CHENNAI: From having free-wheeling discussions and finding a space for ‘open conversations’ to sometimes even stumbling on love, the LGBTQIA+ community found a new haven behind the screens of computers and smart phones after chat-rooms and dating apps became ‘safe online spaces’. However, on the flip side, exposing their identities in the cyber space has paved way to harassment, abuse, extortion and even blackmail. How does one secure their ‘cyber safety’?
Jayan, a city based IT professional, met his ex-boyfriend through Grindr, a dating app in 2015, but little did he know that his life was going to change...for worse. “I started using the app when I was in Mumbai and continued using it even after I shifted to Chennai. Though the probability of meeting someone who matched my profile was very rare, I tried my luck and finally met him,” narrates Jayan who recently came out to his friends and family.
“The first few dates were alright…but I slowly started noticing a change in him. He started using derogatory terms against people in the community and I didn’t know what was going on. I feared to step out of the relationship because, by then, I had shared every intimate detail with him,” he recalls.
After months of abuse, Jayan decided to end the ‘toxic relationship’, but to his horror, he was blackmailed with private pictures and videos, which involved nudity. “I did not see that coming. Hailing from a conservative family, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what would happen if those photos and videos were leaked. I remained silent, and used to give money whenever he demanded. I distanced myself from him…till he stopped harassing me,” he shares.
However, after Jayan came out to his friends and family, they took it surprisingly well. “I think I should have initiated that talk much earlier. I was afraid that they wouldn’t accept me. But, they did…and since they supported me, I was able to fight through the hard times,” he adds.
But many from the LGBTIQA+ are subjected to such abuse and extortion quite often. It’s traumatic for anyone to live in the fear of being judged for their gender orientation and/or sexuality. Vinay Chandran, a counsellor who has been working with LGBTQIA+ communities for nearly 20 years, says that you should understand the law to avoid and fight against such harassment. For example, threat and extortion are punishable under Section 384 of the Indian Penal Code. “Let the blackmailer know that you are not afraid to seek legal help or go to the police,” he says.
But what about people who are still in the closet and scared of consequences? “It’s this fear that any abuser feeds on. They think that you will not reveal yourself. That’s when being comfortable with yourself to tackle the outer world becomes more important,” he avers.
L Ramakrishnan, a community volunteer, adds that action can be taken against violation of privacy with intent to cause emotional distress and trauma for an individual. “In many cases, people are threatened by strangers or close friends-turned-foes to expose photographs from dating sites or private chat messages and so on. That is punishable by law,” he says emphasising the need to be aware of your legal rights.
Consider meeting only friends of friends and before you do, verify if they are known to another friend.
If you insist on meeting a person for the first time, do it in a well-lit public place — a café, a restaurant and so on. Sharing your home address can be risky.
Take only the required amount of cash. Avoid taking credit/debit cards with you.
Always let a friend know where you’re meeting.
It you think that it’s getting uncomfortable, pull back and excuse yourself. It’s always better to be safe!
Get tested regularly for STIs and HIV.
Don’t encourage your date to bring a friend. It could be a trap for sexual assault.