There’s a warning for those going online for intimacy just because strict physical-distancing norms are in place to slow the coronavirus spread. Cyber crime against women and sextortion are on the rise worldwide. Cases of blackmailers laying honey traps and hacking private images and videos are on the rise. Cyber scammers have made fake profiles on various social media platforms, dating sites and chatting apps to lure potential victims. This epidemic of sextortion has also rattled the Indian National Capital at a time much of the flesh trade has gone digital amid a rising Covid-19 scare. Sextortion is extorting money or sexual favours from people by threatening to reveal evidence of their sexual activity.
In India, we still do not have a law that deals specifically with the crime of Sextortion. However, the Indian Penal Code defines Extortion as “Whoever intentionally puts any person in fear of any injury to that person, or to any other, and thereby dishonestly induces the person so put in fear to deliver to any person any property, or valuable security or anything signed or sealed which may be converted into a valuable security, commits “extortion”.
There has been a significant increase in cybercrime against women, especially sextortion, during the COVID-19-induced lockdown with “caged criminals” targeting them online. Complaints were serious ones from women, (and these) ranged from abuse, indecent exposure, unsolicited obscene pictures, threats, malicious emails claiming their account was hacked, ransom demands, blackmail and more.
This is just the frustration and anger that is coming to the fore as there is no other release right now. This is a form of frustration as they (cyber criminals) are caged right now. Men are morphing images and threatening women. There is a whole racket going on where women are getting these emails that “your phone and laptop has been hacked, and if you don’t deposit money in my account, I will send your morphed images and share it with all your contacts!”
How Sextortion Begins
Cyber-criminals pretend to be young women on dating apps, cat-fishing people and gathering their personal information. Once targets are identified, they lure them with photos and invite them for real-time video chats.
Entire activities are then recorded. This is where sextortion begins. Even after victims have paid, blackmailing often doesn’t stop. These criminals buy details of potential victims before trapping them. They also target people by hacking their e-mail accounts and accessing personal details. People are being honey-trapped and later blackmailed.
Sections 292 and 354C of the IPC and Section 108 (1)(i)(a) of the CrPC can be imposed on culprits who threaten to make your private recordings or pictures in compromising position public, and against the publishing of such content.
As per data released by PornHub, India has been leading in porn consumption during the coronavirus lockdown.
Cyber Crime and IT Act, 2000
One finds laws that penalise cyber-crimes in a number of statutes and even in regulations framed by various regulators. The Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”) and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) penalise a number of cyber-crimes.
Cybercrime is criminal activity that either targets or uses a computer, a computer network or a networked device. cybercrime is committed by cybercriminals or hackers who want to make money. Cybercrime is carried out by individuals or organizations. Some cybercriminals are organized, use advanced techniques and are highly technically skilled. Others are novice hackers. cybercrime aims to damage computers for reasons other than profit. These could be political or personal.
Digital India may have become a soft target for criminals as the country recorded a huge increase of 63.5 percent in cyber crime cases in the year 2019, showed the National Crime Record Bureau data. The NCRB’s data stated that 4,4546 cases of cyber crimes were registered in 2019 as compared to 28,248 in 2018. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has seen a stark rise in complaints of Sextortion, which has doubled during the recent lockdown due to COVID – 19 than the numbers recorded in February and March. Highest number of cyber crime cases were registered in Karnataka (12,020) followed by Uttar Pradesh (11,416), Maharashtra (4,967),Telangana (2,691) and Assam (2,231). Among the Union Territories, Delhi alone accounted for 78 percent of cyber crimes. As per the data, in metropolitan cities, a total of 18,372 cases were registered, showing an increase of 81.9 percent. The data also stated maximum cases (13,814) were registered under computer related offenses (section 66 of IT Act ).
In India, the following laws govern sexual abuse:
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, this law was enacted to provide recourse to women suffering from domestic abuse;
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, this act provides protection to a woman against sexual harassment at workplace.
Section 354 (A to D) of the Indian Penal Code 1860,lays down punishments for different types of sexual offences.
Section 376(2) talks about rape due to the abuse of authority in specific situations.
Section 108(1)(i)(a) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973has been amended to give the victim the power to contact the magistrate and file a complaint directly to the magistrate about the circulation of obscene material.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, is aimed to tackle issues of sexual exploitation of children.
Information Technology Act, 2000 also cover certain sexual offences dealing with cyber-crime.
Additional Laws in India
Section 66E of Information Technology Act,2000 – Violation of Privacy – Whoever, intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person.
Section 67 of Information Technology Act – Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form.
Section 67A of Information Technology Act – Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc. in electronic form.
Section 67B of Information Technology Act – Punishment for Child Pornography in electronic form Interpol investigation.
Section 387 of Indian Penal Code,1860 for Extortion is also applicable
PORNOGRAPHY AND INDIAN I.T. Act 2000
The Cyber Pornography Offences are mainly defined in sections 292, 293, 294 of IPC, 67, 67A and 67B Information technology act, 2000. All other Pornography related offences are bailable as per Section 77B of the Information Technology Act, 2000 the only exception being section 67A & 67B Bare Act, Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008. This is the main reason why the offenders are committing pornography related offences and still have the audacity to repeat it, as they are entitled to bail as of right and not to mention the long trial period. These sections of the Act should be made non-bailable so as to strike fear into the minds of these offenders, this would definitely reduce the crime rate to some extent.
“No person, much less a woman, would want to create and display grey shades of her character. In most of the cases, like the present one, women are the victims. It is their right to enforce the right to be forgotten as a right ‘in rem’”, said Justice SK Panigrahy of the Orissa High Court. He further said, “if the right to be forgotten is not recognised…any accused will surreptitiously outrage the modesty of a woman and misuse the same in cyberspace unhindered.”
The Delhi High Court said a victim of objectionable online content cannot be expected to keep on looking for fresh links and make complaints each time and a permanent solution has to be found to this problem. The court thereafter directed Facebook, Google and Twitter to block or remove as soon as possible any objectionable links.
In the International scenario, there are a few countries that have understood the necessity to have a law that curbs and punishes crimes related to Sextortion. The Criminal Codes of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina have specified the offence of ‘Sexual Intercourse by Abuse of Position.’ The Philippine Anti-Rape Law of 1997 covers rape by means of ‘grave abuse of authority’ and the Tanzania Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act of 1998 applies to a person ‘who takes advantage of his official position’ to commit rape. The United States of America has enacted ‘Workhouse Statute’ which addresses the crime of Sextortion which occurs interstate.
It is essential to have a law that specifically tackles the crime of Sextortion and crimes related to it. It is important to understand that the crimes of Sextortion are not just limited to the internet but also occur in relationships of employment, education, family, etc. If the crime of Sextortion is not defined and the sanctions are not expressly laid out, it is difficult to charge the perpetrator and hold them accountable. It is necessary to have dedicated personnel and trained officers who are able to trace, track and nab the criminal, and simultaneously be able to offer the right kind help to the victims.
Immediately after the lockdown, saw a rise in cases of misinformation, fake news and women getting duped online when they click on malware links which gets all their information on phone, turns on the camera and microphone, and captures their intimate moments. These are then used for blackmailing. Many women do not want to make official complaints in these cases. Majority of women do not report cybercrime because they worry about the social stigma associated with it. Creation of fake profiles, cyber bullying, online stalking are big challenges at this time. Insensitive comments on posts are also intimidating, there is lack of awareness among women on where to reach out when something happens. While there are a host of legal remedies available; women would do well to remember the old proverb – “better safe than sorry!”