Female Abuse through Social Networking Sites
Author: Gagana Srinivas, Ramiah College of Law, Bangalore
‘The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious’- Lundy Bancroft. This article intends cover the nitty gritty of female abuse through social media and look into the effects and provisions regarding the same followed by a self-concluded necessitated future action. There is no overstating the fact that female abuse through social networking sites often goes unnoticed or unreported which is a major concern in the present scenario. According to PEN America, online abuse is the, “pervasive or severe targeting of an individual or group online through harmful behaviour”. The reason this article is focusing primarily on one gender is because women are abused online to a greater extent compared to men. Though the ratio of male to female internet users is 60:40, there are more reports of female abuse.
Women and young girls have always been asked to be extra cautious both online and offline with regards to anything they do, be it the simple act of posting a selfie or even uploading a video. And regardless of how cautious they are in every step they take, the abuse or the bullying does not end. 15% of teen girls have been the target of at least 4 different kinds of abusive online behavior compared with 6% of boys.
The female gender is not just restricted to online abuse but every 1 in 4 girls experience abuse apart from the virtual life in the form of stalking or being subjected to sexual remarks in their offices, schools, or public places. According to a report by the United Nations, about 35 percent of the women in the world are victims of some kind of violence. And what is more appalling is that about 60 percent of women across the world have faced some kind of a threat on social media. Women experience a higher rate of sustained sexual harassment, stalking and intimate partner violence. Let us shift our focus towards understanding the whole concept of online abuse and the types that exist.
One of the greatest advantages an abuser gets on the online platform is that his identity remains anonymous until the victim raises a concern, which in most cases does not happen because the women are subjected to restrictions from friends or family or as a matter of fact, her own self-respect would be at stake in the society.
Non-consensual photography or revenge porn
95% of the victims, in this case, are women. Usually, in such cases, the intimate or personal photos of the victim get circulated online without any prior consent. And in most cases, it happens in order to take revenge from the partner they were intimate with.
It involves the hacking of the personal information of the victim and publishing or circulating it online. It could include personal information such as bank details or details about the family or anything personal which could cause great harm to the victim’s personal and public life.
Gender-based slurs and Harassment
Sadly, it is no surprise that women are subjected to several slurs. The words bitch, slut, whore is often used by the perpetrators.
Identity theft and online impersonation
Typically done for economic gain or revenge, the perpetrator wrongfully obtains personal data that involves fraud or deception. I would like to quote a real-life example here: In 2013, the Jury convicted 32- year- old Michael Johnson for creating almost 80 fake accounts through which he is said to have impersonated his ex-wife online. It involved posting rape fantasies, inviting men, sharing prices for sex, and involving her three daughters for the same. And one fine day this resulted in almost 50 men barging into their houses. Eventually, they had to relocate to a different state.
For women, harassment frequently perpetuates harmful stereotypes, sexual objectification, and relies on the threat of violence to be effective. It results in emotional and psychological distress in the form of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, etc. It also includes concerns about physical safety, the safety of immediate family members, about employers and family members finding out about being subjected to harassment. Another major concern is that the perpetrators, stalkers, anonymous harassers all rely on pre-existing violence and societal tolerance towards the same. It also ends up adversely affecting work opportunities for the victim. As there are high chances of her getting a bad review or the society degrading her character which is ironical!
With the pre-existing hostility towards women in the expanding markets, the issue of harassment ends up acting as an additional barrier. Violence on social media leads to extreme mental agony for women. About 20 percent of cybercrime victims are forced to shut down their online accounts for no mistake of theirs. Some of the current provisions included in the legal system of our country are: Section 292 of IPC which includes “obscenity”, section 507 of IPC which allows punishment of the offender if tried to threaten the victim anonymously, section 509 of IPC delves into the intrusion of privacy into a woman’s life via online mode, section 67A of IT Act 2000 is concerned with the “sexually explicit” material sent to a woman online.
It is commendable that there are many laws pertaining to the abuse of a woman, however, the social stigma attached to it is still widespread. We as a society need to set moral standards and be receptive to the victim’s agony rather than finding fault in the individual. More stringent laws, effective working of cybercrime prevention, and security in the social media platforms is the need of the hour. With all that being said at the end of the day, it’s not just the victim but the family and friends who also suffer. And someday we could be the family, friend, or the victim. Let’s stand in solidarity and fight the evil.