Do you think sexual harassment happens only on the streets? That sitting in the cool confines of your home in front of the computer can armour you against such behaviour? Well, sexual harassment in the online space has been happening since the emergence of social media. Morphed photos, fake profiles on networking sites, abusive messages, rape threats etc have become commonplace for women on the internet. Many victims of such harassment choose not to talk about such issues. But that’s part of the problem. Women need to speak up and stand for themselves.

Lack of discussion around this issue tells us why we need to focus on ensuring that women are safe online.

Messengers and profiles on micro-blogging websites are crucial these days as they help us mark our identity online, but they have left women prone to gendered bullying and trolling in the cyberspace. To discuss this issue of online women’s safety, SheThePeople.TV organised a workshop at Satyawati College of Delhi University. At the Digital Trust Dialogues, we had lawyer and co-founder of Ungender Esha Shekhar, UN legal consultant Risha Syed and AISA chief and Law Faculty student Kawalpreet Kaur as speakers talking from their experiences on how to counter cyber violence.

Important to note domain name

Of her own experiences of cyberbullying, Kaur mentioned how important it is to have the domain name when one abuses the other online.

She was referring to an incident that happened last year, during the Ramjas college fiasco. Kaur had posted a picture of herself online. In the picture, she was standing in front of Jama Masjid, holding a placard that said, “I am a citizen of India and I stand with secular values of our constitution. I will write against communal mob lynching of Muslims in our country.”  Trolls took this picture out of context and morphed their own version of texts on the placard. And when Kaur asked the people who had posted these morphed pictures online, they flatly refused. This is when she approached the website executives to help her out.

She also reported the incidents to the police. This is only one of the incidents of trolling and abuse that Kaur has faced online as a result of raising her voice on national and political issues.

Shekhar and Syed, who spoke from the point of view of authorities and policy makers, talked about cyber laws that cater to sexual harassment, trolling and bullying of women.

Kaur also spoke to the youth about how to go about reporting cases of cyber-harassment.

Different types of harassment

Syed enlightened the crowd on the different ways that sexual harassment in the online space works. “When in the online space, while there are many positives to digitalization, there are a few negatives too. Especially in a more gendered and patriarchal environment, people often save girls’ pictures and morph it on a sex worker’s image or use it in a porn website. Trolling is another form of harassment where one can abuse and threaten to the extent of mental depression,” said Syed.

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This resonates with the recent case of a Std VII student of Pathways School threatening a girl on Instagram that he will rape her and her mother. The incident has grabbed media attention for all the right reasons. It is horrifying how a child of approximately 13-14 years of age can bully a girl and also have the audacity to talk dirty about his teacher.

Few cyber cells

Coming back to the talk, Shekhar elaborated about her work with the police as she holds sensitization programs with them. She said that the police also feel lost many times on how to deal with cybercrimes. “There are very few cyber cells at our disposal and even the police struggle with the technicalities of the crime. Since headquarters of these social media websites are abroad, it takes them at least three months to get assistance on the case.”

Shekhar also noted how important it is to take screenshots of everything that makes a person uncomfortable and unsure. She said screenshots are the first set of evidence that one can provide the police to start a solid investigation.

Shekhar also noted how important it is to take screenshots of everything that makes a person uncomfortable and unsure. She said screenshots are the first set of evidence that one can provide the police to start a solid investigation

Digital Trust Dialogues aims to help young people understand digital risks and equip them with knowledge, solutions and tools for online safety.  This collaborative effort will travel across the country in different colleges.  It is a productive way to educate college-going students on how to behave in the online space so as not to venture into bullying.

We’d like to emphasize through this article that the conversation and dialogue on this panel are of utmost significance for India and for its women.  We deserve to have a conversation and dialogue. We constitute half the population of this country and we deserve every single right equally. Let us be clear that women today need to have agency, capability. We need to be out there talking about how we feel and find solutions to our problems.

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