It is Pride month. The city of Chennai in its list of many events during this Pride also included an event on ‘Online Security, Harassment and Blackmail’ on June 11, 2017. The event was organised by Orinam collective and Nirangal, a non-governmental organisation. Vinay Chandran, Executive Director of Swabhava Trust and a counselor with over two decades of experience working with the LGBTQIA+ community led the discussion.
The focus of this session was the harassment and blackmailing faced by the people from the LGBTQIA+ community. This also sometimes includes stalking by lovers or ex-lovers. Several cases of harassment, breach of privacy and blackmail were discussed during the course of the event. There seems to be a certain pattern in these cases. Some of the regular kinds of harassment faced by the community members include:
- One gay person outing another gay person about being HIV positive on an online dating site
- Using compromising video or photographs to blackmail a person from the LGBTQIA community with the threat of outing them at work place or social media. Perpetrator threatens to put up a compromising photograph of a gay man from a dating site onto Facebook where friends, family and colleagues are also present and unaware of his sexual orientation
- Gay man going on a date with a stranger and getting mugged and robbed.
- Lesbian couples getting threatened to be out-ed to parents if they didn’t have sex with the perpetrator (usually a man).
These are just some common instances that came up during the event. Chandran addressed these issues and others highlighted by the people present at the event.
One of the key takeaways from the event was the need for you (victim) to have confidence in yourself. While it may seem scary when a perpetrator threatens to out you and tell the world about your sexuality and sexual orientation using a compromising video or an image, it is important for you to be confident. How can I be confident in such a situation? You may ask. Here are some legal aids that were discussed that could help you have confidence. However, it is worth noting that these provisions were laid down in 1860.
Section 384: This provision talks about the punishment for extortion. This shall be imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or both.
Section 388: This provision makes extortion a punishable offence but in addition, makes it punishable offence with life imprisonment if done using Section 377 as a threat.
“Whoever commits extortion by putting any person in fear of an accusation against that person or any other, of having committed or attempted to commit any offence punished with death, or with *[imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years or of having attempted to induce any other person to commit such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; and, if the offence be one punished under section 377 of this Code, may be punished with [imprisonment for life].”
Section 292 A: This provision in the Indian Penal Code deals with punishment for people who print, sell, distribute etc of grossly indecent or matter intended for blackmail. The perpetrator may be punished with imprisonment up to 2 years or with fine or both.
Some important misconceptions about Section 377 were clarified during the event. It would be useful for people from the LGBTQIA community to know that:
- Section 377 does not make it illegal for you to identify yourself as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans or any other sexual identity that you identify yourself with.
- It does not make it illegal for you to introduce a person from the same-sex as your partner or girlfriend or boy friend.
- It does not make getting married in a religious institution illegal. That said, please note that it will not give the marriage legal recognition.
- The law does not make it illegal to hold Pride marches.
Even with all these legal provisions, it is common for that fear to pop up. One that says, “Oh but that person has a compromising photograph/video of me.”
Here is a quick list of things you could do:
- Perpetrator is the accused, not you: Please keep in mind that the person in possession of such a photograph or video is more likely to get into trouble for possessing such an image/video before they could out you. They can be punished under Section 292 A.
- Why section 377 may not work: Be aware that someone threatening to use Section 377 on a video that they have of you either alone or with them may not work on two accounts. One, the video may just have you which in no way can prove anything about your sexuality. On the contrary, can get the perpetrator in trouble for having obscene content. Two, the video may have both you and the perpetrator in which case both of you are likely to get into trouble together. So the person may not eventually use Section 377 because they would be the first person to get into trouble.
- Your confidence: If you are more confident than the perpetrator, the perpetrator becomes weaker.
- Get help: If the intention is blackmailing for money, they wouldn’t part with the video or photo. So get help. Depending on the situation, choose to speak to someone who could help you especially a lawyer. Lawyers will be in the best position to help you in case of threats of extortion. You can also find more support here and here.
But the biggest fear for most in the community comes often from the social repercussion of being out-ed. “What if my family finds out?”
Vinay Chandran’s response to this concern was my biggest take away from the event. Having spent over two decades helping clients handle and overcome this fear, Chandran says that it is important to start engaging in simple conversations with your parents to begin with. Chandran asks you to start engaging with your parents using simple talks around boundary. Say for example, keeping your room door shut. Indian Parents aren’t too often comfortable with the idea of seeing their kids having their room doors shut. Can you engage with your parents for smaller issues like these before you get to sexuality? With time, your parents could become comfortable with discussing about sexuality and may be even your sexuality. There is always room for conversation unless your parents have already blatantly said no to discussions on homosexuality in the house. If that’s not the case, then start talking. Chandran agrees that it could take time, even years but the important thing is to engage.
All that said and done, the idea is not to keep yourself away from people because some bad experience in the past. It is important to get out, meet people and even go on dates, but with caution! Here are some quick online dating tips for the LGBTQIA+ community
- Tell a friend or someone close about the date and where you will be going. It is good to keep someone informed.
- Meet the person in a public space for the first time before you take them to your home or go to their home or to any other private space.
- Do not carry anything expensive or valuable with you. Carry just enough money for your date.
- Don’t let your date bring a friend along. It may not be a good idea. Meet them alone the first time in a public space.
- Be careful about how much you share with the person on your first date. You don’t want to let them know your debit/card PIN numbers or hand your wallet over to them.
Now off you go! Have some fun!