Article: Online sexual harassment: A legal insight for working women

Life @ Work

Online sexual harassment: A legal insight for working women

Due to nationwide lockdown, all professionals are working from home and women professionals are struggling in managing work-life balance. The problems of cyber-bullying, getting unwarranted video call requests at odd hours online stalking have increased manifold.
Online sexual harassment: A legal insight for working women

The issue of sexual harassment has always been overlooked in India. While the term sexual harassment is always defined and understood as uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature by a person but at the time of pandemic where everyone is bound to work from home, women are now facing another type of sexual harassment-  “Online Sexual Harassment”. 

Due to nationwide lockdown, all professionals are working from home and women professionals are struggling in managing  work-life balance. The problems of cyber-bullying, getting unwarranted video call requests at odd hours online stalking have increased manifold. Apart from these there are many other forms of harassment which comes under online sexual harassment. 

Forms of online sexual harassment:

  • Getting unwarranted video call requests or demand to come online at odd hours
  • Stalking women on social media or sending friend requests and commenting on their pictures when they are not even friends.
  • Women Professional made to feel guilty for fulfilling any home responsibility during working hours
  • Taunting or negative comments:  if woman gets distracted by kids or by family member during video meetings
  • Getting calls and being invited for unscheduled meetings at odd hours in the name of urgent matters which often turns out to be regular work and which can be done  easily through the exchange of emails.
  • Inappropriately dressing up by male colleagues  during virtual meetings which makes women coworker uncomfortable.
  • Intentionally or unintentionally passing inappropriate comments during conference calls.

Provisions for women or how to deal

As per POSH Act every organization has to set policies on harassment. Women can anonymously report and complain. However, in the absence of POSH committee women can seek for the below options:

Online sexual harassment happens on an electronic platform and as such the Information Technology Act, 2000 [“IT Act”]  protection to such harassment is also extended to this Act.  As per Section 67 of the IT Act prescribes punitive measures for publishing and/or transmitting obscene content on an electronic platform. Section 67A stipulates punishment for publishing or transmitting material containing any sexually explicit act, in an electronic form. 

Cases of online harassment can also attract penal provisions of Sections 354A, 354D or 509 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. These prescribe punishment for a perpetrator who sexually harasses a woman by stalking her on the internet, and through his words or act or gesture intends to insult the modesty of a woman. 

These kinds of harassment are also considered as serious crimes and working women should not stop themselves to report such incidents. It is always advisable to seek help from legal experts or as a last resort,  approach local authorities and take legal course of action.

  • Where to file complaints if you are victim  
  • You can approach Cyber cells which comes under crime investigation departments to  deal with cybercrime 
  • you can also file an F.I.R. at a local police station.
  • If you are unable to file an F.I.R., you can approach the police commissioner. It is compulsory for a police station to register an F.I.R.
  • The National Commission for Women also offers services to help victims of online harassment deal with the police. The Commission has the power to set up an inquiry committee, which is empowered to conduct spot inquiries, collect evidence, interrogate witnesses and summon the accused to expedite the investigation.
  • Reporting on social media websites is also an option where you have been harassed .
  • Most of these websites have the option of reporting the crime since they are obliged under the IT rules 2011, to take action within 36 hours of reporting to stop the offensive content from spreading.

Required Evidences:  

It is pertinent to note that before you go on to take legal course of action when you’re a victim of any form of cybercrime, don’t delete photos, emails, or any other information sent by the perpetrator since doing so makes it difficult to trace evidence in the virtual world. Also consider taking screenshots or printouts of the evidence and report the incident on the forum it s taken place, for instance, social media website, or a blog, that a form of harassment or crime has happened.

At Last steps to be taken by organization to avoid online harassment

1. Companies to set up clear guidelines on how work from home should function in an organization. (It is indeed an appreciable move by National Commission for Women wherein they have instructed the Companies and organisations to frame guideline)

2. Devise appropriate work from home rules including proper dress code for online meetings

4. Setting a fixed time slots especially video calls for the women

5.  Banning posters and lewd messages/ images or memes against working women  

6. There should be a proper council to address all these concerns. 

The  advent of new normal i.e. work from home has made it possible for people to harass others any time they want , making a confusing state for women. Women might not understand how  to draw the line,  what is offensive or indecent in an online world. Hence, its an organization duty to create awareness , educate , support and understand  their women employees. 

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Topics: Life @ Work, #GuestArticle, #COVID-19

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