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     Volume 9 Issue 39| October 08, 2010 |

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Cover Story

Privacy Compromised

“Twelve years ago, I first fell in love,” says Tanya. “We met over the internet. He seemed a very decent man,” she says. “He used to tell me that he is very lonely, no girl had ever understood him like I had. Gradually our friendship developed over time.” At this point she pauses her account, recounting the lost days when everything looked colourful in her eyes, a life that has since eluded her.

Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

As our friendship developed I gave him my home number,” she says. We used to talk quite often and soon he told me that he looking for a serious relationship. By that time I was desperately in love with him and we met face to face. He used to take me to long drives especially to Gazipur where his office was based.”

After some time they became physically intimate. It was during this time that disaster fell upon Tanya. Very naively, she consented to being photographed while they were having sex. “I was young, I was vulnerable, and during that time I did not know what I was doing,” she says. A few days later, the photos hit local Internet sites.

“The man had introduced me to some of his friends and among them there were foreigners. Their behaivour, struck me as very odd and after some time I realised with a shock that they thought of me as a prostitute,” she says, burying her head between her hands trying to hide her tears.

Tanya goes on to explain that among them she met a Japanese engineer. It was the Japanese who first explained the scenario to her. “I saw to my horror that obscene pictures of me had been posted on some Internet sites. The pictures were genuine and there was only one man who could have done it,” she says. Even more shocking to her was the revelation that the man she had loved so much was in fact married with two children. “The Japanese sensed that there was something fishy going on and decided to reveal all the facts to me.”

When Tanya confronted her former lover with the facts, he broke off all connections with her and refused to even acknowledge his acquaintance with the girl. He also threatened to post the obscene photographs to Tanya's father if she did not stop 'pestering' him. But Tanya was admanant and her former lover was true to his promise- - he did send the photographs to her father.

“All hell broke lose in my home and although I loved my parents very much, after this incident I felt like an outcast, I felt the whole world had deserted me. I desired to be independent of my family.” Although Tanya never left her home, her lifestyle changed. This included taking multiple boyfriends, staying out late at night and when her family protested she just brushed them aside. “After I knew that he had posted obscene pictures of me on the Internet, and he lied to me about being single, nothing in the world mattered to me anymore.” Tanya also realised that by posting pictures on the Internet, the man was trying to blackmail her into having sexual relationships with his friends, especially the foreigners. Tanya also knows that her former lover had sent her on a hellish path, a path from where there was no return. “Six years later, I was married to a man who lived in a western country,” she says. “At first he did not know about my background, but later he found out.” It was another devastating experience for her this time on foreign soil. “My husband kicked my stomach when he found out; I was pregnant at the time. I went to hospital and he went to jail. But my life was forever ruined.” Tanya went on to conceive her child but her husband never acknowledged that the child as his. They subsequently divorced.

Many young women fall prey to this crime where former or present boyfriends post compromising pictures or videos on the net. With technology becoming more and more accessible criminals like Tanya's boyfriend have a hey day. Sometime the photographs and videos are taken with the woman's or girl's consent, sometimes hidden cameras are used for example in dressing rooms or women's washrooms.

The end result of these photos and footage getting public through internet and mobile phone is unbearable trauma for the victims who face public humiliation and ostracism. Some of them try to get on with their lives, hiding themselves at home, some like Tanya decide to give in to the humiliation. Others take their own lives in shame. The criminals, meanwhile, go scot free, in the absence of any institutionalised means of punishment.

More recently on October 2, 2010 a private affair became public causing outrage among locals of Shibganj Upaizela, Chapainawabganj and humiliation for the persons involved. Hundreds of students, guardians and locals of Binodpur village staged demonstrations and confined Principal Ruhul Amin of Binodpur degree college. They demanded expulsion of a male teacher who videoed himself having physical relations with a former female student in the same college. As the teacher's mobile phone recently went out of order, he gave it to a service centre at Binodpur Bazaar for repair but technicians of the centre copied the video and sent it to a number of mobile users thus exposing a previously private affair to the general public.

The college teacher meanwhile left the area and could not be contacted since. The college authority at an emergency meeting has decided to suspend the concerned teacher. The woman, who had since gotten married and borne a child was kicked out by her husband who was incensed by the footage and sent her to her father's home. In a society like ours this is the ultimate dishonour for not only the young woman in question but her entire family. Shibganj Police Officer-in-charge Anwar Hossain has told The Daily Star that legal action against the mobile operators involved in the distribution of the footage would be taken after talking with the victim.

According to women rights activists, giving consent for taking photos or publishing them is not the main issue here. “Pornography is illegal, giving consent to be photographed is not the issue,” says Advocate Kohinoor Begum, Director for Advocacy, Bangladesh National Women Lawyer's Association (BNWLA). She says that the public showing of pornography is banned in Bangladesh. But while pornography is banned in Bangladesh, the current laws to deal with the menace are vague. She says that section 292, enacted under the penal code of 1860 that makes obscene publications illegal and punishable only carries a prison term of three months. The law is also not compatible with modern times. “In 1860, modern technology such as Internet and mobile phones did not exist. There are no regulations for instance, dealing with cyber cafes.”

Begum says that pornographic images and videos, some of them made with hidden camera or leaked out by paramours are regularly viewed in the cyber cafes and the government has to take immediate steps to put a stop to this trend. “Many women lose their honour in this way and are traumatised for the rest of their life.” She goes on to say that many women have taken their lives after being exposed in these ways.

Advocate Salma Ali, Executive Director of BNWLA points out that girls who are vulnerable to the misuse of modern technology often do not have a platform to raise their voices. Also there are cases when women fall victims to false marriages. She says that often women are induced to 'false' marriages. Then pictures are taken, generally using hidden cameras and the pictures are then released for public viewing, generally through the Internet. “Once they are finished, the woman is dumped,” she says. “The victim's life is ruined and she is unlikely to ever get married and start a family.”

“In the cases of many women, theirs faces are superimposed on the bodies of foreign (porn) models,” says Ali. “There have been numerous women who have been harassed in this manner, often by their colleagues in the workplace. These photos are also used to blackmail.” In modern times, such technology is easily available and all that is required is a photograph of the victim's face. “Workplace abuse has become very common in Bangladesh,” says Advocate Ali. “Often female colleagues have had their privacy disturbed as their male colleagues opened indecent web sites in front of them for attracting their attention.” She says such immoral behaivour leads to emotional and psychological stress for a woman who feels harassed. But, women rarely find the platform to voice their complaints. However, she says that recently in one office, a male employee was sacked after he tried to attract the attention of a female colleague by opening an objectionable web site in front of her.

In recent years many women, including a high-ranking corporate executive has had to endure psychological trauma as her face was superimposed on bodies of foreign porn models. A hate club was initiated in her name in the popular social networking site Facebook, and obscene pictures were posted by the group. The woman protested her innocence in public, but the damage was already done. Facebook later banned the group.

Hidden cameras have been regularly used for invading privacy. Actresses and models have often been the target. Their private pictures, once taken, are circulated generally via the internet to arouse the passions of perverted men.

Advocate Salma Ali says that there are too many loopholes in the current legal framework that deals not only with pornography, but other forms of sexual harassment that includes invasion of privacy that often results in the destruction of a woman's life. “Concerned stakeholders have formulated policy guidelines to prevent sexual harassment in educational institutions and work places,” she says.

The proposed new guidelines enforce strict punishment for sexual offenders. Under the new guidelines, sexual harassment that encompasses a whole range of immoral activities carry stringent punishments. The term 'sexual harassment' is made more comprehensible. Among others, sexual harassment shall also refer to taking and preserving still or moving pictures, exhibit, distribute and publish the pictures for the purpose of blackmail or vilification. Concerned experts are hoping that the new guidelines shall bring many of the offenders to justice.

Meanwhile, those who have already been victimised and their privacy compromised by publicity of their photos are in total despair. Along with them, their families also suffer from the social stigma of being exposed publicly. A father of a victim says on condition of anonymity, “I had big dreams about my daughter. I used to imagine that one day she would be a barrister. But look what has happened,” he says. His school going daughter made the mistake of running away with a man whom she married. The man turned out to be a fraud who used to send pornographic videos of the girl to her family and demanded a high ransom from the family. “I did not have the money to pay him and the videos were made public. Now I cannot show my face to society. My wife is still sick after the incident and has not recovered.

“I have got my daughter back but I do not know whether anyone will marry her because the whole incident has been made public. Neighbours stare at our house. They keep gossiping among themselves and anyone can see that they are talking about us. Before I used to read incidents like this in the newspapers. Now I am a victim myself and I can feel the pain of the families who have been dishonoured in this way.”


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