Supreme Court takes on circulation of rape videos: Specific laws are missing

In a very welcome move, the Supreme Court of India is acting against the publication and dissemination of rape videos. This step was taken after the NGO Prajwala wrote to the Chief Justice of India, seeking action against the posting of such videos.

By Asheeta Regidi

In a very welcome move, the Supreme Court of India is acting against the publication and dissemination of rape videos. This step was taken after the NGO Prajwala wrote to the Chief Justice of India, seeking action against the posting of such videos. The Supreme Court took suo moto notice of the case, and is pressing the Centre to come up with a solution. Yesterday, the Supreme Court sought a response from Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft on the steps that can be taken to address the publication and dissemination of these on social media.

Looking at the laws applicable to this issue; shockingly, there are no specific laws governing the creation, spreading and viewing of rape videos. This case has exposed this huge lacuna in the law. These will instead be governed under the criminal laws on rape and abetment of rape, and laws on obscenity and pornography.

The increasing problem of rape videos

The problem of rape videos is no longer limited to individual cases, though these are also on the rise. The NGO Prajwala’s founder, Sunitha Krishnan states she has nearly  90 such videos.She cites videos in her possession which are 5 to 8 minutes long, with one person filming while the other/ others assault and gangrape the victim. There is an increasing demand for gangrape videos. This can be seen in the increasing over-the-counter trade of these videos, with gang rape videos involving women and children being sold in the hundreds and thousands in Uttar Pradesh. The sellers directly send the videos to the buyers for as little as Rs.10/-.Uttar Pradesh has also seen a huge rise in the instances of gangrape, with the videos being also used to blackmail or silence their victims.

Rape videos covered under inadequate pornography laws

As mentioned earlier, surprisingly, there are no specific laws punishing rape videos. These acts will come under the laws against the publication and dissemination of ‘videos containing sexually explicit acts’, or even worse, ‘obscenity’. These laws are designed to curb the spread of pornography. Therefore, they punish only publication of dissemination of videos containing ‘sexually explicit acts’.

Browsing, downloading, purchasing, and storing such videos is not an offence. While these laws can be understood with reference to pornographic content, which itself has been the subject of a huge debate, it is shockingly inadequate when applied to rape. Creation of the rape videos, that is the person filming the video, will have to be booked for offences like abetment of the rape under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Once the person filming puts the video into circulation, only then he can be booked under various other laws.Even the famous Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2013, which was passed for better laws for women, lacks a specific provision on this.

Strict laws where the videos involve children

Thankfully, when such videos involve children, there are strict laws in place. A stricter punishment is imposed under Section 67B of the IT Act and also Section 15 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act). The punishment prescribed is upto 10 years. In the case of children, not only publication and dissemination, but watching, browsing, downloading and even storing such videos is punishable. Most importantly, the very creation of child pornography is punishable under both these laws. This case before the Supreme Court also brought into focus a large online child pornography racket on Facebook, with over 3000 pedophiles as members. Such rackets can be tackled under these laws.

Video voyeurism laws also inadequate for rape videos

Another issue highlighted in this case was of private videos which were circulated without the victim’s consent.  Even this is adequately covered under the laws, through Section 354C of the IPC and Section 66E of the Information Technology Act, 2000. These sections punishing the capturing and circulation of pictures, videos, etc. of a woman in a ‘private act’, without her consent. Even if the capturing was with her consent but the circulation was not, it is an offence. Though these sections are good for handling this problem of video voyeurism, it is hardly adequate for rape videos.

Specific laws can curb demand for rape videos

It is very important to introduce laws punishing the filming, viewing and storing of gang rape videos.This needs to be made an offence on par with the viewing and storing of child pornography.As seen in the UP gang rape cases, the increase in gang rapes is also fueled by the increasing demand for such videos. While the existing laws adequately deal with the crime itself, specific laws are needed to help curb the demand for rape videos.

Solutions for preventing online spread of rape videos?

However, even once the laws are in place, preventing the spread of these videos on social media and otherwise is still a major problem. There is a direct conflict between preventing internet censorship and preventing the spread of illegal content online. It has been suggested that the social media websites be made party to any case involving such rape videos. However, this imposes a huge burden on the websites to monitor and police the content posted.

One solution could be to make the reporting of videos involving rape compulsory. For instance, under Section 21 of the POCSO Act, failure to report an offence against children is punishable. Similarly, for rape videos, any person, be it the website themselves on receiving a report, or the viewer, must report it. One of the problems pointed out by Sunitha Krishnan in this case was the lack of a single forum which she could approach for the removal, etc. of all the rape videos.  The government should consider creating such a forum, where all the informant needs to do is forward the link of the offending video to the forum. However, this is only one small step towards tackling this issue. It is hoped that the Supreme Court and the government will succeed in solving this problem.

The author is a lawyer with a specialisation in cyber laws and has co-authored books on the subject.

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