Friday, August 22, 2014

When reporting is not welcome

Last month I attended the National Commission for Women of India’s consultation meet on cybercrime against women as an expert. I not only got to meet other luminaries on law, cyber security and gender studies from all over India, I took this golden opportunity to learn more about some practical issues from the experts in the field. Almost all of us in the consultation meet unanimously agreed that majority of online crimes against women go unnoticed because women don’t report the crime. Why online crimes? There are thousands of cases of offline gender harassment, wife abuse, elder abuse and child abuse are going around in all of our neighbourhoods, but how many of us really know about it? How many of the victims actually feel that the cases are worth reporting? How many families encourage the victim to report the matter to the police? The recently released NCRB report would tell the sorry state of affairs in this regard. This is for the first time that the NCRB report has included statistics about cyber crime targeting women in India. A glance to it would show that neither the new laws (as has been brought by the Criminal law amendment Act, 2013) were used properly for booking the crimes, nor there were much numbers of cases registered with the police. If one sees ongoing studies on gender harassment, it may be noted that in many places in India the victims have complained about non cooperation by the police when it comes to registering the crime. I agree with some of such findings. In many cases of wife abuse, sexual assault on women to even eve teasing in public places etc., may not receive proper police attention for various reasons. There are instances where driven by frustration, many women had either committed suicide, or had killed their children along with them, or had turned into chronic psycho-patients. In the cases of cyber crimes, my understanding says the reason for police apathy largely stems out from the lack of knowledge about the nature of the crime. I have discussed about this in many of my scholarly works.  However, I can not but put the equal share of blame on the victims as well. I have seen many young women victims of cyber crime, who were eager to report the matter to the police. Nonetheless, there are officers in the police department who are equally eager to help in such cases. I personally know some of such officers who take special interest in helping victims of cyber crime cases and who take special initiatives to encourage people to report cases of victimisation.  But they turn helpless when the victims suddenly decide to turn back. It needs to be noted that now in every district in all States in India, the police head quarters must compulsorily have cyber crime cell. This means that even if the local police stations officers are unequipped to register cases of cyber crime, a victim can directly go to the district police headquarters for seeking help. True, due to absence of mutual legal assistance treaties in cyber crime cases, some cases involving foreign jurisdictions may not be solved by the police. But still then, a case must be registered. Also, if the harasser is known to the victim, stays in the same locality and takes up digital ways to harass the victim, the police may solve the cases within record time only if the victim cooperates with the police. I have my personal experience in such cases and I highly appreciate such police officers who take personal interest in such kinds of cases even if the victim decides to withdraw in the mid-way. But unfortunately in many cases no FIR may be lodged due to the pressure from the victim’s own family.  As one officer expressed his concern, if no case is registered, yet the victim seeks help of the police, the police can still work on the case on the mutual understanding between the complainant and the officer, but to a certain limit. No procedural action can be taken to safeguard the victim or even taking the harasser to the next levels of investigation or even prosecution. This is because there are umpteen numbers of cases where victims had turned hostile during the prosecution and the policing of the case was questioned by the courts for no fault of the police personnel. Victims and their families must understand that they play an equal role or even greater role in executing the laws. Other wise, the laws would remain just ‘name sake laws’. One of the greatest examples is probably S.354D of the Indian Penal Code which addresses stalking as well as cyber stalking. While cases of offline stalking are being booked under this provision, online stalking is still not ‘understood’ properly either by the police or by the general public due to almost nil number of reported cases.
Women, please understand that unless we report the crimes, no one would come over to help. The cycle of harassment would continue to increase. Last but not the least; we will continue to have a police organisation who will be unaware of the present trends of online crimes and how to deal with such crimes since the victims would never make the police aware of the new trends of crimes.
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