C Y B E R S A A T H I

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OFFENCE OF CYBER EXTORTION

An entire racket was recently unearthed in a South Indian city, where boys were recording videos and taking photos of girls and women by and whilst abusing them and then using the same to threaten them for further sexual favours and money. 

Even for protecting the victims’ dignity and privacy against voyeuristic sympathizers sharing such content through WhatsApp, a Public Interest Litigation (“PIL”) had to be filed. Immediate orders were passed by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in S. Ilamuhil v. Union of India, (W.P. (MD) 6283 of 2019) (decided on March 15, 2019)

Cases abound of children and young adults falling prey to such crimes. In some instances the boy would befriend the girl, gain her trust, invite her out and when she meets him at his residence or gets into his car, the boy’s friends join in and they together molest the girl, abuse her (rape / gang rape / disrobe her), take videos and photos and then use the same to threaten the girl.

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In the Shakti Mills case (Ref: Session Case No. 846 of 2013, before the City Civil and Sesssions Court, Greater Mumbai) the rapists allegedly took pictures of their criminal acts and threatened the victim with exposure of the same if she filed a complaint. The brave heart went ahead and filed the Complaint and this helped unearth the horrific details of earlier such assaults in the very same place of offence. This is one case exposed this trend of using online spaces and its reach to blackmail victims and also the fact that if one victim does not report, it merely subjects many others to fall victim to similar or worse criminal offences. It is therefore important to report such crimes.

In such cases Criminals rely on the weakness of the victims; their fear – not only of the Criminals but also of societal stigma; fear of exposure of recordings online or to their family or friends’ circles; and their distrust of systems.

Law has strong remedies against especially child sexual abuse online. It also has now strengthened the various provisions pertaining to rape and gang rape under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Finally, the Supreme Court has set down stringent guidelines for sensitive handling of the contents that will form part of the case in its judgment in Nipun Saxena v Union of India (2018 SCC OnLine SC 2772).

Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) ought to ensure that speedy action is taken on such complaints. Government may consider including offences such as the above under Section 166A IPC as mandatory registration of FIR to ensure definitive action on victim’s complaints. Until such time as law is further buttressed to handle such evolving heinous crimes, the existing provisions, set out hereunder, provide substantial options for remedies to victims.   

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) and the Information Technology Act, 2000 (as amended) (“IT Act”) provide remedies against such offences.

Victims may rely on offences of Rape / Gang Rape (punishable under S.376 to 376E IPC); Assaults or uses Criminal force to disrobe a woman (S.354B IPC); Voyeurism (S.354C IPC) and depending on the facts of the case, other offences may also be invoked. Offences under IT Act can also be applied to such cases including for violation of privacy (S.66E); publishing or transmission of obscene or sexually explicit content online (S.67 / S.67A IT Act). If the offence is against a child then S.67B IT Act and also the provisions of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) may be applied to start Criminal prosecution against such criminals.

Do not hesitate to seek legal remedies. The Supreme Court has taken cognizance of such offences in Suo Motu Criminal Writ Petition No. 3 of 2015 in ‘Re: Prajwala Letter Dated 18.2.2015 Videos of Violence Against Women & Recommendations’ (Suo Motu Criminal Writ Petition No.3 of 2015); ((2018) 17 SCC 79; (2018) 15 SCC 551 & (2018) 15 SCC 583) and is exploring possibilities to block uploading of such content online. Such threats are an aggravated form of offence by Criminals and action should be taken immediately to protect one’s rights and also others from falling victim.

File your complaint online on cybercrime.gov.in (https://cybercrime.gov.in/Webform/crmcondi.aspx); Offences against women and children can also be filed anonymously. You are the victim – you are not at fault. Seek justice and ensure that criminals do not harm you or others. Be A Cyber Saathi!

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