On Sunday, a Twitter user shared a horrifying video. It showed a man molesting and sexually assaulting a young girl. Even more distressing was that the user had made no effort to conceal the identity of the child. This video was retweeted by someone with over 1.29 lakh followers. In less than a day, the childâ€™s face and assault had been viewed by lakhs of people.
The intention of all the people who shared the video may have been to bring attention to the crime and demand action against the perpetrator. However, does that justify sharing the extremely sensitive video for the world to see? Absolutely not.
To begin with, the law prohibits such an act.
Revealing the identity of a child victim/survivor is illegal under section 23 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act as well as section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act. You can also be booked under section 67B of the Information Technology Act which prohibits publishing as well as sharing material depicting a child in a sexually explicit act in electronic form. Browsing, downloading, advertising, promoting, exchanging and distributing such material in any form is also prohibited under the Act. And section 228A of the Indian Penal Code criminalises revealing the identity of a rape victim, which was reiterated by the Supreme Court in a landmark December 2018 judgment. Minor victimsâ€™ identity must be concealed even if their family consents to revealing it, the apex court said.
The Mumbai police, who took cognisance of the matter and have arrested the accused in the video, also said that people should refrain from sharing the video to respect the privacy of the family.
Video of an accused molesting a minor girl from neighbourhood is being circulated widely. V understand itâ€™s being shared out of concern but V request you to respect privacy of the family. Accused is in judicial custody & investigation is on. Itâ€™s an offence to share such contentâ€” Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) June 24, 2019
Even if we move away from the legality of it for a moment, there is little good that can come out of sharing such distressing videos for the survivor.
Why videos of sexual assault must not be shared
Firstly, for the simple reason that anything that has been uploaded on the internet is always there in some form. Even if it is taken down â€“ as it happened in this case after several people reported the tweet and video, compelling Twitter to remove it â€“ it can be easily recovered. Besides, it had been up for hours, available for people to take screenshots, or even download.
If the sexual assault itself was not harrowing enough, the child must now live with the reality of her trauma having been consumed by lakhs of strangers, easily available for recall at the click of a button for a long time, if not all her life. Her face clearly visible and identity given away, the incident has been shared without her knowledge or consent, though in such cases it must be reiterated that such material cannot be legally shared with the minor's consent or even that of her parents'.
Her identity may be reduced to that of the girl in the video. The survivor and her family run the very real risk of being ostracised and stigmatised due to their identities being revealed.
There is also a demand for child sexual abuse material (CSAM), also referred to as â€śchild pornographyâ€ť, online. A video such as this may not take much time to find its way to groups on different social media where CSAM is sought and shared. Such videos are also the perfect opportunity for predators to identify already vulnerable children.
The person who retweeted the video has portrayed himself as the victim. He has questioned Twitter for suspending his account (which was restored within a few hours) and asked how trying to get help for the girl was abusive behaviour.
However, there are several things that he, and the original poster could have done other than retweeting the video if they wished to help the girl.
What you must do
For starters, they could have gone to https://cybercrime.gov.in, and reported the video in a few easy steps while maintaining anonymity if they so wished.
If the original poster found the video on another online platform, they could have reported it to the platform rather than re-uploading it.
They could have also informed Mumbai police directly.
And if, after all this, they still wanted to use social media to pressure law enforcement and bring attention to the crime, they could have taken steps to conceal the identity of the child, or tweeted about the crime without using the video at all.
In other words, there is absolutely no justification for jeopardising the well-being and safety of the minor survivor and her family by making the harrowing ordeal public in such a manner.
Ultimately, we also need to ask ourselves if we are only moved by the ordeal of a child sexual abuse survivor when we view graphic and private details of her assault. Is the fact that it has happened not enough to shake us into action?