• Alisha Sharma

THE ‘SHADY LOCKER ROOM’: A SAFE HAVEN FOR SEXUAL PROFANITIES

Will the juveniles escape the legal consequences?


Just a week back, we all were left dumbstruck by a shocking revelation on social media. A virtual chat group on Instagram known by the name “boys’ locker room” was exposed by a south Delhi girl via screenshots of their conversations. Most of the participants in the group were under age school-going boys, randomly added by their contacts. The chats were flooded with sexist comments, obscene language, female objectification and morphed pictures of same-aged girls. Unfortunately, this is not the first time such an incident is happening. A 2004 MMS leak had opened doors for deliberation on feminine sexualisation. However, nothing has changed after that. The misogyny and toxic masculinity are still in place. The saddest part of this fiasco is the involvement of the so-called ‘young educated minds’. The demographics of the incident compel us to think of how parenting has somewhat gone wrong or education has failed in imparting moral ethics. A lot of questions surface after this: Should groups like these be held accountable for their actions? Should the teenagers be given stringent punishment, ostracized permanently? What potential offences have been committed by such groups and will the juvenility of the offenders make a difference? Above all, is social media a safe haven? The ‘Bois locker room’ outrage leaves us with many explicit but unaddressed questions. 


Even after the exposure, the boys didn’t surrender or feel guilty for their actions. They went on to create another group; completely anonymous with fake identities. It also included female participants who showed support and defended the boys who were caught up in the scandal. The feeling of being humiliated on a public platform by a bunch of girls hurt the egoistic attitude of the boys. Not only did they threaten to expose those girls but even made violent remarks of gang-raping them. Who says these kids are underage when they are mature enough to sexualize each other and promote rape culture. One such movement in 2018 named “Me Too” also unfolded the patriarchy that persists from generations. The only difference between the two is the existence of evidence. These revelations also assure people how ‘boys will be boys’ unless the root cause of patriarchy and toxic masculinity is addressed.  


Girls are also breaking stereotypes as the girls’ version of the Locker room on Twitter, was ousted. They are equally active in perpetuating body-shaming. Their conversations are seemingly reflective of sexual objectification of men with constant usage of defamatory words. The issue here is equally sensitive and makes them guilty for outraging the modesty of another gender. Clearly, these episodes suggest that male superiority has indulged society into a neverending sham. It has been dragged onto such an extent that females presume it to be normal, saying ‘men will be men’. It’s high time that we realise that everyone deserves equal respect and dignity. If we don’t criticise such acts by men or women, it’ll create a gender gap that will only be widened by violence.


ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA


Technology has played a significant role in providing safe but undetectable spaces to people. Young generations, being tech-savvy have exploited it the most. Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or other messaging apps have allowed them to anonymously engage in prohibited demeanour. They can easily access pictures, videos and personal information via such platforms. The current incident depicts how all of this has been misused for their own guilty pleasure. It is required by the government to regulate social media for better security of accounts and to fill the loopholes created by encryption policies. No crime or misconduct should go unnoticed. Unless reforms are brought, online conversations are just a scam. To avoid anonymity on social media, registration of accounts should require the users to post their id proof for true identification.


NOT THE ONLY INCIDENT


The casualty of rape culture in Indian society has been helping it thrive by minimizing the acts of boys through victim-blaming and shaming from generations now. Assuming that these practices are only being carried forward by men would also be wrong as women equally contribute to it. There are women who resort to victim-blaming, policing women’s bodies and movement in the name of safety, and above all defending the abusers for their actions. 


One similar case also received wide criticism in December 2019, where eight boys aged 13 – 14 were suspended by a school in Mumbai, for making sexually profane remarks about their female classmates on a WhatsApp group. The chats that went viral on the internet also used words like 'gang bang' and ‘rape’, and ridiculed homosexuality. But since the matter never took a criminal turn, the accountability of perpetrators was never addressed.


This incident is also a reminder of the 2004 MMS scandal, which involved privileged Delhi teens from an elite school and made the country reckon with the fact that teenagers think about sex, often as nothing but a misogynistic way to oppress the minority (women). The incident highlights the things boys, even the ones we love, and trust can do. How mostly upper class, cisgender, heterosexual men—the privilege category ensure that they feel invincible while committing such heinous acts.


Several members of Indian political parties’ IT cells and Journalists are doing publicly what Boys’ Locker Room boys did privately. They, through their social media accounts, go after women who speak their mind, talk back to them, wear ‘short clothes’ or don’t ascribe to their political ideologies and leaders — basically everything that hits at their masculinity. 



POTENTIAL LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE ACT


Delhi police’s Cyber Crime Cell lodged an FIR in the matter under provisions of the Information Technology Act 2000 (IT Act), and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) designating its potential ‘cognizable offence.’ In addition to these, the sharing of images of teenage girls could also be a violation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSO Act). Delhi Women Commission also issued a notice of Suo – moto cognizance in the matter. Three practising lawyers have written a letter to the Supreme Court demanding appropriate action in this regard.


There are several potential offences that have been committed by such groups. 


Section 66E, IT ACT – Violation of Privacy covers sharing images of “a private area of any person without consent”. These private area images may include naked or undergarment clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast. The sharing of private images of any girls in the group would be an offence under this section with the Imprisonment of up to 3 years, and/or a fine of up to Rs 2 lakhs is the punishment under the law for the same.


Section 354C, IPC - Voyeurism covers taking or sharing pictures of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would have an expectation of privacy.

This would cover similar conduct as Section 66E of the IT Act, with the additional benefit of being a cognizable offence. It also covers the sharing of images which may not fully depict a private area of a person which is not much talked about in the IT Act. Thus, can result in Imprisonment of 1-3 years, and a fine.


Section 499, IPC- Defamation covers publication of words, visual representations or images that intend to harm the reputation of a person amongst other people. Lowering the repute means making the person lose credibility and an honest image in society. It provides for a punishment of two-year imprisonment.


Section 506, IPC- Criminal Intimidation deals with threats to cause grievous hurt to body/ property which includes unchastity of women. It provides for a punishment of two-year imprisonment or a fine, or both.


Section 509, IPC- Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman- It suggests that anyone who outrages the modesty of a woman by words, gesture or invading her privacy without consent, will be subjected to three-year imprisonment or fine, or both.


Section 67A, IT ACT - Transmitting Sexually Explicit Material covers the sharing of any images that show a person engaged in a sexual act or conduct. The sharing of real or morphed images to show the girls (underage or otherwise) engaged in a sexual act would be an offence under this section. It could result in Imprisonment of up to 5 years, and/or a fine of up to Rs 10 lakhs upon conviction.


Section 354D, IPC – Stalking covers the offence of stalking which includes “monitoring the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of communication”. Thus, even collecting somebodies’ photos from social media without their consent, would be an offence under this section with imprisonment of up to 3 years and a fine.


Sections 14 & 15, POCSO ACT - Child Pornography under these sections the use of a child (underage) for pornographic purposes – which covers photos of their sexual organs or obscene representation – is an offence under Section 14 of the POCSO Act. Even collecting any pornographic material of a child with the intention of sharing it, is an offence under Section 15. Thus, the sharing of morphed and real images of girls on the ‘Bois Locker Room’ group, would be a violation of these provisions. Infact, Imprisonment of 5 years or more and a fine (Section 14), and imprisonment of up to 3 years and a fine (Section 15) can be granted upon conviction.


ROLE OF JUVENILE JUSTICE ACT OF 2015


Since there exists clear criminal behaviour in the act of boys, they are punishable under law. One of the conundrums, in this case, is that many of the boys in this group fall under the category of juveniles. The provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 would apply in the status quo.


Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 restricts the media houses and private persons to reveal the identity of the perpetrator of the crime in case of a juvenile. Unlike in the present case along with the screenshots of the chats their usernames have also been made public. This could also be an area of grave concern.


The boys who are convicted of the crime as juveniles will be taken before the Juvenile Justice Boards. The maximum punishment by a JJB for a juvenile is 3 years imprisonment and apart from the POCSO Act offences, the maximum punishment prescribed under the law for most of the potential offences here is the same, so the punishment is unlikely to be less severe.


If the police plan to add some more severe charges to the case – for instance conspiracy to commit rape or gang rape then there is a probability of people demanding these boys (most of them between 16-18 yrs.) to be tried as adults as it qualifies as ‘heinous offence’ (with imprisonment of 7 years or more) and so, under JJ Act of 2015. 


WE NEED TO CHANGE AND BRING REFORMS


In this case, the young ones commit the crime, there’s a little hope that once they learn the consequences for their actions and are educated about the toxic patriarchy, at least some of them could change into better individuals. But at the same time, them being punished and held accountable for their acts is equally important to set an example.  


We need reforms in our educational institutions and personal spaces. We have been raised by generations of men and women, who have turned a blind eye to their kids. We have been conditioned into believing that dominance and exercise of power are characteristics of being a man and women are inevitably trained to bear it all. Schools and Homes are often spaces where gendered notions of responsibility and irresponsibility are enforced. Hence, we need to balance everything and preach the young ones accordingly. Law enforcement agencies, families, schools, experts—all are stakeholders here and owe a duty to raise a better future generation.


References:

1. https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/other/mumbai-ib-school-counselled-boys-after-whatsapp-chats/articleshow/75566896.cms/

2. Avnish Bajaj vs State on 29 May, 2008. indiankanoon.org.

3. The Information Technology Act, 2000.

4. The Indian Penal Code, 1860.

5. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

6. Juvenile Justice Act, 2015


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