Without a supportive legal framework and a general lack of awareness, internet devices are in urgent need of regulation.

When leadership coach Aparna Jain decided to file a complaint against a pervert follower who was tweeting abusive messages little did she know it would end up a nuisance for her. The local police station kept her waiting for more than two hours, and it was a day-long ordeal to simply register a complaint.

Jain recounts that the number listed for the cyber-crime branch was false. Local police officials asked her what is twitter, social mediaor facebook.

If you are a user of social media platforms like facebook, twitter, instagram etc., you might have encountered verbal abuse of some kind. And if you are a woman, the abuse steps up to sexuality. Harassment of women in the virtual world is a grey spot and becomes more pronounced in absence of lack of stringent laws and awareness amongst enforcement agencies.

Satish Golcha, joint commissioner at the Economic Offences Wing, that looks after cyber security, says that his force receives close to 3,000 complaints every year. Our immediate step is to stop the harassment — block the website, take down the objectionable content etc,” says Golcha. The various possibilities of online crimes is staggering.”

Apart from Section 66 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 that looks mostly after computerised violences like hacking and identity theft, there is not much assistance that the country’s legal framework provides women who are harassed, abused, intimidated and bullied online.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 provides some respite with section 354 (B) that takes cognizance of online stalking, voyeurism and releasing of private moments in compromising situations online,” says advocate Debarati Halder, who is a cyber victim counsellor and runs an NGO, Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling, in Tirunelveli. Our laws are inadequate to handle cases like these,” she says, adding she also gets a lot of complaints from rural areas.

Last week, Halder was part of a consultation held by the National Commission of Women to explore the ways and means to safeguard women from cyber violence. The panelists included academicians, IT experts, legal experts, law enforcement agents, activists, and representatives from social media sites. The Commission has been receiving complaints from women pertaining to vulgar/​obscene messages, hacking of the Facebook account, uploading pornographic videos, morphing pictures etc. The Commission, therefore, felt the need to organise a national consultation with the stakeholders to discuss ways and means to safeguard women from cyber crimes in India,” read a NCW release. Some of the suggestions put forward included senitisising the police, awareness programmes at the grassroots level, proper implementation of the IT Act, and guidelines to pull down offensive material.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 1,203 complaints received under obscene publication/​transmission in electronic form’ section in cyber crimes in 2013. Of these there were, 737 were arrested. In 2012, there were 589 such cases, and of which, 497 arrests.

Awareness is more important than reconstructing the legal framework, says Anja Kovacs of the Internet Democracy Project. According to a qualitative study conducted by the IDP in 2012 on the violence women face online, online similar is similar to harassment on the streets. These women used the same metaphors to describe their ordeal,” says Kovacs. The study also found that most of these victims were sure that they would not approach their families for help, and instead depended on their online friends for support. During one of our seminars, a woman told me something very encouraging: Unlike street harassment, the perpetrator and you have the same weapon — a keyboard, and it is just a mind game,” said Kovacs.

Jain says her twitter followers asked her to drop charges and keep quiet, and the police said theat there was little that they could do to help. But why should I shut up, or stop using twitter?,” asks Jain.

Despite her ordeal, Jain stamps a final word: I want the cops to establish procedures to help women find their abusers, because I can’t find him myself. There are no two ways about it.”

Originally published in DNA.