolved within the previous twenty years with the introduction of the low-cost and speedy internet property and diversity of internet users. People like to use the internet to explore, which has made life convenient and comfortable. They walk into the unknown person and interact with almost everyone, anytime, anywhere.

Cybercriminals now have access to the digital world and mostly target women. Law enforcement against such an offense is not easy because the internet provides anonymity to the people, thus making it hard to track down the offenders, and Women and Children are most vulnerable to such a crime.

This paper tries to analyse cyber-harassment and legislative remedies. Additionally, this paper also throws light on how cyber harassment can be reduced or can be eradicated in an effective framework.

The rise of the digital age has allowed people to communicate and connect with each other in new ways. However, it has also led to the development of new forms of surveillance and harassment. Some people are empowered to go beyond what is considered normal due to the anonymity of the internet and the accessibility of photos and messages. And because of this, Women frequently experience harassment and stalking online, which can have detrimental effects on their mental and physical health as well as their personal and professional lives.

This type of behaviour is not only unacceptable but also illegal in many countries[1]. It is challenging to identify offenders and hold them responsible for their conduct due to the anonymity of the internet realm. It is also to remember that harassment and stalking can take place in many forms such as E-mail stalking, Internet stalking, Computer stalking, and online harassment[2].

These types of harassment and stalking disproportionately affect women, and they can have negative effects on the mental health and general well-being of the victims. It is also important to note that digital harassment and stalking are not limited to just adult women, but also girls and teenagers are vulnerable to these forms of abuse.

As children and teenagers are increasingly using the internet and social media, it is crucial that parents and caregivers are aware of the risks and educate them on how to stay safe online. This includes teaching them how to recognize and report digital harassment, and stalking, and encouraging them to be mindful of the information they share online.

Therefore, there is a serious need to promote awareness among women about the need to exercise caution when utilizing internet resources and to receive competent counsel if they come across cybercrime so that they may speak out against it.

Cyber-Crime In India;

According to National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, the number of users is over 650 million in the country.

According to Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), a total of 6,74,021 cyber-security incidents have been reported in 2022. According to data tracked by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), a total of 3,94,499, 11,58,208, and 14,02,809 cyber security incidents were reported in 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively, reported news agency IANS.

The total number of cyber-crimes reported in India from 2012-2021: NCRB Data[3]
Number of Cyber-crimes;
Year Number of Cyber-crimes
2012 3,377
2013 5,693
2014 9,622
2015 11,592
2016 12,317
2017 21,796
2018 27,248
2019 44,735
2020 50,035
2021 52,974
The above table shows that from 2012 to 2018 there has been a great hike in the number of cases relating to cyber-crimes in which most of the crimes reported were related to hacking, online financial fraud, cyber-harassment, and cyberstalking.

The reason for the growth of cyber crimes in India are as follows:
  1. Rapid rise in usage of the internet and smartphones:
    As more and more Indians get access to the internet and smartphones, so too does the number of people who could become victims of cybercrime.
  2. Lack of knowledge regarding cyber security:
    In India, many people are unaware of the dangers of accessing the internet or how to defend themselves from online threats.
  3. Remote working:
    Because of the COVID-19 epidemic, more people are working and learning remotely, which has increased criminality like phishing, malware attacks, and Stalking.
According to NCRB Data[4] in 2021, 10,730 cases were reported by women and these crimes mostly include cyber blackmail, threatening, cyber pornography, cyber-stalking, bullying, defamation, etc.

Total Number of Cyber-crimes Total Cybercrimes cases against women

Cyber-Crimes Against Women;

Cybercrimes against women are also known as cyber violence against women and girls, it refers to any form of abuse or harassment that takes place online or through technology.

Some examples of cyber-crimes against women include:
  • Online Harassment: this includes sending unwanted messages, sending threatening e-mails.
  • Sextortion: It means coercing someone to perform sexual acts against their will. This includes threatening someone to share explicit sexual content like images or videos.
  • Cyberstalking: This includes the use of the internet in such a manner as to stalk a woman virtually, harass a woman by monitoring the use of the internet, and harass her by sending unwanted messages.
  • Revenge Porn: It means the distribution of sexual content such as images and videos of some individuals without their consent.
  • Impersonation: It is a kind of phishing attack where a person pretends to be another person. And it is the most used by cybercriminals to steal the personal data of individuals and gain access to the prohibited network.
  • Online Fraud and Financial Crimes: These include financial frauds and scams explicitly targeting women.
  • Cyber-sex Trafficking: This is different from physical sex trafficking, in this the victim does not engage with the offender physically. Cybersex trafficking occurs when a dealer broadcasts, records, or takes photos of the victim participating in sexual or personal actions from a central location and then sells the content online.

Causes Of Cyber-Harassment;

Various factors lead to cyber-harassment:
  • Cyber-criminals feel safe and less accountable for their actions in a virtual world because of the anonymity which encourages them in committing crimes.
  •  Dis-inhibition effect: The disinhibition effect may cause people to behave differently online than they would in person. This could make people act more hostile or violent.
  • Power Disparity: Some people may harass others online to exercise influence over them and control their behaviour.
  • Absence of Empathy: Cyber-criminals do not have empathy towards other individuals and therefore they do not care about the impact caused by them on the people and thus they engage in cyber-harassment
  • Retribution or vengeance: To seek revenge from others, people engage in cyber-crimes and harass the other person who has hurt or wronged them.
  • Psychological Problem: Because of a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety, some people engage in cyber-harassment.
  • Impacts from society and Culture: Cyber harassment may also be influenced by societal and cultural factors, such as the acceptance of harmful behaviour or a lack of knowledge about polite online communication.
  • Jealousy: Jealousy is one of the reasons why people decide to stalk, and this is prominently seen in present and past love relationships.

Impacts Of Cyber-Harassment;

Online harassment is a severe, potentially fatal problem that has a serious impact on the victims' personal and private lives.
  • Cyber-harassment can put someone's physical safety at risk or incite others to harm someone physically.
  • Cyber-harassment has a huge impact on the mental health of victims, their families, and friends.
  • So many times, it happens that after not getting accepted in the virtual world, the victims are forced to leave their social media platforms.
  • Cyber-harassment affects the mind of the victim to an extent that sometimes the victims try to put an end to his/her life.
  • Victims feel depressed.
  • Cyber-harassment makes the victim feel low self-esteemed.
  • Cyber-harassment has a huge impact on one's career.
  • Most kids get scared of reporting these kinds of cyber offenses, as they think that adults are going to take away their computers, laptop, and phone.
  • Victims of cyber harassment may feel a lack of interest and motivation because of depression or anxiety.

It is crucial to address online harassment and to support victims of such offenses to prevent these negative impacts and ensure a safe environment for all.

Legal Aspects Of Cyber-Law;

  • The Information Technology Act, 2000: The IT Act 2000[5], talks about several cybercrimes including Online-harassment and provides punishment to the offenders with imprisonment and or fine.
  • Indian Penal Code, 1860: This code[6] provides provisions under Section 354A- Sexual Harassment, Section 503- Criminal Intimidation, and Section 509 (words, gestures, or acts intended to insult the modesty of a woman) can be applied in the cases of Online Harassment.
  • Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POSCO) Act, 2012- POSCO Act, 2012[7] provides for the protection of children from sexual offenses, including online sexual harassment.
  • The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013- This Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013[8] provides harsh punishment for sexual assault and harassment, including that harassment that takes place online.

Possible Measures To Be Taken;

Now in the world of modernization, there shall be preventive set-up for cybercrimes and provide police officers with the necessary training to deal with cybercrimes that are taking place day by day.

Some of the Possible Solutions are given below as follows:
  • Spreading Awareness:
    There should be awareness programs conducted by the Govt., so that people will be aware of all kinds of cyber-crimes and how to prevent them. By spreading Awareness, these kinds of crimes would not take place. If one knows these kinds of offenses then one can prevent them from taking place but it becomes difficult when one does not have knowledge that how to prevent it.
  • Collection of Data by NCRB:
    NCRB collects its data in a bundle of all the cyber-crimes taking place around the nation. The National Crime Record Bureau should collect the cyber-crimes against women in different categories so that law enforcement could take place effectively and efficiently.
  • Online Portals for filing Reports:
    In the world of technology, it has become the need of the society that there should be an Online Portal or E-Portal where women and girls can file their complaints regarding the offense.
  • Inclusion of subjects relating to Digital Space- In the School curriculum students shall be taught about all aspects of Digital space and should be taught regarding safe internet use.
  • Usage of Strong Password- One Shall use a Strong password so that It will not be easy for anyone to hack into your system or any other media platform.
  • Keep System updated- One should keep the system updated so that it does not become outdated and vulnerable.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Clicking- One should not click on any suspicious links and attachments which may hamper the system.
  • Usage of Antivirus- One should use the best Antivirus so that no virus can affect the software of the device.

Online Harassment is one of the increasing concerns of the nation in this digital age. Online Harassment can take place in many forms such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking, sextortion, impersonation, etc. As these kinds of offenses take place in society, there are several laws governing these offenses such as the Information Technology Act, of 2000, the Indian Penal Code, of 1860, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, of 2013, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences, 2012. These governing laws provide a framework for addressing and punishing offenses relating to online harassment.

But, in this modern age, the complexities to curb the problem of cybercrimes are increasing day by day because the nature of the internet makes it more challenging to enforce these laws. Therefore, it becomes necessary to come up with updated norms to address the problem of online harassment and spread awareness regarding safe usage of the internet. To avoid cybercrimes the need for safe and secure internet use become essential.

Moreover, the laws and regulations governing online harassment, and some other provisions can be taken to minimize cyber-related offenses such as online reporting systems and advanced moderation tools, that can help in the eradication of cybercrimes.

Further, it is important to work together for the government and law enforcement agencies to ensure that laws related to online harassment are efficiently taking place. This may involve assembling data with tech firms, aiding victims with resources, and bringing legal action against perpetrators of online abuse.

In conclusion, to properly handle the complex and multifaceted issue of online harassment, a multidisciplinary strategy is necessary. Creating a better and more secure online environment for everyone is attainable by combining legislative, technological, and pedagogical approaches.

  1. Rahul Awati, Cyberstalking
  2. Anshuman Singh, what is Cyberstalking & How to Prevent it?
  3. Nidhi Narnolia, Cyber Crimes in India: An Overview
  4. Business Standard, Cybercrime against women up 28% since 2019, Karnataka's share highest: NCRB
  5. Information Technology Act,2000
  6. Indian Penal Code, 1860. Sec. 354A, 503,509
  7. Protection of Children form Sexual Offenses Act, 2012
  8. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013

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