India does not define the term ‘cyber crime’ under any legislation. The term ‘cyber’ relates to computers, the internet, or technology, thus implying that cyber crimes refer to offenses committed in virtual reality with the use of the internet. Cyber crimes against women are gender-specific offenses that are increasing day by day, becoming rampant in the cyber world.
Cyber crimes against Women
Cybercriminals use technology to access personal information and exploit women. Cyber crimes against women include sending obscene emails or WhatsApp messages, cyberstalking, developing pornographic content, spoofing emails, morphing images, and more. Cybercriminals utilize fake social media IDs to threaten and blackmail their targeted victims. The perpetrators blackmail victims with malicious intent for illegal gain, revenge, insulting the woman’s modesty, extortion, sexual exploitation, defamation, and other purposes. For instance, one can easily morph a woman’s face into a pornographic video. Cyberstalking refers to stalking someone online and harassing them through the internet. The abuser stalks the woman online, gathering information to make threats in various forms, causing mental agony and pain to the victim.
Indian laws regulating cyber crimes against women
There are many provisions in Indian statutes that govern cyber crimes, with a significant overlap between them. The three legislations that specifically address cyber crimes against women are as follows:
1. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)
Initially, the IPC did not have provisions specifically addressing cybercrimes against women. However, in 2013, a horrifying gang-rape incident took place in New Delhi, which sparked nationwide outrage. In response to this outrage, the Criminal Amendment Act of 2013 was passed, amending the Indian Penal Code and introducing sections 354A to 354D.
Section 354A focuses on sexual harassment and the punishment for such offenses. It penalizes a man for committing the following acts:
- Demanding a sexual favor from a woman
- Showing pornography against the woman’s will
- Making sexually colored remarks
For the first two instances, the offender may face rigorous imprisonment for a term of up to three years, a fine, or both. Making sexually colored remarks may result in imprisonment for up to one year, a fine, or both. Unfortunately, all offenses under section 354A are bailable.
Section 354C defines the offense of voyeurism, which involves capturing or disseminating images of a woman engaged in a private act without her consent. Even if the woman consents to the capture of pictures but not their dissemination, it is still considered an offense. The term “private act” refers to an act in which the woman would “usually expect not to be observed, either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator.” Offenders can face a fine and imprisonment of up to three years for the first conviction and up to seven years for subsequent convictions. The offense of voyeurism is non-bailable.
Section 354D addresses the offense of stalking, including cyberstalking. This section covers a person monitoring women’s activities on the internet, email, or other electronic communication platforms. On the first conviction, such individuals may face punishment with three years of imprisonment, a fine, or both. Subsequent convictions may result in imprisonment of up to five years.
Note: It is important to consult the latest version of the Indian Penal Code for the most up-to-date information and any further amendments.
2. The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act)
With the increase in cybercrimes, the IT Act of 2000 was amended in 2006 and subsequently in 2008. The Information Technology (Amendment) Act of 2008 introduced various sections regulating cybercrimes.
Section 66C makes identity theft a punishable offense. Under this section, committing identity theft and using another person’s password or electronic signature is punishable by up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of up to one lakh rupees.
Section 66E deals with the violation of a person’s privacy. Publishing or transmitting private pictures to others without the person’s consent is punishable by up to three years of imprisonment or a fine of two lakh rupees or more.
Section 67A prohibits the publication, transmission, and causing of transmission of obscene content. A person convicted under this section can face three years of imprisonment and a fine for the first conviction. Subsequent convictions may result in imprisonment of up to five years. Section 72 establishes penalties for breach of confidentiality and privacy. A person found guilty of such an offense can face up to two years of imprisonment, a fine of one lakh rupees, or both.
3. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986
Regulates and prohibits the indecent representation of women through advertisements, publications, and other means. Section 2 defines the indecent representation of women as any depiction that corrupts public morality. The Rajya Sabha proposed the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Bill in 2012. It aimed to encompass audio-visual media and electronic content, including the distribution of material on the internet and the portrayal of women online. However, they later withdrew this bill.
Existing Gaps In The Legislation
The existing gaps in the legislation regarding cyber crimes against women are as follows:
- No gender-specific crimes under the IT Act
The use of the word “whoever” in the IT Act indicates that the provisions are not gender-specific. There are no specific crimes and punishments outlined in the Act that are specific to gender. Any person found guilty of committing a cyber crime would receive the same punishment regardless of their gender. This suggests that the amendments to the Act were not made with the specific intention of addressing the rise of cyber crimes against women. In contrast, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) introduced gender-specific provision. However, such provisions are lacking in the IT Act. The provisions under the IT Act are more general in nature. Having gender-specific provisions is important as it recognizes violence against women as a form of gender-based discrimination and addresses the unique needs of women survivors.
- Narrow meaning of violation of privacy
Another loophole exists in the narrow definition of violation of privacy under the IT Act. It only encompasses the transmission, publication, or capture of an “image of a private area of the body,” specifically referring to the buttocks and female breasts. By this limited definition we are confining a woman to her physical body. This limited definition implies that a woman’s privacy is solely confined to her physical body. However, a woman’s privacy can be violated even without the capturing of explicit pictures. The Act’s provision on privacy is restricive in its scope. It fails to recognize that women are more than just their bodies. We must not narrowly define Privacy under the Act, as it encompasses various aspects beyond physical appearance.
- Difficulty in proving lack of consent
The concept of consent is crucial in these cases. It can be challenging to prove that the victim did not consent to the publication of such images. Even married women have become victims of cyber crimes. For example an estranged husband can upload an intimate picture of his wife. In such scenarios, it becomes difficult to establish a lack of consent. People register fewer cases under section 66E of the Act. Therefore the conviction rate under the Act is negligible.
- Emphasis on public morality, not women’s safety
The law does not widely utilize The Indecent Representation of Women Act, 1986. It does not primarily focus on providing justice to victims but rather on empowering the state to take action against indecent representation. The Act authorizes the state to take penal action if deemed necessary. Despite its name suggesting a focus on women, the Act predominantly centers around public morality. It is worth noting that “the exposure of a woman’s body is deemed indecent.” There are various ways in which women can be indecently represented. The emphasis should not solely be on their bodies. This Act fails to address the online abuse that women face. And, the number of cases registered under this Act has seen a decline. The Act has lost significance due to its major loopholes.
- Lack of access to technology
Cyber crime victims often report cyber crimes under the IT Act. While it may be easier for the police to arrest the accused under this Act, they often lack awareness of the latest technologies. This makes it difficult for them to file chargesheets and trace the authentic source of such crimes. The court frequently acquits people arrested under the Act due to a lack of evidence.
- Lack of awareness of the laws
A significant gap in the laws regarding cyber crimes against women is the lack of awareness about such laws. Therefore, number of registered cases under these Acts remains low. If law enforcement agencies limit themselves to merely registering and investigating cases, this issue will persist. We thus must make efforts to educate and sensitize people about the laws and their rights. Despite being in 2023, many women are still unaware of cyber laws, including the remedies available to them. Additionally, victims often do not know the proper procedure for filing a complaint. Some feel embarrassed about reporting the incidents thereby continuing the ongoing harassment.
- Mental health provisions not addressed
Being a victim of cyber crime can severely impact one’s mental and physical health. While the existing legislations focuses on physical harm, it does not adequately address mental harm. The laws primarily concern the physical protection of a woman’s security. But, they should also encompass the mental harm that victims experience throughout the process.
Cyber crime is rapidly growing, and the reporting of such crimes is still in its early stages. Provisions in the IPC and the IT Act should not overlap but instead work together in harmony. Therefore, the police, judiciary, and investigative authorities must keep pace with technological advancements to effectively identify offenders. It is also crucial that newer technologies do not become tools to exploit women. Unfortunately, many women are unaware of the proper procedures to report cyber crimes. Thus, to create a safer virtual world, we need to educate people about their rights. We must also empower them to report abusers promptly. Moreover, organizing sensitization programs to combat cybercrimes effectively is the way forward.
About The Author
Mili Rawat, a final year law student, is an avid reader. Her passion lies in exploring and advocating for gender issues, seeking to create a more equitable and inclusive society
Image Source: HerCircle
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