A 15 year old Canadian girl was photographed while being raped by her classmates. Those pictures were then circulated in her school which followed harassment and humiliation. There was no sign of justice and the bullying continued, until the day she gave up and committed suicide. Her name is a Google search away. So are the unfortunate stories of numerous women who have been victims of cyber violence. This was definitely not their idea of fame.
While the laws against cyber crimes still need upgrade, people continue to carry out such acts fearlessly with utmost ease. The biggest loophole remains the anonymity of the offender and quick destruction of evidence. Most of these cases go unreported due to fear of further embarrassment and lack of awareness about cyber laws. Some of the unfortunate means of carrying out the offence include hacking, impersonation, use of tracking system for stalking, distribution of personal photos/video for defamation and circulation of morphed offensive images online.
So who gets targeted and why? It could be absolutely anyone for reasons logical only to the offender. An ex lover or husband seeking revenge, people upset over expression of feminist views, fake chat room affairs for getting personal information/ photos used for blackmailing and doxing of public figures are the common incidents that occur worldwide. While its possible to be smart enough to not share personal pictures/videos with a stranger online and avoid trouble, its not entirely possible to escape being a victim to such crimes. It is indeed unfair for a public figure or activist to get rape or death threats for expressing her thoughts about equality of women or government laws. Social networking sites built on the idea of freedom of speech are instead being used as platforms for permanent psychological damage for many users. Women aged 18-24 are considered to be at a higher risk of being targets for cyber bullying and threats. At an age when a girl is struggling to build her self esteem, she gets publicly humiliated and ridiculed in her school/college/community, only for ego trips of certain men.
Various organizations globally, have been working on the solutions for cyber crime against women which falls under VAW(Violence Against Women). A UN Women campaign called HeForShe encourages men to work with women towards gender equality and challenge traditional notions of femininity & masculinity. In India, Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling create cyber awareness programs for schools, parents and community members. Real time support for victims is also being provided by a platform called HeartMob. Such initiates are especially required for the victims to be able to talk about the problem considering most of them are too scared or embarrassed to even discuss it with their family. Also, enhanced technological solutions for prevention of such crimes along with policies for strict action at an early stage are necessary measures to ensure cyber safety. Facebook and Twitter, also had to make amendments in their policies after few online harassment cases conducted through their platforms got public attention.
The root for VAW lies in our society’s patriarchal theme. Its evolving yet stagnant nature continues to make some men believe women are best kept indoors/ veiled/ silent. If they feel a certain woman has forgotten her assumed limits, they go to any lengths to bring her down. One may wonder why the armies worldwide are not getting flooded with applications from such brave men? Probably because raping a woman in a dark street or harassing her through an anonymous Twitter account is a lot easier than facing a bullet for your country?
Since most of us do not live in isolation its wise to accept this could happen to anyone, including our loved ones. In cases involving young girls, the most traumatic part for the victims was the teasing and name-calling in their schools and communities. As responsible parents, teaching children the meaning of kindness becomes as important as mathematics and also that love becomes meaningless without respect and equality. Each one of us has the right to voice our opinion and the potential to become a change maker, only if we remember the person at the other end is entitled to the same.
Sonia Samal has an M Tech degree and is based in Gurgaon. She is currently on an internship with the Womaninc.
cover photo: Google