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#MeToo: Know the Laws That Protect You From Sexual Assault and Harassment

The entire campaign has brought to light how difficult it is to raise voices against sexual harassment even in countries where there are severe laws in place to tackle harassment and assault.

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Recently if you visited Twitter or Facebook, you must have seen innumerable posts with the #metoo hashtag. The world has united to raise voices against sexual assault or any form of sexual harassment.

It is a social media catharsis against those unbearable stares, unwanted touches, and repulsive comments.

The entire movement started with American actress Alyssa Milano asking women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to publicly share their experience using the hashtag: me too.

#MeToo campaign has taken the internet by storm, over 4.7 million people are engaged in the #metoo conversation with over 12 million posts, comments, and reactions. By posting on social media both women and men from all over the world are trying to show the sheer number of those who have received unsolicited sexual attention in any form, from unwelcome groping to rape.

 Most women do not report the assault because the country is straddled with bureaucratic norms. India’s National Crime Records Bureau data revealed that in 2012, 24,923 rape cases were reported across India.

Notably, out of these, 24,470 were committed by parents/family, relatives, neighbours and other known persons. This leaves us with a total of 453 cases of ‘stranger rape’ or rape where the culprit is a stranger to the sexual assault victim/survivor. In essence, men known to the victim committed 98 percent of reported rapes. This itself is a staggering figure.

The entire campaign has brought to light how difficult it is to raise voices against sexual harassment even in countries where there are severe laws in place to tackle harassment and assault. We need to battle with the idea of everyday sexism.

If we contemplate about the state of affairs, in most of the incidences, sexual assault happens where one party exercises a certain amount of power over the other.

Quoting the famous line from the movie “Disclosure” : sexual harassment is about power not about sex.

It is now more important than ever to be aware of the rights that women have and the laws they can turn to address the rampant sexual harassment and assault.

To report an incidence it is critical to understand what comprises sexual harassment. The various kinds of acts that comprise harassment or rape at the workplace include the demand or request for sexual favours, explicit sexual overtures or physical contact and advances. With the growing popularity and use of the internet, sexual harassment can take place online too.

Here are we few laws that every woman should know which protect her from all forms of sexual violence-

  1. Staring at a woman is an offence if it makes her feel uncomfortable even for a few seconds. Blatantly ogling a woman is characterised as an offence, thus. 
  2. Singing lewd songs or catcalling directed at women in public spaces is considered harassment under IPC Section 294.  Offenders can be jailed for three months or be fined or both.
  3. Following or stalking someone is a crime. If you follow someone with or without their knowledge it amounts to stalking and is considered as an act of sexual harassment. As per section 354(D) of IPC the man can face jail term ranging three to five years coupled with a fine.
  4. If a woman categorically indicates her disinterest but if the person continues to ask for sexual favours he is punishable under IPC section 354(A). The offender can land in jail for one to three years or fine or both.  In this case, if someone tries to threaten you with physical harm, harm to your reputation or property the offender can be imprisoned for a maximum of two years under Section 503 of IPC.
  5. If a senior colleague demands sexual favours in exchange for work benefits, promotions or salary hikes, it is an act of sexual harassment as per Sexual Harassment of women at Workplace Act, 2013. Also, every organisation having more than 10 employees is required to have an Internal Complaints Committee. Check if your workplace has one.
  6. Watching, capturing or sharing images of women engaging in a private act without her consent is voyeurism and is punishable under IPC Section 354 (C). Offender can face a jail term for one to three years in addition to fine. If the man is convicted a second time then he faces jail term ranging from three to seven years along with a fine. If a guy is morphing your pictures and sharing them with an intent to defame and harass you, it is a crime as per Section 499. The punishment may include jail up to two years.
  7. Posting any obscene or defamatory material on a public online platform intending to harass a woman is a crime under Section 67 of IT Act.  The accused can face jail time of two years coupled with a fine.

If you face any of the above incidences you must immediately consult a Criminal lawyer and file an FIR(First Information Report) with a local police station. When you file a case for sexual assault, you can always ask that the statement is recorded in a language you understand. If that is not possible, make sure the statement is translated and explained to you by the officer recording it.

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Written by LawRato

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LawRato.com is India's leading lawyer search and legal advice platform.