Amid the Covid19-prompted national lockdown, there has been a sharp surge in cybercrimes against women, with a marked increase in instances of ‘sextortion,’ or sexual exploitation through blackmail. While the National Commission for Women (NCW) has noted a small spike, NGOs in India are calling those numbers only the “tip of the iceberg.”
According to the NCW, the number of cybercrime-complaints received in April is as high as the total number of complaints received in February and March cumulatively. NGOs, such as Cyber Peace Foundation, InfoSec Girls and Akancha Against Harassment, have been inundated with reports of cyber abuse, too. But they have recorded seven to eight times more complaints than the NCW, the NGOs say, because people are reluctant to file official complaints due to the ensuing social stigma, and are requesting NGOs to handle things unofficially.
‘Sextortion’ is a form of virtual blackmail where a perpetrator threatens to publish real or morphed images of an individual online if the individual refuses to perform sexual or financial favors for them. Experts believe that because people are taking their relationships online due to the lockdown, and are increasingly relying on technology to experience intimate moments, the opportunity for these threats is escalating.
India isn’t alone. In the U.K. too, the National Crime Agency has issued an alert over spikes in sextortion by organised crime gangs.
“This is just the frustration and anger that is coming to the fore as there is no other release right now. This is a form of frustration as [cyber criminals] are caged right now. Men are morphing images and threatening women. There is a whole racket going on where women are getting these emails that your phone and laptop has been hacked, and if you don’t deposit money my account I will send your morphed images, and share it with all your contacts,” Akancha Srivastava, founder of Akancha Against Harassment, an NGO involved with cyber-harassment, told Hindustan Times.
She added that the average number of complaints received every day has risen to 20-25 since the lockdown was imposed on March 25; before the lockdown, the daily average was less than ten cases.