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New Delhi: At a time when there is a raging national debate on rape and sexual violence against women, the social justice bench of the Supreme Court is closely monitoring the steps taken in cases of circulation on social media of multiple videos of rape.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) submitted its status report on these cases to a bench of justices Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit. The bench has transferred one case registered by the Uttar Pradesh police, in which three people were arrested and later released on bail, to the CBI.

The CBI has found nine such videos and registered eight regular cases and one preliminary enquiry. It has forwarded the photos of the men in these videos to the various state police and is offering rewards of 1 lakh to people who provide information that leads to the suspects.

Additional solicitor general Maninder Singh, appearing for the CBI, also told the court that the Computer Emergency Response Team is dealing with the issue of blocking of websites hosting this content and that two websites have already been blocked. Singh also assured the court that appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that the victims, as and when they come forward, have access to counsellors and medical professionals.

The developments have taken place after the apex court took suo moto (on its own) cognisance of the circulation of such videos.

“I am appalled that such videos are being circulated on such sensitive issues, where heinous crimes have been committed. Rapes in our country have become so frighteningly banal that it becomes okay to circulate and watch evidence of these heinous crimes. It is therefore appropriate that the Supreme Court has stepped in to monitor the circulation of these videos. It is a welcome move," said senior advocate Rebecca John.

On 4 February, anti-trafficking crusader Sunitha Krishnan was forwarded two graphic videos on Whatsapp. One video was the recording of a gang-rape while the other was of a man forcing himself on a woman. Shocked, she edited the videos the next day to focus just on the faces of the perpetrator and launched a #ShameTheRapistCampaign inviting people to write to her if they identified any of the men in the video. “I got around 11 mails which said they identified the rapist. A lot of people wrote in to say that they had seen these videos some time ago." Krishnan’s aim was to not just start a campaign but also to advocate a mechanism to tackle this entire issue.

“We seem to be creating an accused-friendly society rather than a victim-centric one. It is very important to send out a message that as a society we will not tolerate this," she said.

Krishnan, who met the home secretary following her campaign, has advocated the setting up of a National Sex Offenders Directory as well as creating a public-friendly anonymous service where citizens can report such crimes.

“Even if someone would have wanted to report these videos before they came to us, the fear of being pulled into it, of being treated like a perpetrator yourself keeps them away. We need to stop that from happening," she said.

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