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Sextortion: An Emerging Crime Into The Gray Area Of Law

Sexual exploitation is a global problem which is like cancer existing everywhere, in all developed developing, and underdeveloped countries. Sexual exploitation is done in several different forms, and sextortion is one such form evolving into the grey area of the laws dealing with sexual offenses. The offense of sextortion is not defined under any Indian statute or laws, hence, inadequate in combating this serious crime. There are several methods to give effect to sextortion be it in a form of extortion or corruption, whether it is done physically or in non-physical mode.

Since social media has become a daily destination for a majority of people, the wrongdoers are using these platforms as a weapon to commit the crime. A set of fear is created of making the intimidating picture public, under this danger of leaking sexually suggestive material, victims are made to do certain things at the perpetrator�s desire, hence it becomes imperative to take certain steps to curb this extensively growing crime. The greatest requirement is the proper education, along with a specific legislation covering this crime, then only such damaging attacks could be deterred or, at the very least lessened.

Cyber sextortion

Etymologically, Sextortion is the combination of two words sex and extortion. This is a form of sexual abuse. Also, there are many methods to execute such crime, one of which is cyber sextortion. This crime takes place through various social media platforms, where perpetrators make fake profiles, then they try to form tight relations with their potential victims.

Once confidence has been established, they encourage their victims to provide nude photos or videos, lures the victims, and make them produce some sexual content, or takes the victim�s explicit images.

Once they get such images or videos then these perpetrators either extort money by threatening victims of the public release of those images or make them produce more sexual content. This cycle continues and ends either with the tarnished reputation of victims or the victims themselves.

Sextortion is not limited to a gender-specific, nor to any age group. Although youth is largely engaged at social media platforms, chatting apps, and dating apps, become more vulnerable and easy prey to the offenders. They do not realize the danger of being a victim until it�s too late.

Impact of sextortion on victims

Due to the fear of dissemination of the sexual content, the victims get stuck into a never-ending demand cycle of the offenders and almost become their slaves. This mental assault leads to depression and shame. The trauma victims go through is unimaginable, and such depression comes out through their actions, thoughts, and behavior. It may have a devastating impact not only on the victim but on the entire family of the victim.

The risk of publishing and exposes of said sexual content is perpetual. Hence, the victims live at the mercy of the perpetrator.
They often feel lonely and isolated and get engaged in self-harming activities. Such as experimenting with a toxic substance. Such depression shame and self-guilt sometimes go extreme and victims endanger their own lives.

Amanda Michelle Todd
Todd a 15-year-old student became a victim of sextortion. Who hanged herself at her home, after the perpetrator disseminated her topless image on social media, which destroyed her public image. She several times attempted suicide and eventually killed herself.

Avinash committed suicide after a continuous demand for money by an organized gang engaged in sextortion. The gang met Avinash through a fake attractive profile of a female. She coerced him to perform certain sexual conduct in confidence. This was recorded, and on account of this recording, the ransom was demanded. In fear and shame, he did not report this crime and complied with all the demands. Despite the several payments made to this gang, this blackmailing never ended, until Avinash committed suicide.

How can you prevent yourself from falling prey to sextortion?
It is not very tough for the users of social media to prevent themselves from being a target of the offenders. You by being a little more diligent and proactive can recognize the wrongdoer, before falling prey to them. Even if sextortion has taken place, the same can be stopped.

Following are some of the tips to avoid sextortion:
Spotting sextortion before it starts
Not to follow any text having a sexually suggestive theme, or share any intimidate image or video with an unknown user. Also, not to perform any sexually colored act before the camera that might get recorded by them. avoid sending such said content to anyone online. Make social accounts either private or put a strong password to the accounts. Not to shift the conversation from one platform to another on the demand of the unknown user. Also, be alert of the strangers who quickly try to shift text conversation to video chat.

If you are a victim of sextortion

  • Tell about the situation to family or others whom you trust. Some people feel so embarrassed and shameful to describe the matter to the family, but sharing such an incident with the family will provide an emotional support.
  • Not to comply with the demands of offenders. Many victims in fear of the public release of their sexual content, make payments one after one and perform such acts as are demanded. This leads to perpetual extortion which might get stopped after the demands are fulfilled, but this will be a sword hanging over the victim�s head, as they are more likely to come back with further demands. Also, there is no guarantee that offenders will not still post the recordings.
  • Report sextortion, lodge your complaint online to the concerned website. The most important file an FIR.

Are present laws sufficient to deal with sextortion?
In India, there is no explicit law that expressly covers the crime of sextortion, although numerous laws recognize one or the other aspects of sextortion. Here is a need to check whether present laws are enough to combat it.

  1. The laws governing sexual harassment of women at workplace act 2013, aims to protect women at the workplace, and the protection is limited only to female workers, while sextortion is not against a gender specific.
  2. Section 354 of IPC, is a protection against sexual assault, and criminal force used to outrage the modesty of a woman, and does not cover the distinct dynamics of this crime.
  3. Section 376, is a law punishing rape, done in different capacities, one of which is rape due to the abuse of authority.
  4. Section 384 of IPC, a law against extortion, however, does not cover the sexual element involved with it.
  5. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. It is a gender-natural legislation, dealing with child sexual abuse. It widely addresses the cases of sexual assault but is limited to children.
  6. IT Act, 2000 stipulates certain sexual offenses dealing with cyber-crime, though it also does not cover the changing aspects of cyber sexual crime.

After the analysis of present laws, the lacuna of the legal framework is evident. These all laws and provisions cover sexual abuse but fall short to deal with the acts pertaining to sextortion directly.

What does government need to do?

  • Propose a new statute to cover these crimes or make an amendment to the existing laws.

    Since no stature recognizes sextortion expressly, such cases are dealt with under various other laws, but the unique dynamics of this crime makes the present law inadequate and unsuccessful. Even after a successful prosecution, the punishment conferred is relatively much lesser than the wrong committed. This does not deter the crime rate. And the perpetrator remains motivated to proceed with the delinquency.

    What all need is specific legislation on the matter to cover the widened area of sextortion or, at the very least an amendment in the present law adding sextortion, as this serious issue cannot be solved.
  • Public Awareness
    Awareness will play a significant role in decreasing the crime rate, and connecting people to fight against sextortion together, which will work as a ripple effect of the change. Knowing the nature and pattern of the crime would work as an alarm, whenever social media users encounter such behavior.

The awareness could be spread through advertisements, seminars, T.V shows, etc. They play an influential role and help shape the views of individuals. This can surely be a helpful tool to change the attitude of society towards the victims, by shading light on the issue and its technicalities

Launching sensitization program
The nature of crime is such that tends to attach a stigma to the victims, for sharing such compromising images and sexual content with the perpetrators or setting an environment of opportunity for them to record the same.

Fact that the victims are generally blamed for participating in such an act prevents victims from lodging complaints or revealing the incidents of threat to anybody. If someone is affected by sextortion he must not be left alone, the reason being this is not the victim�s fault. The incidents of victim-blaming are one of the reasons for not lodging complaints. This attitude can negatively impact victims.

Encouraging social media sites to develop effective complaint mechanisms
Government must take certain steps to encourage the companies to develop sites, adopt practices and make policies that prohibit sexual exploitation in any form, so these platforms could not be used by the offenders for the commission of the crime.

Proactive intervention by these sites on receiving the complaint by potential victims, would to some extent reduce the number of cases. First, the complaint system must deal with the complaints quickly and efficiently, so the significant portion of people using social media can get a fruitful result.

Sextortion is becoming a common phenomenon in India. Despite it being a newly emerging crime, the number of cases is increasing dramatically, which is a serious threat hovering over the nation targeting youth. There is a need for a deep examination and study of the crime so, the legislature could come up with a Specific law covering all the aspects and forms of sextortion, and giving stringent punishment to whoever commits it. It is important to protect individuals from being victimized.

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