What Can Victims Of Revenge Porn In India Do To Punish The Perpetrators?

Namrata* (30) was in the middle of a work meeting in Delhi when her phone buzzed. It was Akash*, a colleague and friend. She disconnected the call, thinking Akash would know she was in a meeting and call back later. But her phone kept buzzing and that was very unlike Akash. So Namrata excused herself to take the call, only to receive the most frightening, confusing bit of information of her life. Akash, some other friends and friends’ friends had received a bunch of pictures in their Facebook inboxes—intimate pictures that Namrata had shared with a man she had recently broken up with. These images were accompanied with variations of a message that basically warned them that Namrata was a woman of dubious morals and that they should be wary of associating with her.

That was just the beginning. Blinded with rage, when Namrata called up the man demanding an explanation, he told her to get back with him, else he would send the same pictures to common email ids of her organisation. It wasn’t difficult to find these email ids—he just had to scan her company’s social media pages.

A friend who knows Namrata remembers having a long deliberation over whether or not to file a complaint with the police and then deciding against it.

By then the harasser’s friends had come to his rescue, requesting Namrata to not take any legal action, apologising on his behalf, promising to have him delete all intimate pictures they shared and whining that he was no criminal—just a regular fellow dealing with a heartbreak badly.

Here’s the thing: the man was not acting on an impulse. He had carefully cropped and blurred himself out of the pictures they had taken together before sending them to multiple people. There’s a word for the crime he was committing: it’s called revenge porn.

In India, incidents of revenge porn may not make media headlines frequently, but in a country where rape videos are put on sale , how safe are people from revenge porn?

You may have come across the word frequently on your social media timelines over the past couple of days after socialite Rob Kardashian released intimate images and videos of his estranged wife Black Chyna on Twitter and Instagram. In India, incidents of revenge porn may not make media headlines frequently, but in a country where rape videos are put on sale, how safe are people from revenge porn? Not at all.

The Times Of India today reported that an Ahmedabad woman’s ex-husband shared intimate pictures they had taken on their honeymoon on Facebook to get back at her for leaving him. Last year, a man was arrested in Andhra Pradesh for posting intimate pictures of his former girlfriend—now married to another man—online and sending a CD to her in-laws. He was released on bail. Regarding the Ahmedabad case, a cyber cell officer told TOI, “If it was not enough the husband, a cloth merchant and resident of Shahibaug, also threw some printouts of the pictures in Noblenagar where her wife is staying with parents after being separated.”

While revenge porn is just another option criminals have to intimidate and exact ‘revenge’ on women who have rebuffed them, the legal framework and societal conditioning is yet to convince more women to act against such crimes. For starters, there is no law in India specifically directed against revenge porn and its victims. The police has to usually fall back upon the Information Technology Act 2000 to file FIRs in these cases.

“Police usually book people under sections 67 and 67A of the IT Act in these cases,” says cyber law expert Pavan Duggal.

“Police usually book people under sections 67 and 67A of the IT Act in these cases,” cyber law expert Pavan Duggal told HuffPost India.

But there’s a catch.

Sections 67 and 67A of the IT Act are against the publishing and circulation of what the act calls ‘obscene’ or ‘lascivious’ content. Section 67 states: “If a person publishes or transmits or causes to be published in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.” Section 67A extends the law to a person “who publishes or transmits images containing a sexual explicit act or conduct”.

The first can land a person in jail for up to five years and/or fine the offender upto ₹ 1 lakh. For the second, the jail term is seven years and the penalty is the same. However, since both these sections aim more towards controlling the spread of pornography, the victim can also be booked under the law.

“Technically, one can argue that if the persons featured in the video or image did not engage in filming those acts, the clip or picture would not have existed. Moreover, if the person had shared it with the perpetrator, that could also be held against him or her,” said Duggal.

So, technically, if you have sent a nude picture or sexually explicit video to someone, you stand the risk of being booked alongside the offender who has shared it without your consent.

So, technically, if you have sent a nude picture or sexually explicit video to someone, you stand the risk of being booked alongside the offender who has shared it without your consent. Because both sections of the IT Act indicate that you are not legally in the clear if you ‘transmit’ any such content—the medium could be a Facebook message, WhatsApp or an email that you shared with your partner.

However, Duggal added, till now in India, the police haven’t booked any victim of revenge porn under these sections. But the fact remains that the decision to book or not book a victim is the discretion of the police officer looking into the case and he may or may not choose to empathise with the victim.

Another section of the Act that is frequently used in these cases is 66E, which is against the publishing of private images of a person without his or her consent.

In 2015, Mumbai-based criminal lawyer Majeed Memon told The Times Of India, that a victim of revenge porn can also resort to filing a case under the Section 500 of the IPC, which deals with defamation. We know how such cases tend to pan out.

Apart from the confusion over whether or not there is a law to address a violation of trust and privacy like this, victims, especially women like Namrata baulk at the thought of lodging a complaint in the first place.

Apart from the confusion over whether or not there is a law to address a violation of trust and privacy, victims, especially women like Namrata, baulk at the thought of lodging a complaint. Their concerns are not completely unfounded. Duggal told HuffPost India that under the IT Act, any police officer of and above the level of an inspector in any police station can file an FIR in such cases. “However, with the advent of cyber crime cells in cities, most people file such complaints in these cells.”

That doesn’t mean there is a guideline in place on how to treat a victim and lodge a complaint.

“One good thing in cases of revenge porn is the victim doesn’t have to be present at the police station to lodge a complaint. Someone else can do it on his/her behalf,” said Duggal. But there is no provision that makes it mandatory that a woman’s complaint is heard and lodged by a female police officer. “You can request to be directed to a female officer and say you’re uncomfortable talking to a male officer if you’re a woman, but there is no official directive on this,” he added.

The primary reason Namrata decided against lodging a complaint is because she had no assurance that a woman officer would be attending to her. That apart, for her to have filed the case, she would have to show the offensive messages that carried her pictures and also leave copies with the police.

“We searched on the internet and asked lawyer friends but found nothing that told me a woman would be handling my case. I just couldn’t get myself to have the courage of showing the evidence to a male officer or go to a thana full of policemen,” Namrata told me. The niggling doubt that such pictures may end up in more wrong hands also wouldn’t leave Namrata, who is unmarried. “Let’s not forget how unmarried women who have sex lives are viewed by a majority in our society. I was plagued by the thought of a bunch of men sniggering and laughing at my plight. Not that a woman wouldn’t do the same if she wanted to, but it is slightly more reassuring to have a woman look at my pictures,” she added.

Duggal said a woman victim can produce the evidence in a sealed package and request that a woman officer have custody of the same — but that’s the most one can do in these cases.

Duggal said a woman victim can produce the evidence in a sealed package and request that a woman officer have custody of the same—but that’s the most one can do in such cases.

Several activists and lawyers like Duggal have been pushing for further amendments to the IT Act. “The government is mulling another amendment. We have been demanding one where the service providers are made accountable in these cases. So, if they are informed about a case of violation, they need to remove the content immediately. Say, within three hours or so. Even that is a fairly wide window for such content to go viral,” Duggal says.

For this to happen, it would also require social media platforms and other websites to be on a standby and have an alert, robust team to exclusively look into and react to such requests without delay. And still, that would not address the issue of such content being emailed or sent via other personal messaging services. A new section or an amendment to 67 and 67A of the IT Act could help in this regard.

World over countries have started considering revenge porn a serious challenge and are mulling laws to battle the menace.

World over countries have started considering revenge porn a serious challenge and are mulling laws to battle the menace. In England and Wales, revenge porn was made illegal in 2015, but the law still needs the prosecution to prove that an image was shared with malicious intent. So, a person sharing a sexually explicit clip featuring people he/she doesn’t know would be hard to booked, this Medium blog explains.

It adds that the US doesn’t have a national law but 34 states have their own laws against revenge porn. However, the blog also indicates that, like in India, most countries have laws against cyberbullying and protection of privacy, which can be applied to these cases, but nothing specifically against revenge porn. However, Japan has laws against the crime “that carry a maximum sentence of 500,000 yen or three years in jail”, it adds.

Most of all, there is a desperate need on part of the police to talk about revenge porn as a crime they will not wait to prosecute. The police in most metropolitan cities have a fairly prolific social media presence. From cracking puns on drug use to sarcastically warning against harassment, they have signalled—at least to internet users—that such crimes will not be spared. Perhaps it is time for them to discuss revenge porn with the same eagerness with which they discuss penalties for other crimes on social media.

*Names changed on request.

Also on HuffPost

How Different Newspapers Covered The Ayush Ministry’s Advice To Pregnant Women

Suggest a correction