The internet is a contradictory place for women. On one hand, it empowers them with a voice and a place to network and grow while on the other, it poses the risk of harassment. Cyber crimes, such as obscenity, sexism and blackmailing on the internet have led to death, suicide, depression and trauma. Across India, nearly 13 per cent of the cases are reported annually against violating or blackmailing a woman.

There has been a staggering increase of 63.7 per cent in cyber crimes in India. While in 2012, cyber crimes reported were 3,477, in 2013, they rose to 5,693 cases.

With more women increasingly taking to social media, cases of online harassment has also grown. And it has all the more increased the need for regulating and formulating a framework to find culprits and punish them.

“Online platforms have provided the modern-day stalkers, rapists and misogynists in society an additional tool to harass women with impunity”- Rifat Jawaid,  Janta Ka Reporter founder

Biggest digital gender gap

Founder of Internet Democracy, Anja Kovacs, believes, “India’s digital gender gap is one of the biggest in the world. And the lack of online safety plays into the arguments of those who think women should not be online: if women cannot be safe, why should they use the Internet?”

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She added, “But in the era of Digital India, not being online also means missing out on a massive number of opportunities. In the digital age, women’s online safety is, in other words, critical to women’s empowerment’.”

Kovacs stresses the need for women’s empowerment in the online arena as much as it is needed offline in the real world.

“As is the case with offline spaces, women are vulnerable to attacks. We have seen that on the internet, their access is controlled and/or restricted, their voices shut down or ridiculed, their reputation smeared by posting private and personal images and they are intimidated by trolls and mansplainers,” – ElsaMaria Dsilva

Digital is the way to go forward. Our government says it, millennials say it and the whole startup ecosystem echoes it too. ElsaMarie Dsilva, founder of Safecity—an online crowdmapping platform to track reports of sexual abuse and harassment—talks to SheThePeople.TV about why online safety is crucial in modern times.

“As internet penetration increases in India and access to online resources and social media becomes more mainstream, there will be very little separation between offline and online spaces. As is the case with offline spaces, women are vulnerable to attacks. We have seen that on the internet their access is controlled and/or restricted, their voices shut down or ridiculed, their reputation smeared by posting private and personal images and they are intimidated by trolls and mansplainers. Therefore, online safety is very important to ensure women and girls have the freedom to speak up and express their opinion without fear of intimidation,” says Dsilva.

Need for law against trolling

The online and the offline world are more similar than diverse in terms of crimes. People’s mindset offline hugely guide how they function online. The patriarchal norms in our society heavily influence the trolling and comments that women receive online. While trolling is not a gendered issue, the kind of trolling men and women both receive is profoundly based on women. For example, abuse and threats to the sisters and mother of those getting trolled and that precisely shows why there is a need for a law against trolling.

In this context, Rifat Jawaid, founder of news platform Janta Ka Reporter rightly says, “The alarming rise in crimes against women and our system’s inability to deliver justice to victims must shake the conscience of every Indian.

“Online platforms have provided the modern-day stalkers, rapists and misogynists in society an additional tool to harass women with impunity. With the system often turning a blind eye, it becomes an important role for media platforms such as ours to wield influence on law enforcing agencies to bring culprits to book.”

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