IMPACT OF CYBERSPACE ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS: AN ANALYSIS                                                                      

Author: Ankita Malik,
 a 3rd Year student, 
Christ (Deemed to be University).


The cyberspace, over a period has taken the form of a live, pulsating being that is constantly expanding its sphere of information, communication and connectivity. This nature of the internet is a vague territory which has proven to be a boon, but also a bane when not regulated, thereby, giving birth to an easy arena for criminals to thrive. It has been seen that the main victims of these crimes are women and children as they are easy targets. Women and young girls are lured into the traps laid on social networking sites where criminals build a wall of privacy making it impossible to discern who is sitting on the other side of the screen. This makes the usage of social networking sites that lack appropriate screening mechanism of its users, unsafe. Moreover, the internet can prove to be a gender biased forum where women are the ones at the receiving end and ‘trolls’ use tools such as threats, hate language, denial of service attacks, distributed denial of service attack, email spoofing etc. to humiliate them. With the emergence of the ‘Dark Web’, there has been a drastic increase in crimes such as cyber rape, cyber stalking, human trafficking, revenge porn, pedophilia etc. This paper aims to analyze the condition of women and their rights on the net space and also tries to suggest solutions to combat these safety concerns to spread awareness and to protect the rights of women on the cyberspace, thereby, empowering them to achieve equality in its purest essence.


The history of the internet dates back to the 1960s when the military of the United States of America developed the ARPANET after which we saw the sudden emergence of certain other parallels like the Joint Academic Network (JANET), the NSFNET etc. which were later combined together to formulate a ‘network of networks’ presently known as the internet[1]. The Internet has given birth to a whole new virtual world, which can still be considered at its nascent stage as no one has been able to map the unexplored fluid boundaries of the cyberspace. The new world being labeled as the ‘age of information’ has resulted in changed perspectives about it due to the sudden surge in information and communication. It has been proved that the Internet has played an important role in increasing the quality of life, however, it has not entered the arena without its own drawbacks and loopholes. The major share of sufferers of these drawbacks are women, considering the deep-rooted patriarchy that prevails in countries all over the world, this new domain too, has shown major elements of misogyny, chauvinism and sexism.

Women throughout history have been subjected to crimes such as stalking, harassment, rape, murder, trafficking, defamation etc. The cyberspace has its own versions of these crimes meant to torment women like cyber stalking, cyber harassment, cyber rape and many other such acts which have led to real life offenses against women. An example of this would be a consultation held by the Society for Promotion of Alternate Computing and Employment (SPACE) on “Misuse of Communication Technology and Its Linkages with Violence against Women”, where it was found that women in India were harassed onl
ine to an extent that it had forced them to commit 


Many of these crimes arise from feelings of revenge, failed relationships, psychological delusions, the need to attain satisfaction, sado-masochistic tendencies etc. which pushes people to take the easy path of the internet to carry out the commission of these offences. Computers are relatively cheaper and safer option for perpetrators to carry out their crime, than in the physical world where there is a higher risk of being caught.[3] This leads to another aspect which has a lot of controversy in this domain i.e. issue of privacy. Although it is mainly seen as a positive element in the net space, the anonymity or the wall of privacy that a criminal builds around himself makes it impossible to ascertain the identity of the person sitting on the other side of the screen.[4] Moreover, it becomes more and more difficult for authorities to nab criminals as they can have multiple identities on the Internet in the absence of effective means and technology to catch them. In the case of United States v Bowker[5], the defendant had been constantly sending emails to the complainant from various Email IDs, which proved to be a great difficulty in identifying him. Anonymous re-mailers send emails repeatedly, keeping their identity anonymous by using crypto currencies, which protects the identity of these criminals, and the technique of Computer penetration and looping allows these criminals to act using the original owner’s identity.[6]

Multiple identities also allow stalkers, or in the virtual world “cyber stalkers’, to appropriate information regarding the victims. Stalking has been defined as “the repeated use of the internet, email or related digital electronic communication devices to annoy, alarm or threaten any specific individual’.[7] These stalkers constantly email victims, follow them on social networking sites, obtain their phone numbers and addresses from these particular sites and thereby the threat of harm is transferred into the real world. One such case mentioned was the gruesome murder of Hollywood actress, Rebecca Shaffer, implying that the act of stalking had been going on for a long time, but the net space had made it easier to track down victims.[8] Moreover, universities have made high speed internet accessible on campus as the need for the same has been increasing. The students are very vulnerable to cyber stalking as the communities they live in are closed along with the fact that the idea of stalking is indirectly seen as a means of romance where in, the typical scenario includes a woman constantly refusing proposals of a persistent man. Many universities have tried to tackle this problem like creating NETthics offices (University of Maryland), a section for Frequently Asked Questions about cyber stalking and email abuse (University of California), however, many times students might not even be aware of the fact that they are being cyber stalked due to the unawareness about the particular term and offence.[9]

Cyber sexism or cyber sexual harassment is the way of using sexually explicit language or practices towards another person via internet. It can be in the form of threatening mails, defamatory statements against a person on websites, threat of doing bodily harm or abusive communication via emails etc. An offshoot of Cyber Sexism is Gender trolling. It doesn’t just tell us about what people think comes under the ambit of humor, but also expresses people’s underlying beliefs, which reflect aspects of racism, sexism, homophobia etc. The main victims of these gend
er-based insults are women; ‘trolls’ use tools such as threats and hate language in order to humiliate them
[10]. The focus now, should be on protecting women; especially women who speak out against harassment by gender trolls.

Recently there has been an upsurge in the advertisement of date rape drugs on the Internet. This is a cheap and fast means of advertising, which has the power to reach thousands of people within a period of hours.. The internet does not have a lot of filters as to who buys what and what the purpose of the drug would be, thus, people have started purchasing drugs like Rohyphnol, gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) etc. which can prove to be disastrous if not regulated promptly.[11]


The major problem as highlighted in the beginning of the paper is that even though the Internet has transcended boundaries, the laws governing it haven’t. There is still a gap that needs to be bridged. In the case of Avnish Bajaj v. State[12], an e-commerce site was used for publishing pornographic and obscene material on the website. Even though the website had filters, the perpetrator of the crime was able to find the loopholes and ensure that the video clip was disseminated in exchange for money. By the time the video clip was removed from the site, 8 people living across India had already purchased it. This case was an appropriate example of how the legislation in India is incompetent at dealing with the case of this kind.

During the proceedings of United States v. Thomas[13], the defendants mainly contended based on Stanley v. Georgia[14], stating that they were merely keeping the images in the privacy of their home and the principle of applying community standards was flawed, as the venue was improper. However, the court held that it had been proved that the defendants ran a business, which advertised and promised to its members availability of sexually explicit GIF files and it wasn’t merely in the privacy of their homes. Thus, this case can be used to fill the chasm, which has slowly deepened due to the ambiguous laws of the Internet.

Security in the cyberspace is one of the prime most issues of concern that needs to be addressed. The publication of information, leaks relating to private information and the anonymity surrounding certain social networking sites are areas that are often debated upon in the legal field with respect to the constitutional, commercial, contractual and criminal aspects. Information can also be limited by assigning username and passwords to the same, whereby it is called as a “closed web”.[15] The U.S. Congress had introduced more than 50 Bills pertaining to the Internet and e- commerce in the early 1990, where issues regarding security of transaction, privacy, protection of any child against an easy access to inappropriate content, etc., were discussed.[16]

“Cyber security” currently lacks a proper definition due to its usage in different contexts like in matters relating to security of national infrastructure, security of application and services, the user’s security as well as the stability of the state and of political structures [17], which includes a wide range of topics in various sector.In a report on the Internet and Freedom of expression by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank La Rue, it was stated that there is a need to bring forwards and develop appropriate responses to the contents posted on the web space, such that it falls within the ambit of the right to freedom of expression.[18] By introducing the human rights law framework to the cyber space, we ensure that the interests and safety of the citizens are the core focus of the cyber security policy.

There is a clear violation of two major fundamental rights; right to privacy, or the right to keep one’s data away from ending up in the hands of the third party and the right to freedom of expression. The former refers to sufficient safeguard that must be provided towards protecting the private data of an individual from being accessed by governments, in the name of security policies, companies and other users as well. The latter right prevents someone from seeking and receiving any form of expression which is violative or infringes upon the other person’s freedom to exercise the same right. Women are subjected to such infringement of rights daily. India ranks third after the USA and China as a source of “malicious activity” on the internet.[19] According to the National Crime Bureau report, “the cybercrimes against women in India rose 19 times over the last 10 years, from 481 in 2005 to 9,622 in 2014. Arrests involving cybercrimes against women, also rose nine times from 569 in 2005 to 5,752 in 2014, as more and more people got access to the internet.”[20]


It is seen that most of the regulations and discussions happen regarding the safety and privacy of the surface or the visible web and not the “Dark Web”.[21] Hidden from the main stream web lies another world that is known as the “Dark Web”. The Dark Web is a thriving platform for illegal activities such as illegal trading, human trafficking, identity theft and other crimes which are on a constant rise. The Dark Web is a critical part of a technology called ‘The Onion Router’ or ‘Tor’, which was created in the 1990s by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory as an operative for exchanging information anonymously. Accordingly, the messages would be introduced into the public domain with other messages and data, thus, making it hard for criminals to decipher and filter out confidential messages. The anonymity in turn resulted in the attraction of a huge range of people, who wanted to keep their identity hidden.[22]  Onion routing is an anonymous method of communication through computer networks where in the messages are sent through several network nodes called onion routers, upon encryption. The process is like one peeling an onion, whereby they obtain routing instructions as they encrypt the messages and then pass this message onto the next router. This makes the origion of the intermediary node’s origin, the destination of the message, as well as its contents, hard to be discovered.[23]

The Dark Web, as bad as it seems, has some benefits as it is a very useful tool for some groups like whistle-blowers, who report news that are often suppressed by various companies like the struggle of human rights workers against repressive governments[24]. However, the positive aspects of this are masked heavily by the disadvantages that prevail from the usage of this web. The ‘Silk Road’ was the Dark Web’s equivalent to E-bay where one can buy drugs, fake passports, pirated content, weapons and pay using elusive crypto currencies. Despite having been shut down by the FBI in 2013, Silk Road 2.0 took less than a month to emerge back like the mythical Hydra.[25] 


Crimes in India are recognized when the act is proven to be violative of any section mentioned under the IPC or the Special and Local Laws. The laws that provide remedies against cybercrimes are limited as there are not enough substantive legislations regarding cyber security, especially those with regards to women safety in the cyber space. The Indian Penal Code (IPC)[26], Information Technology Act (ITA)[27] and the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act[28] are a few legislations that address the issue of safety of women in the cyber space in a few of the sections.

India Penal Code

No section of the IPC specifically deals with cybercrimes against women, but there are several sections under which, a person performing acts of defamation, blackmail, stalking or any obscenity, can be convicted. Section 345 D of the IPC provides for the punishment against the offense of stalking, which includes cyber stalking. In one of the first cases of cyber stalking[29], the convicted felon, who was charged with allegations of cyber stalking, had sections 509 (words, gestures or acts intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and section 66E of the Information Technology Act, 2008 (punishment for the violation of privacy) charged against him. The main reason for this was the absence of the section 345 D which was enacted only in 2013, whereas the case occurred in 2009. Section 292 A of the IPC punishes those who print or publish matter that with the intentions of blackmailing. Section 509 punishes those who utter or behave in a manner that is insulting towards the modesty of a woman.
The applicability of these sections of the IPC is possible with wide interpretations of the mentioned sections.

Information Technology Act

The Information Technology Act deals in specific with certain cybercrimes unlike the IPC. The 2000 amendment introduced more sections that addressed the cybercrimes. Section 66A, 66E, 67 and 67 A of the act specifically deals with cybercrimes like child pornography and harassment against women. The section 67 and 67A deals with the punishments for publishing or transmitting of material that are sexually explicit in electronic form. Section 66 deals with hacking and section 72 with the breach of confidentiality. India’s IT Act, 2000 deals with the economic and commercial crimes that many of the cyber space users face. One of the first cases where cybercrime was first reported was in State of Tamil Nadu v Suhas Katti[30]. The defendant in this case posted defamatory and sexually explicit, obscene messages about the victim, who was a divorced woman, on the yahoo message group, advertising that she was soliciting for sex. He was later convicted under section 67 of Information Technology Act of India, whereby he was punished with rigorous imprisonment for 2 years and was made to pay fine.

Indecent representation of women (prohibition) Act, 1986

It was introduced to prohibit the indecent representation of women in publications of written, painted or figurine forms. This also has a wider ambit by which it includes the photographs, film and slides that are accessed via computer. However, this is a Specific and Local law, which encourages the state to take up initiatives to prohibit the representation of a women’s body in an indecent way.The table denoted below provides for the statistics collected by the national crime survey, which depicts the number of cybercrimes reported by people in the years 2014 through 2016. We can infer from the table that the cybercrime rates are gradually increasing. The major problem lies in the fact that due to the absence of a proper legislation, most of these crimes go unaccounted for.

TABLE 1-[31]

Total Crime Incidences
Cyber Crime Incidences (including IPC,SLL and IT Act )
Crimes Under IT Act,2000
Percentage of Cyber Crimes

International Legislations

In the international domain, the International Convention for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [32]has included several articles expressing the right to freedom of expression and speech and the restrictions imposed on the same. Article 19 and 17 of the ICCPR lays down the right to freedom to express and the freedom from interference with the reputation and privacy of an individual’s personal life. Article 19(2) of the ICCPR states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”  The restrictions for the same is laid down in article 19(3) in the which it explicitly mentions that the freedom of such an expression is subject to the restrictions on the grounds of decency and the need to protect the reputation and privacy of the party involved in the same. It states that the right can be exercised if it doesn’t interfere with the other’s right. The Human Rights Commission stated in its General Comment 34 that imposing restrictions on the exercise of this right does not jeopardize the right if “the relation between right and restriction and between norm and exception must not be reversed.”[33] Thus, the interpretations of the articles provided under the ICCPR can be extended to the Cyber space, which provides a concrete base for cyber security laws to be developed by nation states that are signatories to the same.


Over the period of years cybercrime has resulted in the compromise of security, mental peace; in extreme cases it has been the cause of deaths and suicides. The first reflex of any user of the net space upon encountering any threat is to cordon off the system and erect barricades all around it. However, the principle of natural surveillance states that to make an area safer it has to be opened to the people so that surveillance does not remain as an imposed duty on certain authorities only. Online natural surveillance involves a shift in the perspective of the professionals and the program users where they don’t scan for criminal activity, rather, they examine the entire code present i.e. they inspect the whole architecture of the program to change the code back to the previous one to undo any damage and this is possible due to its adaptability and openness.[34]

The initial years of the growth of the Internet indicated that it was meant to be a decentralized forum with small self-sustaining communities, which would govern themselves. However, the centralization occurring recently can prove to be a risk for connectivity. All the more, we also need to take into account how efficient and easy to access the methods of protection are. The protection should be initiated right from the core of the Internet rather than asking individual victims to protect themselves, employing methods like the ones used by Harvard Law School and Hotmail.[35] One suggested way to protect these people from cybercrimes would be to use constant ‘dataveillance’ in order to map a person’s interest, hobbies, fetishes and fantasies etc. that can help nab criminals.[36] However this can also result in exclusion of certain people from the mainstream based on suspicions arising from their data trails. A general international framework considering the conditions of economically strong as well as weak countries can prove to be helpful. This will provide guidelines just as international legislations work and ensure that various communities can ensure self-sufficiency based on them. A global governmental collaboration can help curb the improper use of the cyberspace thereby, increasing accountability and transparency.



[2] Anita Gurumurthy & Niveditha Menon, Violence against Women via Cyberspace, 44. ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY19, 19 (2009).

[3] Neal Kumar Katyal, Criminal Law in Cyberspace, 149. UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA L.R. 1003,1042(2001).

[4] Yaman Akdeniz, Anonymity, Democracy and Cyberspace, 69. SOCIAL RESEARCH 223, 228 (2002).

[5] United States v. Bowker, 372, F.3D, 365 (2004).


[7] YAR, supra note 1, at 127.

[8] R. S. Prasad, Cyber crime: an introduction (2004).

[9] Jerry Finn, A Survey of Online Harassment at a University Campus, 19 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 468, 468-470 (2004).

[10] Karla Mantilla, Gendertrolling: Misogyny Adapts to New Media, Vol. 39, A SPECIAL ISSUE: CATEGORIZING SEXUALITIES 563-570 (2013).

[11] Maggi W.H. Leung, On Sale in Express Package Chinese Female Bodies as Commodities in Cyberspace, AMSTERDAM UNIVERSITY PRESS 223,233(2008).

[12] Avnish Bajaj v. State 116 (2005) DLT 427.

[13] United States v. Thomas 74, F.3D, 701(1996).

[14] Stanley v. Georgia 394 U.S., 557(1969).

[15] Farooq Ahmad, Cyber law in India: law on Internet 13 (New Era Law publications 4) (2011).

[16] Id. at 15.

[17] Anja Kovacs & Dixie Hawtin, Cyber Security, Cyber Surveillance and Online Human Rights, GP DIGITAL, 3 (June 29, 2012),

[18] U.N. General Assembly, La Rue, Frank (2011). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBY 26 (May 16, 2011)

[19] National Crime Bureau, Crime in India, 2016:statistics, NATIONAL CRIME BUREAU OF INDIA 156-157 (October 10, 2017)

[20] Id. at 11.

[21] Michael Chertoff & Tobby Simon, The impact of the dark web on internet governance and cyber security, THE ROYAL INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS 1 (February 21, 2015)

[22] Dave Lee, Defending Tor – Gateway to the dark web, BBC NEWS (August 5, 2017)

[23] Chertoff, Supra note 13, at 3.

[24] Chertoff, Supra note 13, at 5.

[25] Lee, Supra note at 14.

[26] Indian Penal Code, 1870, No. 36, Acts of Parliament.

[27] Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, No. 21, Acts of Parliament.

[28] Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition ) Act, 1986, No. 60, Acts of Parliament.

[29] Yogesh S/O Madhavrao Kakulte vs State Of Maharashtra And Anr., (2006) 3 M.H.L.J. 691 (India).

[30] State of Tamil Nadu v. Suhas Katti, (2004) M.H.C.

[31] National Crime Bureau Supra Note 9, at 159.

[32] UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UNITED NATIONS ( December 16, 1966)

[33] U.N. Human Rights Commission, supra note 7.
< span style="font-size: 16px;">
[34] Neal Kumar Katyal, Digital Architecture as Crime Control, 112 Yale Law Journal 2261,2263-2273 (2003).

[35] Id. At 2263.

[36] YAR, supra note 1, at 143.

Leave a Comment