(Photo: The Quint/ Rhythum Seth)
| 5 min read

Blackmailed With Morphed Nudes, What Would You Do?

It's a perfectly normal day and you are going through your social media feed when you receive an obscene message from an unknown person. You choose not to respond? All well and good – till he begins to bully and threaten you to talk to him.

So what do you do?

Block him? Report him and forget about him?

You could, but does that solve the problem? No.

Does blocking solve the problem? (Photo: istock)
Does blocking solve the problem? (Photo: istock)

Something similar, but far more horrendous happened to 17-year-old Rana (name changed to protect privacy) in Udaipur, when an anonymous person sent her a picture of her face morphed on a naked body on Instagram, and then threatened to put it on Facebook if she didn’t respond.

Like any 17-year-old, she was scared and upset for a few days, but eventually told her family about it.

(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Saleha Paatwala)
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Saleha Paatwala)

Her father took matters in his own hands, and went to the nearest police station to file an FIR.

But not only were the police unhelpful (they told the family “all these petty cases keep on happening”) – they also sought to victim shame her:

Aap Bohra logo ko parents se bahut azadi mili hui hai isliye ap logo ke sath ye bahut hota hai. (Bohras have given their children a lot of freedom and this is why it happens). Why do you post pictures on social media? You should delete your social media accounts to be safe.

When the family attempted to approach the cyber cell next, they were told that it would take at least 25 days to get a lead in the case.

It was only after Rana’s sister, Saleha Paatwala, posted about the incident on her social media accounts – seeking help from the Ministry of Women and Child Development – that things were escalated.

8 days later, an FIR was finally registered.

Someone on social media told me that I shouldn’t have put up such a post in the first place as this news will spread and bring a bad name to our family. This fear of ‘a bad name’ stops people from speaking about things openly.
Saleha told The Quint

Just the Tip of the Iceberg...

But Rana's case is not an isolated one.

Last year, when Taruna Aswani’s Google account was hacked, the hacker blackmailed her by threatening to leak private pictures and videos to the people on her contact list. She took her battle to Facebook and got massive support. But the hacker is still undiscovered.

Last year in December, when 24-year-old Saniya Pasricha was stalked, she did not know that her stalker had created a fake account using her pictures and was chatting with random people using her name. When the police failed to help, she sought help from the WCD ministry.

However, in this case too, the person – who still has over 200 pictures of her – hasn’t been traced.

Earlier this year, when journalist Sakshi Joshi received rape threats on Facebook, she took screenshots of the obscene messages and posted them on Facebook, tagging the SP of Noida. The UP police eventually caught the guy in Surat.
The Noida SP brought in a lot of pressure on the police department. Plus, the harasser had made his phone number public on Facebook – which quickened the investigation.
Sakshi Joshi to The Quint

How to Handle Cyber Crimes?

Many victims of cyber crime do not come out in the open and register a complaint, and even if they do, they are not taken seriously.

We spoke to cyber security expert Rakshit Tandon to find out what a person can do if s/he has faced any form of cyber crime. Here is what he had to say:

(Photo: The Quint)
(Photo: The Quint)

Tandon also elaborated on how many cases happen post break-up, involving stalking, and blackmailing – and in such cases, the victim should not be scared. Use of private pictures without consent is still a crime.

It Is Time to Speak Up

Dealing with an army of trolls who keep on harassing the person can be traumatising.

Senior advocate, Rebecca John told The Quint what happens when a cyber crime is reported:

The law and the police are well equipped to solve cases in the cyberspace. But the police doesn’t take the necessary action and the law is not implemented properly, which makes these cases ‘unsolvable’.

Often, the police will try to evade a case of cyber crime by claiming that a fake ID has been used, making it difficult to hunt down the harasser. However, the truth is “they often do not want to take actions unless a rape or a murder has taken place,” says John.

Women are told to remain silent, ignore their harasser, but doing this only empowers the harasser. (Photo: istock)
Women are told to remain silent, ignore their harasser, but doing this only empowers the harasser. (Photo: istock)
What is the police doing? They are so well equipped, but still I have not seen a single case where the person is arrested. They advise people to deactivate their accounts and try to put the blame on the woman. The same misogynist mentality that is seen during the rape cases, is seen in online harassment as well, and nothing will change if this mentality doesn’t change.
Rebecca John

Women are told to remain silent and ignore their harasser – but doing this only empowers the harasser.

We have the law on our side, women. It is time we come out in the open and speak up.