Online Sexual Harassment and the Law

This article was submitted by Sakshi Kanodia from Amity Law School, Amity University Haryana for National Legal Writing Competition,2016.

There are two sides of each coin; likewise is the case with an internet. Despite all the benefits it bequeaths, it also has a darker side. In recent times, much attention and awareness have centred on online harassment.

Cyber crimes against women are unremittingly augmenting, due to which women have been considerably persecuted in the cyberspace. A few malefactors try to slander women by transferring obscene e-mails, pestering women via chat rooms, websites etc.; emerging pornographic videos where women are portrayed in compromising positions, which are typically produced without their permission; spoofing e-mails, the morphing of imagery for pornographic substance etc. The sex-offenders appear for the injured parties on social networking websites (SNWs), and as well as on the professional or matrimonial domains, where public post their private information for enhanced panorama. The enlightening and informative personal data has primed women more as casualties of cyber crime. It is apparent that ill-treatment of women is foremost to cyber crime and vice versa. Whilst there are numerous instances where women in western countries are maltreated, there is an elevation of such ill-treatment of women in the eastern areas such as India and these women are somewhat with a lesser amount of authorised security and they are more exclusive than their western parallels.

Section 66A of the IT (Amendment) Act, 2008 prohibits the sending of offensive messages through a communication device (i.e. through an online medium). The types of information these covers are offensive messages of a menacing character, or a message that the sender knows to be false but is sent for the purpose of ‘causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will.’ If someone commits an offence under Section 66A, then he will have to face up to 3 years of imprisonment along with a fine.


In cyberspace, women encounter bulky amounts of the chauvinist nuisance, exploitation, and intolerance on the origin of their femininity, somewhat different than their viewpoints, opinions or ideas. Bloggers, tweeters, reporters and Facebook users with outstanding profiles come face to face with rape intimidation, aggressive pornographic vitriol, sexual harassment, accusations of promiscuity, and a variety of humiliations on an everyday basis – merely because they are women. This is a worldwide crisis by way of awfully diminutive chat or lawful remedy adjacent to it. For women who encounter such mistreatment, the initial regulation towards which they may possibly reasonably resort to is Section 66A of the IT Act.


Section 66A is filled with indistinct, vague expressions, which means that its accomplishment will constantly be a prejudiced issue for those trying the suit. What are all included in the definition of ‘insulting’ or ‘injurious’? Do they include a rape threat or a statement regarding one’s bodily form or does slandering of one’s unrestricted opinions also come under these? Is ‘annoyance’ equivalent to ‘unlawful intimidation’ or ‘enmity’? Under whose scrutiny does the interpretation of these indefinite languages come? Cyber activists next to others who shield the liberty of expressing oneself as a human right find eminence of Section 66A in direct negation of these civil rights, predominantly when the populace enforcing the laws is operational for a State that isn’t too affectionate towards disparagement.

A recent example of such disregard was when two young women were incriminated under Section 66A (together with an additional ruling) for criticising the complete shutdown of Mumbai metropolis subsequent to the passing away of right-wing party Shiv Sena’s leader Bal Thackery. A little while afterwards, an additional Tweeter (who had no more than 16 followers) was detained for claiming that the son of the then Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram was a fraud. He now faces up to three years in jail.

As a result of the law’s flowing temperament and the way in which it has been wielded to guard a State which is already powerful by now and its politicians, even a few of the majority of the harassed women on Twitter declare that they would by no means turn to a decree that is in due course a constraint on their independence of expression on the Internet. In spite of the sexual maltreatment and aggravation they face on a day to day basis, Section 66A does not seem to be the answer. Hence, it has rightly been struck down by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case.


There are numerous sections of the Indian Penal Code, which can be utilised by women who encounter sexual harassment. These sections can even be called into taking part in accusations of online harassment.


Acts of sexual harassment corrupting a female on the source of her sexual category or sexuality and supplementary forms of sexual exploitation faced by women online can come under the scope of this section.


One can also sue a person for defamation, which refers to harming the reputation of a person, which might be through words, signs, or visible representations. It becomes difficult for women to face the so-called ‘modern’ society, in which she lives, after receiving various kinds of negative messages over the social media, as it builds an irrecoverable negative image of hers’.


One of the most prevalent and common provocations and the spur to violence against women over the e-world is in the form of rape threats. Such cases of harassment can be addressed under this section.


The cases of mysterious harasser of rape threats and other threats of violence will fall under this section.


The law prohibits the disclosure of the identities of rape victims. In situations where the images of rape victims including the images and videos of rape are published on the electronic media to make sure the silence of the victims and to intimidate other women, then they can file a case under this section.


According to Foucault (1980), the technology uses power in a sophisticated and classy way. It makes it easier for us to access a full grip of the knowledge of victimisation of women. In unison this power of technology has also influenced the relationships on the ground of gender, even leading to the singling out of women. Online harassment which is now days known from garden-variety names, like name-calling, trolling, doxing, open and escalating threats, vicious sexist, racist, and homophobic rants has become an ordinary part of the online life, and it colours the experiences of many web users. But these aren’t just words on a screen; these threats have frightening and alarming echoes in the real world.

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