What really happened?
In the recent disturbing events related to the ‘Bois locker room’ incident, an Instagram group consisting of high school kids shared lewd comments on the screenshots of posts by underage girls. This was followed by a widespread debate and condemnation of these activities. Eventually, legal actions were taken against the students involved in it. Following this, there was a Snapchat controversy in which screenshots of a chat discussing sexual assault were shared online. Only, the chat was allegedly initiated by a girl impersonating a guy to “check the character of the other guy”. There were also reports of the existence of a similar group of girls, called “girls locker room”. While this brings into focus the fact that such talk is not unique to any specific gender, women are affected and targeted far more often by such incidents.
These events raise some very important questions-
“Can sharing something privately really lead to serious ramifications?”
“Are lewd and degrading comments in group chats any capable of causing harm?”
“Should the screenshots and identities of people involved in the chat have been shared publicly on social media?”
These kids were educated and presumably aware of the despicability of their actions- and they still chose to do it. While it may seem like an isolated incident on the surface, in reality, such toxic groups exist in schools and colleges all over the world, maybe even in IIT Bombay.
Despite the perpetrators having been formally charged under the law, the severity of the situation is not understood by some. With this article, we scrutinize different aspects of these incidents, their consequences, and most importantly- what we can do to inhibit them.
Sharing screenshots of personal images privately: harmless?
First and foremost, some of the pictures shared were private and posting them on the group, without consent, is an invasion of privacy. The people whose pictures are shared unbeknownst to them are themselves impacted adversely in many ways. Incidents like these surely take a toll on their mental health and on many of their personal relationships. Further, the situation is worsened when the victim is blamed for sharing the picture and expected to bear the responsibility of the humiliation themselves. This can result in them being too ashamed to speak up and report the actual crime. Most social media platforms have strict community guidelines in place to ensure that provocative or profane content can be reported and removed, so there is no excuse for shaming someone for posting community standard pictures. People should not have to worry about their pictures being subjected to a perverse glare before sharing them.
What harm can a private group chat cause, even if it is lewd and degrading?
The very existence of such chats is an indicator of how often humans are objectified, not just in the media but in our daily conversations as well. This incident shows how easily a group of people can violate a person’s dignity by discussing their body and stripping them of their human identity. Objectifying comments are degrading and propagate the notion that one’s worth is determined by one’s physical appearance. Such thoughts, which occasionally manifest themselves in conversations, stem from a lack of respect for the other gender and highlight the need for basic human understanding and empathy.
The lewd and derogatory comments made also expose the misogynistic attitude and backward mindset adopted by certain sections of society. Looking at the bigger picture, treating women as objects to be controlled has resulted in an increase in crimes against them in our country. Objectifying people of the opposite gender, which is prevalent in “locker room talk”, only serves to normalise sexual harassment. This doesn’t imply that those involved in such chats are potential rapists or molesters, it implies that the occurrence of sexual harassment may not disturb them, which is also very concerning. After all, developing a strong conscience and moral compass is healthy and necessary for the youth of our nation.
Taking into consideration these harms we would like to understand the impact that we as students can have to curb these harmful and unhealthy practices.
So what do the solutions to these issues really look like? Most articles discuss various long term solutions such as sexual education and gender sensitisation. This involves raising awareness in all genders and helping them understand which practices are wrong and why. It requires the implementation of large scale gender sensitisation seminars across all schools and colleges of the country. As effective as these solutions are in dealing with the root cause behind the locker room issue, they are completely in the hands of the government to implement.
No doubt, given the current traction this issue has gained, steps will be taken by the judiciary and the government to improve the situation, but the question arises: what can we as students do about this?
The answer is that we can voice our opinions against the existence of these locker room groups. We must take a strong stand against this practice and make sure that if our friends or classmates are involved in such groups, we help them understand what they are doing is wrong and that it harms the mental well being of the individuals involved. We may face backlash from friends and classmates upon having this discussion with them, but we can take solace in the fact that we are in the right and that this situation needs to change. Turning a blind eye may seem enough to soothe your own conscience but speaking up will also prick theirs.
Realize that these are things that people take time to understand and people who ridiculed this stand once will realize they were in the wrong. People are more likely to change when their close friends point out their mistakes, because they are more inclined to listen to someone they know and relate to, over speakers at gender sensitization seminars. Taking matters into our own hands doesn’t necessarily need us to call out the perpetrators on social media, rather it means dealing with the issue in a way that is both productive and peaceful. It is important that you, as readers, understand that you have the power to rectify this situation by simply speaking up.
Why protecting the identities of the accused is important
Another largely overlooked aspect of the incident we would like to talk about is the sharing of the identities of the accused, publicly. The storm that this incident caused on social media has resulted in a lot more instances of people calling out members of such groups on social media. While it does result in greater awareness, the public sharing of the names of the perpetrators is not something that should be condoned.
The problem with doing this is that it is equivalent to taking the law into your own hands, completely undermining the judiciary. While it may seem like a fair thing to do at first, the people who reveal the accused’s identities to the public cannot decide to do so, by themselves. The laws on cybercrime exist for many reasons, and one of them is to prevent public trials of people accused of crimes. The staggering power that social media has given the public leads to irrevocable consequences for the accused; simply being accused of a crime can result in your social image being utterly destroyed. This is an important thing to note; simply an accusation is enough for the public to start doling out their own justice, with no chance for the accused to make a defence. And such calling out completely eliminates the possibility of redemption for these individuals. Once they have been accused of these crimes publicly, their image is forever overshadowed by this public image created by social media.
The recent case of a boy committing suicide after a girl made unsubstantiated, public claims that he had molested her, is a clear result of such public trials. (This happened a day after the ‘Bois locker room’ chats were made public). Even though there was no direct link with this case, it shows how public pressure due to claims by alleged victims can lead to significant mental trauma for the accused, even when they are not guilty. While people guilty of such actions certainly deserve to be punished, it is not something that the public can or should take upon themselves. In any case, whenever legal recourse for victims is available and feasible, it should be taken rather than publicly making accusations.
We understand the need for the publicizing of such incidents, but it should not be done preemptively. The publicizing should be undertaken only by the authorities, at their discretion.
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While several unconfirmed rumours are floating around about certain incidents being staged, the alleged incident has set the stage for important discussions to take place. It may seem a trivial matter to some but as discussed above, it has serious consequences for those involved. Arguing over who is to blame just dilutes the issue and fails to address some of the real problems in our society. Rather, we should do our best to try to eliminate such groups and spread awareness; even as college students, we can do our part. It is easy to express outrage on social media but much harder to have the necessary conversation with one’s close friends. We can only hope that understanding the gravity of the situation motivates at least a few to take the primary step.
Finally, we reiterate the importance of remembering that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity, regardless of their gender, even during private discussions.
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