No law in India defines the term “cybercrime”. The term “cyber” relates to computers, the Internet, or technology, implying that cybercrime refers to crimes committed in virtual reality using the Internet. Cybercrime against women is a gender-specific crime that is increasing day by day and is prevalent in the cyber world.
cybercrime against women
Cybercriminals use technology to access personal information and exploit women. Cybercrimes against women include sending obscene emails and her WhatsApp messages, cyberstalking, developing pornographic girlfriend content, email spoofing, and image deformation. Cybercriminals use fake social media identities to blackmail or intimidate their targeted victims. Perpetrators viciously intimidate victims for illegal gain, revenge, insulting women’s modesty, blackmail, sexual exploitation, defamation, and other purposes. For example, you can easily transform a woman’s face into a porn video. Cyberstalking refers to stalking someone online and harassing them through the internet. Perpetrators stalk women online to gather information, threaten them in various ways, and inflict emotional pain and suffering on victims.
Indian law regulating cybercrime against women
Indian legislation has many provisions regulating cybercrime and there is considerable overlap between them. Her three laws that specifically address cybercrime against women are:
Existing gaps in legislation
Existing gaps in legislation on cybercrime against women include:
- Gender-based crimes are prohibited under the IT Act
The use of the word “anyone” in the IT Act indicates that the provision is not gender specific. The law does not provide for specific sex-specific crimes or punishments. Anyone convicted of a cybercrime will receive the same punishment regardless of gender. This suggests that the amendment to the law was not made with the specific intention of addressing the rise in cybercrime against women. In contrast, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has introduced gender-specific provisions. However, the IT Act lacks such provision. The IT law provisions are more general in nature. Gender-specific provisions are important to recognize violence against women as a form of gender-based discrimination and to address the specific needs of women victims.
- Narrowly defined invasion of privacy
Another loophole exists in the narrow definition of privacy violations in IT law. This includes only sending, publishing, or capturing “images of private areas of the body,” specifically referring to buttocks and female breasts. This restrictive definition means that a woman’s privacy is limited to her body and nothing more. But even without taking explicit photos, a woman’s privacy can be violated. The provisions of this law regarding privacy are limited in scope. They fail to recognize that women are more than just bodies. Privacy in law should not be narrowly defined, as privacy includes many facets beyond appearances.
- Difficult to prove lack of consent
In such cases, the concept of consent is important. It can be difficult to prove that the victim did not consent to the publication of such images. Married women are also victims of cybercrime. For example, a estranged husband can upload intimate photos of his wife. In such scenarios, it becomes difficult to prove lack of consent. Relatively few cases have been registered under Section 66E of the Act. Therefore, the conviction rate under the law is negligible.
- focus on public morality over women’s safety
The Act does not make extensive use of the 1986 Indecent Practices of Women Act. The law is not primarily focused on giving justice to victims, but rather on empowering states to take action against indecent acts. This law allows the state to take criminal action if deemed necessary. Despite its name suggesting a focus on women, the law is primarily focused on public morality. It should be noted that “the exposure of a woman’s body is considered obscene”. There are many different ways to obscenely portray a woman. Their bodies shouldn’t be the only focus. This law fails to address the online abuse women face. And the number of cases registered under this law is declining. This law loses its significance because it has a big loophole.
- Lack of access to technology
Victims of cybercrime often report cybercrime under IT law. Police may find it easier to arrest suspects under this law, but they often lack awareness of the latest technology. This makes it difficult to file complaints and trace the true sources of such crimes. Courts often acquitted persons arrested under the law for lack of evidence.
- lack of awareness of the law
A major gap in legislation on cybercrime against women is the lack of awareness of such legislation. The number of cases registered under these laws remained low. This problem will continue if law enforcement is limited to registering and investigating cases. We must work to educate and raise awareness of the law and its rights. Even though it’s 2023, many women are still ignorant of cyber laws, including available remedies. Additionally, victims are often unaware of proper procedures for filing complaints. Some are embarrassed to report the incident, which leads to continued harassment.
- Mental health clause not covered
Being a victim of cybercrime can have a significant impact on your mental and physical health. Current legislation focuses on physical harm but does not adequately address psychological harm. The law is primarily concerned with physical protection of women’s safety. But it should also include the psychological harm the victim experiences through the process.
Cybercrime is growing rapidly, but reporting of such crimes is still in its early stages. The provisions of the IPC and IT laws should not overlap and should work together harmoniously. Therefore, police, judicial and investigative authorities must keep up with technological advances to effectively identify criminals. It is important that new technology does not become a tool for exploiting women. Unfortunately, many women do not know the proper procedures to report cybercrime. Therefore, to build a safer virtual world, we need to educate people about their rights. We also need to be able to report abusers promptly. Organizing awareness programs to effectively combat cybercrime is the way forward.
About the author
Miri Rawat, a final year law student, is an avid reader. Her passion is exploring and advocating for gender issues, and she aims to build a more equitable and inclusive society.
Image source: her circle
We recommend reading this article on how to stay safe online and protect your digital presence.