Misogyny Goes Online: Do We Have Laws To Deal With It?

Threatened as they are with sexual violence and other such, the internet is becoming a vile place for women

Updated01 Jul 2015, 12:09 PM IST
4 min read


Misogyny Online and How To Deal With It

* The Internet provides an audience which is eager to consume acts of misogyny.
* From videos of rape to threats on Twitter, online sexual harassment of women is a serious issue.
* There are laws in place. The more used ones are those that deal with “obscene” or “sexually explicit” material online.
* Section 66E which deals with consent is the most underused.

In February, social activist Sunitha Krishnan on seeing a video of a gang rape being circulated on Whatsapp launched a campaign called ‘Shame the Rapist.’ The campaign was targeted at identifying the rapists who had the impunity to film and circulate the vile act. Screengrabs of the men’s faces were put up online and asking people to help identify them. In March, one of the culprits was caught in Bhubaneshwar.

In April, the Daily Mail reported that Krishnan had received about 90 such videos, sent often by victims in the hope of catching the assailants. the Daily Mail report says:

Justice Madan B Lokur, who is heading a special bench in the court hearing social justice matters, has expressed shock. “Is it possible to have a mechanism in place to deal with a situation like this? What is the cyber cell of the police in each state doing?” he asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Maninder Singh who represented the Centre.
– Daily Mail

In May this year, a clip of actress Radhika Apte (from a film) was leaked on the internet and went viral on Whatsapp. Female journalists on social media, like Sagarika Ghosh, Barkha Dutt, Swati Chaturvedi, activists like Meena Kandasamy and Kavita Krishnan have all been victims of threats of sexual violence on Twitter and other online fora.

These are the better known cases. There are many that go unnoticed.

Last week John Oliver put out a video detailing the abysmal state of laws in the US against online sexual harassment of women. The same week in India, a woman’s dubsmash video was converted to suit more pornographic tastes.

Laws in Place

When Section 66A was scrapped in March this year, it was welcomed by most. The draconian act was held up by the government as being a measure for protecting women online. Though it was mostly used to curb free speech.

With that gone, the other sections under the IT Act are Section 67 which deals with obscenity, 67A which deals with explicit material and 66E which deals with consent.

Revenge porn is a thing now. Intimate pictures and video that you may have taken of yourself with someone you trusted, can be uploaded online. There is also the danger of webcams recording you without your knowledge.

Victims of “Revenge porn” or porn, depending on whether the content uploaded online is “lascivious” or “appeals to prurient interest” or is sexually explicit, may take recourse under Sec 67 or 67A of the IT Act, respectively.
–N S Nappinai, Advocate

Revenge porn is increasingly becoming a dangerous trend online (Photo:iStock)
Revenge porn is increasingly becoming a dangerous trend online (Photo:iStock)

Section 66E (which deals with any explicit content which involves you but is shared without consent) is the most progressive provision available, but is also the most underused provision of the IT Act, says Bishakha Datta, Executive Director, Point of View, a non-profit working on gender issues. While research on why this is not used is underway, she says that perhaps the issue is that of morality.

In a country where sexuality is so taboo, if you’re a woman and you go to the police and say, this picture of mine was taken with consent but circulated without consent the police will look at you like you’re a slut. That may be part of the problem.
– Bishakha Datta, Point of View

Changing Nature of Online Harassment

What though of the everyday trolls on Twitter, Facebook or if they make it as far as into your inbox?

On Monday, when Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, tweeted against the PM’s #selfiewithdaughter idea. She became victim to a lot of abuse on Facebook and Twitter.

Earlier in June, Fukrey actress Vishakha Singh shamed a Facebook user who posted a comment on her picture which was perverse and sexist.

(Photo: Screenshot of the facebook post)
(Photo: Screenshot of the facebook post)

More often than not, abuse against women is of a sexual nature.

Women are told that when faced with such abuse to report the person, mute them, or block them. This is the best measure in place offering respite from trolls.

This however, legitimizes this everyday violence assuming these aren’t serious issues, or real threats.

Online sexual harassment and abuse is a murky area, with no clear direction at present, especially since newer forms of harassment keep emerging. Ways to tackle it effectively can only be put in place, “if there is a clear understanding of technology and how it really works”, Bishakha says.

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Published: 01 Jul 2015, 12:04 PM IST

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