It was in September 2015, that the mother of a teenaged girl in Hyderabad, approached the Cyber Crime Police Station in Cyberabad and said that her daughter had recently befriended a 'girl' on Facebook. The 'girl' had allegedly asked the teenager to share nude photos of herself and threatened and intimidated her to comply with the demand.
The teenager immediately informed her mother, who filed a complaint. The police nabbed then 21-year-old Abdul Majid, a third year engineering student in the case.
The police later found that Majid created several fake Facebook ids with the photos of girls that he got on the internet, and had allegedly stalked up to 200 girls, including several minors.
The police said that Majid would befriend the girls and women, before he bullied them into sending nude pictures. Once that was done, he would threaten to upload them on porn sites and extort more out of the victims.
Almost three years after news about the case broke, harassment through social media and phone calls is on the rise in Hyderabad and students form a major chunk of the accused, data accessed from the SHE Teams and the Cyber Crime police at the Central Crime Station (CCS) shows.
According to the data with the Cyber Crime police, 29 cases were registered over social media harassment in 2017. In 2018, the figure as of August, has already touched 28.
Data available with the SHE Teams shows that 'phone harassment' tops the list, with 117 people accused of the crime already this year, compared to a whopping 332 people in 2017.
Speaking to TNM, ACP Narmada from the SHE teams, explained, "There are three ways in which we tackle cases that come to us, depending on the severity of the crime. If it is a minor offence, we warn the accused and let them off. If it is slightly more serious, we book a petty case under Section 70(c) of the Hyderabad City Police Act."
"If the crime is more serious, we refer it to either the local police station or the Cyber Crime police, help the complainant and ensure that an FIR is registered. We also assure them that they have our support," she added.
The SHE Teams, a division of the Telangana Police specially formed to tackle crimes against women, has classified crimes into 25 different categories.
In 2017, there were 3 instances of 'Facebook harassing', 1 instance of 'Facebook morphing', 11 instances of 'harassing through social media' and 2 cases of 'harassing by messages'. For the same respective categories, the figures for 2018 as of August, are 12, 2, 25 and 8, which is a significant increase.
Harassment through WhatsApp has also increased with 13 instances already reported this year, against the 3 cases booked in 2017.
As far as sending obscene videos and pictures was concerned, the police has already received 11 complaints this year, against the total number of cases last year, which was at 3.
Minors and students, both minor and major, continue to form a major chunk of the accused.
While 146 students were booked by the SHE Teams in 2017, the number of minors caught and counselled were 124. This year, up to August 1, 62 students have been booked so far, while 70 minors were caught and counselled.
While the official number of cases under the 'social media' category registered with the Cyber Crime police this year is 28, police sources say that the real number is much higher.
There have been instances where victims of sexual harassment and abuse online in the city, were as young as 13 or 14.
A large chunk of victims who approach the police, often don't want to pursue an official complaint, as there is stigma attached to going public.
Many also just want the police to take down obscene content, morphed or otherwise, or call and 'warn' the accused so that they are left alone.
"When we receive a complaint, our first focus is to ensure that we delete the fake profile or obscene content that has caused the trouble. Law enforcement agencies have special access to social media sites like Facebook and we can send them a separate request that goes straight to their headquarters in California. They also help us track IP addresses and nab the accused," Chand Basha, Inspector with the Social Media/Hacking unit of the CCS told TNM.
Generally, investigators register cases under Sections of the IT Act such as 66C (Fraudulently or dishonestly make use of the electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of any other person), 66D (Cheating by impersonation by using computer resource), 67 (Publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) or 67A (Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act).
Unless there is a second or subsequent conviction, the accused are often granted bail by the lower courts after serving a short term in jail.
For example, in the case of Abdul Majid, he lay low for six months after he was granted bail before he again began allegedly stalking women online. Following this, the Hyderabad police nabbed him and opened a rowdysheet against him. He is presently out on bail again.
The SHE Teams can be contacted on the 100 helpline in case of emergencies or on the WhatsApp number +919490616555. They can also be reached on their social media pages.