“Young female students mentioned using the blocking tools in apps as their most common way of dealing with internet harassment. Implicit in their response was the division of the experience of cyber violence into roughly three kinds, actually phases: nuisance, harassment, and outright violation, which they seem to view as a progression. Unlike young men who treated the first of these as largely ‘fun’, the young women saw all three as serious unwanted intrusion into their spaces.
However, the three phases, according to them, called for different responses. They identified random messages sent to women online at night, unwanted messaging with songs, ‘good morning’ or such messages, or messages proposing love or marriage as ‘nuisance’ (shalyam in Malayalam) , which could well be tackled through the blocking apps and other such tools. Eighty-five respondents to our survey said that they/someone they knew had experienced this in the past one year. They did not however feel that the present tools are sufficient. One suggestion made by a survey respondent during experience-sharing was that Facebook should ask for reasons when a woman blocked a user, and other users should be able to check if someone sending them friend requests was ever blocked by others from making unwanted advances. ‘Nuisance’ was also tackled by complaining to family, friends or college authorities who often acted on them; some women students also said that ‘nuisance-makers’ often retreated when threatened with a police complaint. “Sometimes you just have to just send a complaint to the cyber cell and message the email to the nuisance-fellow or put it up on your FB page,” said one of them. “This is often very effective. The chap either runs away, or comes back saying sorry.” In our survey data, in response to the question why they did not approach the police despite being harassed, a large number (67 out of 171) responded that they did not think it was a crime (among other things)
‘Harassment’ (upadrawam in Malayalam) was identified as more persistent advances, including stalking, doxxing, sending sexually-explicit images, videos etc. uninvited, frequent trolling, as well as making threats — but without serious offline consequences yet. Responses from young women students seemed to hint that while they discussed ‘nuisance’ more freely and dealt with it more confidently, they were far more fearful and silent when it came to ‘harassment’. Also, the confidence to speak with family and college authorities seem to dry up when nuisance progresses to harassment. Interestingly enough, many young women included stalking by families and college authorities in ‘harassment’, especially stalking by teachers, and consider this more serious a violation than ‘nuisance’. The dilemma was put this way by a student from a women’s college: “It is okay when some boys send you messages saying hi fifty times in the day – you just block them. But my friend got sexually-loaded WhatsApp messages from a teacher of ours … he gives us grades, his parents and college principal will believe him, other students too, even …”. She also said that harassment was often treated with kid gloves by authorities, including the police when reported, something that was strongly confirmed by our interviews with lawyers who support cyber violence survivors, survivors, and activists with considerable experience online. When this student’s observation was conveyed to an activist, she affirmed it, adding that “one reason why women who are ‘harassed’ this way do not often complain while it happens is that it is often a form of grooming. Cyber harassers like to take advantage of the various inequalities – especially of age and gender – that usually exist between them and the victims, and use it to bend the latter’s will to their advantage.” Doxxing and sending porn videos without invitation came up in the survey as forms of harassment more frequently faced. Seventy-six respondents mentioned that they/someone they know faced doxxing; fifty-eight respondents mentioned that they/someone they know was sent sexually-explicit images, video or text without their consent.
‘Outright violation’ (athikramam) was identified as intense cyber assaults with serious offline consequences –interconnected online and offline crime was generally accepted as the most serious violence, demanding immediate action. All interviewees and respondents were united in their view that ‘outright violations’ are crimes that need police and legal responses that are just, quick, and non-judgmental. All young women surveyed said that families need to open up to young women, stop victim-blaming and shaming, desist from physical and emotional punishment, and become seriously supportive if such crimes are to end. The single most important factor identified by women as enabling them to make formal police complaints of cybercrime was family support.[i] Part of the reason for this is that the students, the police, and supportive lawyers all seemed to agree that the nature of ‘outright violation’ was wholly or at least partly sexual. Given the enormous stigma attached to real or imagined sexual transgression, few women can afford to fight without family support.
Nevertheless, interviews with survivors, all four with a great deal of family support, revealed that this was just a starting point. The real hurdle lay in the police station. In each, convincing police officers of the seriousness of the violation was a laborious task even for women with considerable political connections and social networks, and even when senior police officers had already intervened on their behalf.”
Excerpt from “Walking on Eggshells – A study on gender justice and women’s struggles in Malayali Cyberspace”.