Duping women in the name of matured friendship: The Pollachi sextortion case

CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER

Couple of days back I received a friends request on FaceBook from a male profile whom I do not know either personally or through any of my networks. But the profile was apparently very impressing : the man was an alumni of Oxford University , works in Mercedes Benz company and he is better looking than the average. From  my experience as a cybercrime victim counsellor , lawyer and a cyber right activist for more than a decade now  I could understand that this may be one of many fake profiles that are created to allure women (and not necessarily  young girls) to trap them and victimize them through online and offline crimes including sexual crimes. It is an obvious phenomena now that women, especially educated women are using social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc for expanding their network  for various purposes including Job searching, getting connected with like-minded people, expanding their research network , volunteering for social causes etc.  
In the recently held #Webwonderwomen award ceremony in Delhi, the Ministry of Women and Child affairs awarded 30 women including myself the #Webwonderwomen award for positively using social media (especially Twitter), spreading awareness about the social causes they are working on and their real life support for women empowerment all across India. It was a joint initiative of Ministry of Women and Child affairs, Twitter and Breakthrough India. My fellow awardees work in different fields of public health, women’s health, right to breast feeding, women empowerment, journalism especially for the causes of women, proper nutrition for women, education for women and girls especially in socio-economically backward sectors of the society, empowering women of all age group from socio-economically backward sectors  about their rights against domestic violence, sexual reproduction rights etc.  All of them could actually make their journey stronger because of positive use of social media. I too have been using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc  to get connected with  people who have become my knowledge partners, mentors and friends in the field of law and policy especially for Cyber Victimology, Cyber law for women, Cyber Criminology, Revenge Porn, Non consensual porn,  Women’s Rights, Child Rights, Criminal law, Penology, Therapeutic Jurisprudence  etc.  It would not have been possible for me reach to the world about my work including my pro bono work without social media and the friends that I have made. I consider myself privileged to have 24 hours  access to internet  and a platform where I can share my opinion bravely, gather information without any fear and build a reputation.  Some of my fellow awardees  could win this award staying in remote places because they are well connected with the world through internet and social media.  Internet as such has given a platform to earn money in a positive way too. Consider thousands of women who make daily/weekly/monthly  Vlogs and upload it on Youtube . They have their recognition as “Youtuber” and YouTube duly recognizes their “popularity” (marketability) by awarding and rewarding them.
But still then, internet is not safe for women.  The Pollachi case proved it again.  Pollachi is the second largest town in Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu.  This place is famous for its world famous jaggery  market and beautiful lush green agricultural fields. One would actually not imagine that this can be a center for news on cyber crimes against women, but it has now surfaced because of a brave young woman who had lodged a complaint against  the  smart gang of men who had been “enjoying” sex by way of connecting with women through fake profiles (mostly of women), grooming them to enter into chats and sharing more details, turning the chats into typical sex chats and then alluring them to come and meet in person. In my book Cyber crimes against women in India (coauthored with  prof(Dr) Jaishankar, Halder D., & Jaishankar K. (November 2016). Cyber Crime against Women in India. New Delhi: SAGE. ISBN: 978-93-859857-7-5.) I had discussed about such kinds of grooming and consequent victimization of women and this can be shown through the flow chart as below:
Image created by Dr.Debarati Halder 
 This brave woman was sexually harassed , molested and assaulted when she went to meet the so called ‘friends’, who had been doing this to many women, recording their sexual assault in their phones and threatening them to leak the clippings if they dare to refuse their demands or to go to the police. The police has now arrested all the four members of the gang applying provisions including Ss. 354A, B of the Indian Penal Code , S.66E of the Information technology Act and S.4 of the  Tamil Nadu Prohibition of harassment of women’s Act. [1]. Let us see what do these provisions say and whether  these Sections may play a pivotal role in delivering justice to women victims such as this brave heart:
S. 354A of the IPC says
(1) “A man committing any of the following acts—
(i)  physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures;
(ii) or a demand or request for sexual favours;
(iii)or showing pornography against the will of a woman;
(iv) or making sexually coloured remarks, shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment.
(2) Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (i) or clause (ii) or clause (iii) of sub-section (1) shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (iv) of sub-section (1) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
S.354 B of the Indian Penal Code states that
“Any man who assaults or uses criminal force to any woman or abets such act with the intention of disrobing or compelling her to be naked, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.”.
S.66E of the Information technology Act 2000 (amended in 2008) states as follows:
 Punishment for violation of privacy. -Whoever, intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with both. Explanation. -For the purposes of this section-
(a) “transmit” means to electronically send a visual image with the intent that it be viewed by a person or persons;
(b) “capture”, with respect to an image, means to videotape, photograph, film or record by any means;
(c) “private area” means the naked or undergarment clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast;
(d) “publishes” means reproduction in the printed or electronic form and making it available for public; e) “under circumstances violating privacy” means circumstances in which a person can have a reasonable expectation that;-
(i) he or she could disrobe in privacy, without being concerned that an image of his private area was being captured; or
(ii) any part of his or her private area would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place.
Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment Act states as follows:
Penalty for harassment of woman: Whoever commits or participates in or abets harassment of woman in or within the precincts of any educational institution, temple or other place of worship, bus stop, road, railway station, cinema theatre, park, beach, place of festival, public service vehicle or vessel or any other place shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees.”
Noticeably, this provision may have been used for punishing the accused for committing the crime in the “specific place”; for secluding the victim from her  ‘comfort zone’ where she could have raised an alarm for help and committing the crime in a place which may be a public place or a moving vehicle from where the victim may not escape easily. 
The other news report suggested that the District Collector had ordered for detention of the accused under Goondas Act (officially known as Tamil Nadu Prevention of  Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug offenders, Goondas, Immoral traffic offenders, Sand offenders, Slum grabbers, and Video pirates Act, 1985) .[2]In my earlier blog I had explained how Goondas Act can be relevant in cyber offences by stating that this law can be very relevant especially where crimes including committing or attempting to commit extortion of money , threatening for the same, cheating, etc are involved.[3]
However, I have not seen any news report indicating that S.67A of the Information Technology Act (amended in 2008) was used for booking of the offences or not. This Section speaks about   Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form and says “Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form any material which contains sexually explicit act or conduct shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees”. It does not necessarily speak about creating such content by clicking the images and this has to be inferred from the provision itself. However, this lacuna has been partly covered by S.66E of the Information technology Act which speaks about violating the privacy of any individual.

Clearly, this is not a case of revenge porn, but a case of non consensual porn especially when the accused persons would have stored the clipping of sexual assault of the woman concerned with an intention of visual sexual gratification through the clipping/s and also to use it for future threatening or creating/producing sexually explicit contents on internet . But unfortunately the laws are still handicapped in this regard when it comes to grooming and sextortion. There is no law which may holistically cover the whole issue of grooming women for sexual gratification , which is narrowly addressed in the POCSO Act. Here lies the major lacuna which may have motivated many for victim blaming. 
Women like Pollachi brave heart would not have created “virtual friendship” with another unknown man or woman unless the perpetrator would have customized the fake profile to gain trust. This could have been done by thorough data mining about the victim/s.  apparently the victims of this gang were adult women including doctors, teachers etc. Such perpetrators look for their prey from social media profiles who may have not taken full precautions to protect their albums, posts, friend lists and above all the email ids and/or the  phone numbers  which  are used for accessing social media through phones. This ignorance may invite major risks as this particular case. However, social media site is also to be blamed for not monitoring the creation of fake profiles which they would not necessarily scan unless someone reports the profile as fake.
This case should have a happy ending and this can be possible only when this particular  victim and other victims of this gang cooperate with the prosecution till the end and the police uses its legal power to extract all evidences from the social media website. We as civil society members are also responsible to make a happy ending of this case : please do not circulate the images of the victim/s if in case you are conveyed the images from any number, profile etc. Such circulation would also attract penal provisions against the person who may not be directly involved in the case, but may circulate it thinking that it is “fun” to circulate such images, or he/she is doing the same to make the society aware that such crimes have happened. We all should respect the privacy of the victims and at the same time praise the victims for breaking social taboo  and reporting the matter to the police.
Stop cybercrimes against women. Start positive usage of social media .
Please note : Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use information provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2019),Duping women in the name of matured friendship: The Pollachi sextortion case  ” 12th March, 2019 , published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com

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