What is the concept of Digital Rape in India?

Orissa High court Rape Victim pregnancy tremination

By Tanishka Tiwari

Published on: January 12, 2024 at 18:36 IST

In India, one commonly misinterpreted term that has recently made news is ‘Digital Rape.’ While the phrase appears connected with the digital world, it is not. This concept has nothing to do with computers, phones, or digital platforms, but rather with the classical definition of the word ‘digit.’

In the context of sexual crimes in India, ‘digital rape’ is a newly coined word that frequently ‘digit’ alludes to fingers or toes. In contrast, ‘digital rape’ denotes a non-consensual assault of the victim’s body.

Until December 2012, ‘digital rape’ was categorised as molestation, not rape, and did not fit the threshold. The absence of a crime under Section 376 of the IPC for digital rape, which involves a violation of a woman’s dignity using fingers, foreign material, or any other part of the human body, highlights flaws in the statute. The Nirbhaya gang rape case in 2012 prompted parliament to approve new rape legislation, classifying the conduct as a sexual offence.

The article will delve into the specifics of digital rape, its legal ramifications, and why its acknowledgment is a crucial step towards justice. Let’s take a closer look at what digital rape is, how it’s legally regarded in India, and why its identification is an important step towards justice.

Section 35A of the Crimes Act 1958 defines sexual penetration as introducing one’s fingers, thumbs, or toes into another person’s vagina. ‘A’ inserts their finger(s), thumbs, or toes (to any extent) into ‘B’s anus. The term ‘digital rape’ is not officially defined in section 375 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, however, based on the nature of the conduct that comprises this offence, it can be deemed digital rape. The term ‘digital rape’ does not appear directly in either the Indian Penal Code 1860 or the POCSO Act, 2012.

Following the savagery and barbarism of the Nirbhaya gang rape on December 16, 2012, the term digital rape was coined, and it was defined and punished as a rape offence under sections 375 and 376 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013. Previously, such occurrences were penalised as molestation under section 354 (Assault on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty) rather than rape. Such cases of molestation, known as ‘Molestation’ in English, are covered by Section 354 “Assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.” The use of criminal force was rendered illegal, and such actions were deemed to be against the dignity of women.

Following the savagery and barbarism of the Nirbhaya gang rape on December 16, 2012, the term digital rape was coined, and it was defined and punished as a rape offence under sections 375 and 376 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013. Previously, such occurrences were penalised as molestation under section 354 (Assault on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty) rather than rape. Such cases of molestation, known as “Molestation” in English, are covered by Section 354 “Assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.” The use of criminal force was rendered illegal, and such actions were deemed to be against the dignity of women.

Section 375 defines rape under the statute enacted following the Nirbhaya rape case in 2012. Justice J.S. Verma Based on the report of the (Chief Justice) Committee, many guidelines were published, and suggestions were made to toughen the sentence, resulting in the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, and the amendment of the Indian Penal Code of 1860.

The concept of rape was amended and classified into four categories. Section 375 (b) describes digital rape. According to the provisions of section 375 (b), “If a man penetrates the private part (vagina, urethra, anus) of a woman any object or any other part of the body which is not the genital (penis) of the man, to any extent or from the victim himself or any other makes a person do it, it is said that he commits digital rape.” The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013 is known as the “Nirbhaya Act.”

According to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012 (POCSO): – Section 3 of Chapter 2 of the POCSO Act 2012, which deals with sexual offences against children, defines “penetrative sexual assault” in the Indian Penal Code 1860. Penetrative sexual assault in the offence of rape, like section 375 of the IPC, is divided into four types. According to the definition, a person commits penetrative sexual assault whenever he inserts any object or part of the body, other than the penis, into a kid’s vagina, urethra, or anus to any extent or forces the child to do so with him or another person. In easy-to-understand terms, “The clear difference between rape and digital rape is of genital (reproductive organ).

The phrase ‘digital rape’ may be associated with the internet or cyber world due to occurrences of sexual assault over digital networks. Any sexual offence done online, including impersonating another person or exploiting an internet platform, is not considered “digital rape.” However, it refers to inappropriately placing one’s fingers or toes into another person’s private areas. Because the English word ‘digit’ connotes a finger, thumb, or toe, the act has been referred to as ‘digital rape.’ ‘Digital rape’ did not satisfy that description because it was defined as molestation rather than rape before December 2012. Following the horrific Nirbhaya gang rape case in 2012, new rape legislation was enacted in parliament, and the conduct was classified as a sexual offence.

Although conviction is complex, the offender is usually known to the victim in cases of digital rape. For example, in June of this year, a father was charged with digitally raping his five-year-old child. In a separate case in 2021, an 80-year-old artist-turned-teacher was charged with seven years of continuous digital rape on a juvenile. In only 1% of documented cases of digital rape, the perpetrator was a stranger. According to a poll, the victim knew the culprit 29% of the time through her social media connections. As we have seen in cases of sexual abuse, digital rape goes unreported because the victim or her family is filled with dread and shame. But there could be another explanation.

Is it possible that because digital rape does not meet the traditional definition of rape, most people still do not regard it as a severe sexual offence? According to several sources, a woman’s or a child’s dignity was violated 70% of the time by someone she knew well. Often, persons close to the victim—her cousin, close friend, uncle (or other family members), neighbours, and, in some shocking cases, her father—commit the atrocities. In 29% of cases, the victim knew the culprit through their social network, which included friends and coworkers. Perhaps they’ve never met before, such as on a friend-arranged date or via a dating app.

Criminals utilise digital rape to target women and children without physically abusing their bodies. The archaic rapist statute in India makes it difficult for the government to handle such cases. Recent revisions to the definition of rape aim to safeguard women from such horrible crimes. Legal authorities now impose harsh punishments for internet rape, as seen in the following cases:

  • A 65-year-old man from Noida West received a prison sentence for digital rape. Following the new definition of rape, a 65-year-old man from Noida West was imprisoned but not charged under Section 376 of the Indian Criminal Code for his offences. Akbar Ali, a guy from Salarpur, Noida, seduced a 3-year-old child with toffees and exploited her vulnerability when the time arose. He was initially cleared since it was a digital rape case. On August 30, 2022, he was found guilty and sentenced under section 5(m)/6 of the POCSO Act.
  • A conductor who sexually molested a four-year-old girl on a school bus has received a 20-year prison sentence. Times Now News published a report on December 12, 2018, detailing a case of digital rape in which a school-age girl child was digitally raped by the conductor. According to the article, the girl’s parents filed a complaint with the police, alleging that the conductor sat beside her on the school bus. He sexually abused her as the bus reached her home in the city’s Sector 56 neighbourhood. The incident came to light when the girl complained to her parents about soreness in her thighs. This prompted her mother to visit a doctor. After the doctor speculated that she may have been sexually molested, the girl told her parents about her ordeal, and an official police complaint was filed at the Sector 56 police station.
  • The conductor received a 20-year prison sentence and a 50,000 rupee fine. A university student received a three-year, seven-month, and three-week prison sentence for digitally raping an intoxicated friend, with a one-year non-parole period. These concerns aren’t exclusive to India. Every day brings more details concerning the case of digital rape. A college student was arrested for allegedly digitally raping a friend who was intoxicated and unable to object. A university student was imprisoned for digitally raping a friend. This was done to emphasise that women, regardless of intoxication, will have full legal protection. However, the judge did not utilise the woman’s intoxication as evidence to prove that she was also guilty of the crime. Instead, the offender was imprisoned to demonstrate that women are always entirely safe from criminals, regardless of their circumstances.
  • A Stanford student faces a six-month prison sentence. This case was originally published on June 6, 2016. The Stanford sexual assault case, which “contained the victim’s whole statement on how it felt to be raped,” was the topic of an article in The Guardian. The victim’s statement in this case was quite thorough. The statement illustrated how terrible and terrifying internet rape can be. Even if a woman is not sexually attacked, her dignity might still be compromised. And how digital rape can have the same consequences as physical rape. This information made news for several weeks. Several people believed that the six-month sentence was disproportionate. In addition, the criminal should have received a longer sentence. The case is closed, but the offender—who was detained immediately following his sentence—must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

The IPC and POCSO Acts prescribe the penalties. The POCSO Act imposes a five-year prison sentence. If the offence falls under Section 376 of the IPC, the sentence can be raised from 10 years to life. The clauses that control POCSO’s punishments are as follows:

  • Section 3 of the POCSO Act

Although the definition of rape was changed in 2013 under Section 376 of the IPC, under Section 3 of the POCSO Act, any penetration of a child’s vagina, urethra, or anus with “any object or a part of the body, not being the penis, into the vagina, urethra, or anus of the child or making the child do so with him or any other person” was already considered penetrative sexual assault.

  • Section 5(m) and 6 of the POCSO Act

Section 3 of the POCSO Act defines penetrative sexual assault. In contrast, Section 5 defines aggravated penetrative sexual assault as “committing penetrative sexual assault on a child below twelve years.” Serious penetrative sexual assault can result in a 20-year sentence, life in jail (including natural life), or even death. There is also another penalty in the shape of an additional fine. Section 6 states that those who commit aggravated penetrative sexual assault will face imprisonment for at least twenty years, with the possibility of life imprisonment for the rest of the person’s natural life, as well as a fine or death. The fine must be reasonable and sufficient to cover the victim’s medical expenses and rehabilitation.

The legal recognition of digital rape represents a momentous leap in the pursuit of justice. By assigning a distinct classification to this offense, the law acknowledges its gravity and specificity, offering enhanced protection to victims and facilitating more effective legal proceedings. This unique categorisation enables law enforcement agencies to address these crimes more efficiently and appropriately.

However, while the formal recognition of digital rape in legal terms is a significant milestone, it is only halfway towards the ultimate goal. The enforcement of these laws heightened societal awareness, and a transformation in societal attitudes toward such crimes is imperative. It is crucial to cultivate an environment where victims feel secure in reporting these offenses, and where society comprehends the enormity of such transgressions.

Heightened societal awareness regarding digital rape is a crucial stride in preventing these crimes and ensuring justice for the victims. In a society often plagued by victim-blaming and stigma associated with sexual offenses, it is imperative to establish an environment where victims feel empowered to report such acts. Furthermore, comprehensive sexual education and public awareness campaigns can contribute significantly to the prevention of these crimes.

While the acknowledgment of digital rape in legal terminology constitutes a significant stride, the endeavor to create a more secure society remains incomplete. The fight against these transgressions necessitates implementing efficacious laws and their enforcement and a profound transformation in societal attitudes and comprehension. Through the concerted endeavor of these elements, it is anticipated that India can achieve substantial progress in countering digital rape and guaranteeing justice for its victims. The identification and comprehension of digital rape epitomize a pivotal advancement in the evolutionary trajectory of the legal framework in India. Through efficacious legislation and enforcement, in conjunction with heightened awareness and education, it is hoped that the nation will achieve noteworthy strides in the battle against such offenses and the assurance of justice for those affected.


Related Post