"Are you horny? Tell me about your body..."

Sexual harassment online: how Mumbai women cope

"Are you horny? Tell me about your body?" Offensive comments from men in chats and on social networking sites are one of the most common forms of online sexual harassment for Mumbai women.

Women have also got to deal with threats of blackmail, cyberstalking, and having their online profiles manipulated in inappropriate ways, according to research on  internet use among young adults in Mumbai.

In the study, 150 women and men aged 18 to 25 were surveyed on how they use the internet, especially when it comes to issues related to sexuality. Just over 30 participants were also interviewed in detail on the topic. In Sex and the internet: young Mumbai women online, we focused on romance and sex ed; here we report on what sexual harassment looks like online.

Blackmail threats

Many Mumbai women have experience with hunting for a potential sweetheart online, whether it’s just to date or with the prospect of marriage. Of course, not every guy a woman flirts with in a chat room or meets on a matrimonial site will be a potential partner. Threats of blackmail are not uncommon when things don’t pan out as planned, the study revealed.

One woman explained what happened when her relationship turned sour:

“I kept ignoring him. Then he really started harassing and threatening me, saying he would tell people publicly private things I had said to him. It took a long time to block him and get him out of my networks.”

When strange guys call up and ask how much you are charging, it feels bad.

Family honour

The potential damage from lewd remarks or private information shared online is felt in a very real way for these women. In a society where family honour and reputations are at stake, inappropriate comments linked to a woman’s sexuality can have social consequences, affecting her family and romantic relationships.

That’s probably why some women are wary of confiding in their family when they face harassment online. Women worry about being judged by their parents or being prevented from using the internet, and many choose not to report harassment to authorities as a result.

Protection online

Surprisingly, it’s not unusual for the harasser or stalker to be someone a woman knows, and not a complete stranger, the research showed. One woman interviewed had to deal with a fake profile set up in her name, something which she found to be, “very harassing.”

“I usually don’t care about these things, but when strange guys call up and ask how much you are charging, it feels bad,” she said. The culprit, she later found out, was actually a guy in her circle of friends.

Almost 45 percent of the women surveyed have strategies to protect themselves online. They are very careful not to give out too much information – personal details, where they live, and pics are all regarded as off-limits. 

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