Can Members of the ‘Boys Locker Room’ Group be Punished Under Law?

This is not just a matter of ‘boys will be boys’. Sharing images of underage girls, at least, is a criminal offence.

Published
Law
6 min read
Here are the potential offences committed by members of the disgraceful group chat.
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The revelations regarding the ‘Bois Locker Room’ group chat among teenage boys in Delhi have shed light on the toxic masculine behaviour among boys even of this age, which contribute to the rape culture that plagues our society.

With the news on the matter being reported, not only did the cyber cell of the Delhi Police register a criminal case regarding the activities of this group, but one of the boys has also been taken into custody. It appears that there will be more consequences than just online outrage for this.

But what does the law say about this kind of behaviour? What potential offences have been committed by members of this group? And will the juvenility of some of the boys affect the punishment they could face?

Why Did the Police Register a Case Here?

With hundreds of boys from south Delhi, the group was allegedly used for sharing photos of underage girls, objectifying them, and promoting rape culture, a user on Twitter revealed on Sunday, 3 May.

The boys allegedly shared morphed photos of underage girls, body shaming and slut shaming them.

While the comments and discussions are a matter of grave concern and require correction of some form, the legal consequences are likely to relate to the sharing of private photos and morphed photos of girls on the group.

The Delhi Police have reportedly registered a case under provisions of the Information Technology Act 2000 (IT Act), and the Indian Penal Code (IPC). In addition to these, the sharing of images of underage girls could also be a violation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSO Act).

The police were able to register a case even without any of the girls coming forward to file a complaint, as at least some of the potential offences involved are designated as ‘cognisable offences’. In Indian criminal law, anyone who comes to know of a cognisable offence can file a complaint with the police, who have to register an FIR in such cases.

The police themselves can register an FIR for a case dealing with a cognisable offence, once they come to know about it. In this case, the information regarding the ‘Bois Locker Room’ group had become public knowledge, and so the cyber cell decided to investigate.

What Potential Offences Have Been Committed by Such Groups?

SECTION 66E, IT ACT - VIOLATION OF PRIVACY

This covers the sharing of images of “a private area of any person without his or her consent”. The term private area means naked or undergarment-clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast.

The sharing of private images of any girls on the group (even those who are 18 or above) would be an offence under this section.

PUNISHMENT UPON CONVICTION: Imprisonment of up to 3 years, and/or a fine of up to Rs 2 lakhs.

SECTION 67A, IT ACT - TRANSMITTING SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL

This covers the sharing of any images that show a person engaged in a sexual act or conduct.

The sharing of real or morphed image purporting to show the girls (underage or otherwise) engaged in a sexual act would be an offence under this section.

PUNISHMENT UPON CONVICTION: Imprisonment of up to 5 years, and/or a fine of up to Rs 10 lakhs.

SECTION 67B, IT ACT - TRANSMITTING SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL DEPICTING A CHILD

This covers not just the depiction of children in sexual acts or conduct, but the creation or distribution of any digital text or images that depicts children “in obscene or indecent or sexually explicit manner”.

The sharing of any real or morphed images of underage girls on the group would be considered an offence under this section – and perhaps even some of the comments and discussions on the group could fall within its ambit as well.

PUNISHMENT UPON CONVICTION: Imprisonment of up to 5 years, and/or a fine of up to Rs 10 lakhs.

SECTION 354C, IPC - VOYEURISM

This covers the taking or sharing of a picture of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would have an expectation of privacy.

This would cover similar conduct as Section 66E of the IT Act, but with the additional benefit of being a cognisable offence, a minimum conviction period, and an enhanced sentence for subsequent convictions. It also covers the sharing of images which may not fully depict a private area of a person, say if it were cropped to try and avoid the consequences of the IT Act offences described above.

PUNISHMENT UPON CONVICTION: Imprisonment of 1-3 years, and a fine. For subsequent convictions, imprisonment of 3-7 years.

SECTION 354D, IPC - STALKING

The offence of stalking includes “monitoring the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of communication”.

Thus, hacking into the girls’ social media profiles and chats, or even collecting their photos from social media, would be an offence under this section.

PUNISHMENT UPON CONVICTION: Imprisonment of up to 3 years and a fine.

SECTIONS 14 & 15, POCSO ACT - CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

The use of a child for pornographic purposes – which covers photos of their sexual organs or their indecent/obscene representation – is an offence under Section 14 of the POCSO Act. Even the storage of any pornographic material involving a child with the intention of sharing it, is an offence under Section 15.

The sharing of morphed and real images of underage girls on the ‘Bois Locker Room’ group, would be a violation of these provisions.

PUNISHMENT UPON CONVICTION: Imprisonment of 5 years or more and a fine (Section 14), and imprisonment of up to 3 years and a fine (Section 15).

Will Juvenility of Offenders Make a Difference?

As should be clear by now, the actions of the boys on the group are serious, and punishable under the law. Misguided tropes like ‘boys will be boys’ cannot justify what is clearly criminal behaviour (particularly the sharing of private images of girls).

One of the complications in this case is of course that many of the boys on this group are under the age of 18 themselves. As this makes them juveniles, the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 would apply to them.

Before we even get to the stage of punishment, one of the key effects of this is that revealing the identities of any boys on this group who are under the age of 18 is also forbidden under the law. Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 prohibits the identification of even children who have committed an offence, so media houses or private persons who are discussing this issue online need to be careful that they don’t inadvertently put out names or photos of any of the boys unless they are over 18.

As for whether being juvenile will affect the punishment possible for commission of these offences, yes, any of the boys who are under 18 whom the police decide to book, will not be tried before the criminal courts, but will instead be taken before the Juvenile Justice Boards.

The maximum punishment by a JJB for a juvenile is 3 years imprisonment. However, apart from the POCSO Act offences, the maximum punishment prescribed under the law for most of the potential offences here is the same, so the punishment is unlikely to be particularly less severe.

As many of these boys will be between the ages of 16 to 18, some might ask if they could be tried as adults – this was the headline change brought about by the JJ Act of 2015, of course.

However, this would not be possible for the offences listed above, as these don’t qualify as ‘heinous offences’ (with imprisonment of 7 years or more), and so they cannot be tried as adults.

If the police do decide to add some more severe charges to the case – for instance conspiracy to commit rape or gang rape – then this might become a possibility. In the meanwhile, when it comes to those on the group who are over 18, there are no restrictions on revealing their identities and they can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

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