Women are more susceptible to cyber crime as perpetrator’s identity remains anonymous and he may constantly threaten and blackmail the victim by using different identities
Internet has become home to nearly half of the world population. In the modern age, internet offers a wide range of opportunities to the netizens. Connecting with friends, distant relatives, meeting and greeting with likeminded strangers, exploring favorite movies, accessories, and clothing are inevitable in the digital era. It is not surprising anymore to hear the romantic tales of many couples about their first online dates. However, in the process of admiring million benefits of the internet, we often tend to overlook the dark side of our favorite innovation.
Nepali internet users are no exception to this phenomenon. The statistics published by the Metropolitan Police Crime Division suggests the massive increase of Internet crime complaint over the years. In the fiscal year 2017/2018, 1,200 cyber crime complaints were recorded in Police Division alone. Studies report that women are found to be more vulnerable to the internet crimes than men. More specifically teenage girls fall under the trap of online perpetrators.
Just like in physical world, the women are considered as easy target to violence in the internet world. Likewise, the nature of the crime being committed against women internet users is also not new. Traditional crimes—such as harassment, eve teasing, blackmailing, sexual violence—are still prevalent. However, they are evolving in line with the opportunities present online. Such traditional crimes have been taking online forms and have received terminologies such as Cyber bullying, stalking, defamation, Cyber Harassment, Cyber Pornography, Cyber Sextortion, Virtual Rape etc. The severity of these crimes has been increasing.
Women are further susceptible to the danger of cyber crime as the perpetrator’s identity remains anonymous and he may constantly threaten and blackmail the victim with different names and identities. The perpetrators may or may not be known to the victim. Thus, it has become extremely easy for such criminal to escape the law. On the other hand, it is a complex challenge for law enforcers to bring such cyber criminals under the formal justice system.
Few months ago, we witnessed the abusive trolling of Nepali female celebrities in Social Networking Websites. Some of them were attacked for choice of their language, accent, fashion sense, and even for the way they look. The actresses reported such trolling escalated in such a manner that psychologically, socially and personally affected them which in turn impacted their profession as well. Women are victimized in different patterns. The victimization type may differ on the basis of various factors like victim’s ideologies, the regularity of their participation in some chosen groups, personal and professional commitments, her relationship status, her popularity in the groups etc.
These unethical online practices have profound effect on the targeted women. It impedes women’s full participation in online life, discouraging them from writing and earning a living from online platforms. This highly interferes with their professional and personal life. Harassment and trolling cause significant emotional distress. Many women are provoked to harm themselves and in some cases commit suicide. These cybercrimes undermine women’s autonomy, identity, dignity and wellbeing.
According to Jac sm Kee, Feminist activist of Association for Progressive Communications (APC), “Online violence against women is an overt expression of the gender discrimination and inequality that exists offline”. Additionally, the motivation to attack women internet users is also supported by lack of computer knowledge on the part of victim. Today, computer knowledge is not just limited to browsing of the internet, but also includes knowledge about the privacy protection, protection from viruses, spy ware, tracking cookies etc. Statistically, women are less aware of the privacy policies and safety tips of using networking sites. This is because of the differences in approach of both the genders towards this modern technology. Financial as well as social barriers, power relations in the social order and other historical factors also play an important role in determining accessibility of women to virtual communication networks. Research also shows that the gap between legal actions and technological advancements, easy availability of the women’s personal information online, ignorance and negligence of internet users, simple ways to hide one’s real identity in camouflaged profiles, lackadaisical response of social networking websites to online violence are the major factors of growth of online violence against women and girls. Furthermore, lack of laws and policies for the regulation of online behaviors cannot be overlooked.
In Nepal, the first ever cyber law was promulgated in 2006. Electronic Transaction and Digital Signature Act (2006) is a pioneer cyber law of Nepal. This legislation criminalizes certain unethical internet activities. It restricts conducts including publication of illegal material in electronic form and unauthorized access in computer without owner’s consent. These provisions have, to some extent, helped many victimized women to seek legal remedy. The maximum punishment under this law is imprisonment not exceeding five years and fine not exceeding Rs. 200,000. Despite being one and only dedicated cyber law in Nepal, this act has been frequently criticized. The ETA Act uses vague language and does not include all forms of cyber crime comprehensively. This makes it difficult for the judiciary to interpret such laws and provide justice rightfully.
Some amendments in the present law with consideration of the current digitalized Nepali society would be a right move. Incorporating modern forms of crime against women and girls such as morphing, virtual rape, systematic online trolling and bullying in the Act would help to deter and prevent the cyber criminal from committing offenses. A comprehensive law which specifically deals with the online offence is a present day necessity. Moreover, the state should also take responsibility towards conducting and supporting the cyber awareness initiatives in both local and national level.
Cyber crime is emerging as a new challenge for law enforcement agencies. Hence, training programs is required for police officers at different levels. Familiarizing the officers about the sensitive nature of this issue, reporting procedure, digital forensic investigations, basic counseling as well as other capacity building programs are crucial to effectively handle cyber crime cases.
It goes without saying that seriousness on the part of internet users about the cyber security guidelines is the most effective way to prevent such crime from occurring. Women and girls should be encouraged to report the cybercrime cases and seek remedies. The court should also maintain the privacy of the parties in the cyber crime cases like in other sensitive case proceedings. Doing so will encourage people to approach courts.
Women and men should understand that committing cybercrime is a matter of shame, reporting is not.
The author is youth ambassador for Together against Cyber Crime International and a law graduate