Several women took to Twitter to share their experience of being harassed after seeking or offering help.

Woman holding her head, looking at her phone Image for representation
news Harassment Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 15:48

About a week ago, Shasvathi Shiva wrote in Vice India about her experience of being harassed, sent unsolicited obscene pictures, and receiving inappropriate comments from unknown men. All this, because her number was shared as she was seeking resources and help for family who had contracted COVID-19. As she fielded calls from blood banks, others to find a ventilator bed, and then a plasma donor, she received calls with a man asking if she was single. At another point, she was receiving video calls from seven men simultaneously, forcing her to put her phone on silent and let it pass. And all of this was happening while she was in the middle of a medical emergency.

In the time since, many women have posted on social media about similar ordeals. A Twitter user, Rathy, said on April 26 that she is filled with anxiety every time she has to open a new DM, because she has received so many obscene photos from men. Another Twitter user wrote about receiving “dick pics in response to pleas for help” and also being asked “for phone sex”. Another person wrote she had received a porn clip from a person she said she helped with oxygen requirement leads. Several other women said that they too had received obscene photos since they opened her DMs for people asking for COVID-19 related help.

When Shasvathi shared on Instagram about the harassment she was facing, it only intensified. In a screenshot she shared on Twitter, someone had used her photo, slut shamed her. Her DMs were full of more vile abuses.

Volunteers, doctors’ numbers given out, inundated with calls

Apart from the disgusting online sexual harassment that the women above are facing, there are others whose contacts have been shared, sometimes without their consent too.

For instance, a series of messages and tweets has been doing the rounds, sharing the numbers of several doctors, claiming they are providing free consultation on COVID-19 for certain times in the day. TNM called each of these numbers a couple of days ago to verify, and most of them were found to be switched off. A couple of others responded to texts, and asked us not to include their numbers in our COVID-19 resource lists.

It is unclear if these doctors’ consent was taken before sharing their numbers, or if all of them are indeed medical professionals. If the latter is true, then by giving out their contacts, their actual patients have also been denied access to them as the individuals have been forced to switch off their phones.

In another case, a volunteer told a TNM reporter that he was forced to switch off his number as he was inundated with calls after his number was given out. On Tuesday, a man TNM had called to verify (we got his contact from another online list of COVID-19 resources) if he was able to supply oxygen requested us not to put his number anywhere as he was getting too many calls and was unable to help.

While it is true that people are also desperate with a struggling healthcare system and a major mismatch between the health requirements of people (oxygen, hospital beds, ventilators and so on) and the supply from the state and official sources, it is important to take consent before sharing someone’s number publicly or privately in such dire times, so that help can reach those who really need it. 

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