Women safety on the internet has been an issue for the longest time since online as a medium of communication flourished recently in India. From stalking to sexual assault online, the issues are grave and the number of cases occurring is proof of the immediate need for safeguard. The Safer Internet Day 2022 is particularly important to acknowledge considering the crimes we witnessed in the past few years of staying at home during the pandemic due to COVID-19.
The Safer Internet Day is celebrated every year on February 8. It is supposed to promote the safer and responsible use of the Internet as a medium and technology by young people across the globe. It first started in 2004 under the safer internet action plan, which was an initiative taken by the SafeBorders project, funded by the European Union. It was taken up by Insafe, which is the network of Safer Internet Centres. It is now celebrated by more than 200 countries.
The awareness about internet safety is important to because it is an issue that most countries across the world are grappling with, particularly India. The usage of the internet was a huge part of our life and it gave us a plethora of knowledge that otherwise was only accessible through physical efforts like surfing dictionaries, books and visiting places. It brought information to our fingers tip. But as the usage went up and social media, communications, chatting and other usages of the Internet surfaced and popularised, the need for safety also beeped like an alarm.
Suggested Reading: Clubhouse Chat Targets Muslim Women, How Safe Are Women Online?
Crimes on the Internet has been cited as cybercrime. These crimes are not considered in isolation and void, it is most often connected with the already existing social ideas that transition into easier targets online. For example, stalking of women is a real-time issue in India, the same started occurring online with lesser fear and more boldness.
With the coronavirus induced pandemic hitting us in 2020, the world went to a standstill physically and came alive on the Internet. This boom in usage has also been reflected in the rise in cybercrime and its reporting online. According to the National Crime Record Bureau data for the year 2017, the total number of cyber crimes against women was 4,242. It has more than doubled in NCRB's 2020 record, which shows a total of 10,405.
Under NCRB, there are six sections under which cyber crimes against women are registered. This includes Cyber Blackmailing/Threatening, Cyber Pornography/ Hosting/ Publishing Obscene Sexual Materials, Cyber Stalking/ Cyber Bullying of Women, Defamation/Morphing, Fake Profile and Other Crimes Against Women.
In 2020, Other crimes against women accounted for a total of 7, 184 and cyber pornography at 1655. These are data collected from 28 States and eight Union Territories. These are also reported cases. Many of the cybercrime cases of women being sent penis pictures or expletives or abusive comments on posts often go unreported here.
Most social media sites have features to report such offensive accounts or block them. Recently Instagram started offering an option of blocking the person who might make other accounts harass someone online. However, the harassment continues.
Recently, there was news of a woman alleging sexual assault by a group of men on metaverse, which is supposed to give people 'real-time experience' of the virtual world. After the complaint got the attention of the people, the company choose to include the physical distance between characters in the metaverse. Many women have also alleged that they got sexist comments, expletives, racial comments and were harassed on the metaverse.
In India too a case of online trolling abuse of Muslim women took place by right-wing forces, who call themselves Trads. Applications titled Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals were created on GitHub platform. The apps auctioned Muslim women and showed their morphed pictures. In the third instance, the Clubhouse case surfaced where a group of people in an audio chatroom on the application name Clubhouse were allegedly discussing and using vulgar, demeaning language against Muslim women. In these cases, the Cyber Crime Police unit was involved and arrests of a few people were made.
Such cases make one consider who important it is to understand the nature of crimes against women and minorities online. These are not just singular events but a larger network of propaganda machinery and misogyny. Considering it all, it is important that one addresses what can be done to stop and reduce these cyber crimes against women.
The first important addition to sites by organisations can be using bots to detect and delete any sexually abusing and hateful comments. Over that, the reporting of such events should be made hassle-free for the survivor, which can lead to an increase in reporting of these crimes. People should be made aware of the community rules and strictly made to abide by them.
Women can take screenshots of these abuses and makes them public and that way they can have witnesses. Thus making the abuser take a step back. The trouble of any kind should be reported and dedicated helpline numbers dealing with such cases should be made available.
Like we have self-defence training for women to fight against abusers, women online should also get trained on how to be less vulnerable and more confident. But if there is a need for women to be alert at all moments in connection with these cases, then there is a problem. The problem needs to be addressed with seriousness and not just seen as empty words of threats.
Views expressed by the author are their own.