Reporting Abuse to the Police

Illustration Reporting abuse to the police Pranisha03 v05

You have been harassed online and have received threats or abuse. You are considering approaching the police, but are not sure. What should you do?

Lots of women are reluctant to approach the police for Internet-related and other crimes, for a variety of reasons. As we discovered through our research in 2013 and in subsequent interviews with women who have tried to approach the police, victim blaming, insensitivity of the police authorities and long delays in the investigation process are some of the reasons women hesitate to approach the police. The police are also often reluctant to register complaints because it increases their burden while resources are already constrained. If action is undertaken by the police, it’s frequently only in cases filed by powerful and well-connected women. And so, for many women, relying on the law is almost always the last resort.

But some women have encountered success. And in some cases, simply the threat of approaching the police and using the law can be an effective way of putting a stop to abusive behaviour and eliciting apologies from abusers. Here is what Trishna told us, when we interviewed her for Don't Let It Stand in 2013:

I made a big noise on my blog. I wrote about it. I also asked around for cyber cell details. I started asking around because I knew that going to a cyber cell, getting things in place would take forever. All I wanted him to feel scared enough to stop doing this.

The ultimate aim for many women is not punishment, but retraction of the abusive content and/or an apology. Sometimes, using the law helps, even without filing a formal complaint.

Here are the basics of what you need to know.

The nearest police station. All stations are instructed to file complaints, but you can approach the main crime branch if you wish to. Some cities, like Bangalore, have a pretty active cyber crime cell, so that might be a better option in those cases.

Does every city have a cyber crime cell? Unfortunately, no. Cyber crime cells are set up by the Criminal Investigation Department of each state, which is a sub-organisation of the state police that deals with serious crimes. At present, most states have only one cyber crime cell, usually in the capital. And of these, only some cyber crime cells work proactively.

There is a list of Delhi district cyber cells here, and a list of all cyber cells across the country here. And you can file a complaint in a cyber cell in any city, because cyber crimes are not limited by jurisdiction to a particular state.

Is there a way to file complaints online? In some states, yes. We identified four states that have functional online portals for registering complaints: Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Haryana. A complaint filed through these portals is equivalent to filing an FIR, and the police are bound to take action on the basis of these complaints.

A nation-wide online portal for filing complaints about cyber crimes is expected to be functional sometime in the future.

You could also write to the National Commission of Women, which assists in expediting investigations and provides other kinds of support. You can file an online complaint with them here.


Don't worry if your state doesn't have a cyber crime cell or online complaints portal. All police stations are instructed to file complaints.

Take anything that can count as evidence. Screenshots of everything, including both the abuse and the URL, are important because even if the abuse is deleted, these remain. Take pictures of the abusive social media post or text message, the URL of the abusive account, the username, the video that you want to report - literally anything that relates to the abuse. Here is a handy guide on how to take screenshots from different devices.

It might be useful to create a detailed chronological record of both all abuse and the context surrounding the abuse. In cases of prolonged abuse especially, there is often more context than what screenshots can provide. Try and note down all details, such as the type of electronic communication (i.e. whether the abuse was perpetrated through comments, posts, messages, images, etc); the date and time of each such communication; and the nature of abuse. Writing everything down also helps in remembering the chronology of events, when being asked questions by the police for example. You can refer to this super-useful manual for more tips on how to document online abuse, or to this great guide.

The Delhi cyber crime cell has a list of documents to take to file a complaint. However, these requirements are not up to date, as it lists taking a soft copy of the proof on a CD-R!

What if the abuser has deleted the content of his messages and there is no evidence? Ideally, try and document the abuse immediately, because evidence is very important. But even without evidence, you can file a complaint detailing everything you remember. There might be a chance that the police ask the intermediary to retrieve the deleted message(s), or even retrieve it directly from the abuser’s system if the identity of the abuser is known. But the best strategy still is to document the abuse immediately.


Document the abuse diligently!

  • Someone at the level of Inspector or above is obliged to talk to you.

  • The police HAVE to file an FIR if it is a cognisable offence (which means that the police officer has the authority to make an arrest without a warrant and to start an investigation with or without the permission of a court - many serious crimes are cognisable).

  • If you are unsure about the nature of the offence, the police are allowed to investigate for ten to fifteen days and then come to a conclusion.

If you don’t know which section to file the complaint under, are the police obliged to help? Absolutely.

Be aware that you may be asked to hand over your device for investigation. It's therefore recommended that you make sure you know what’s on your device, the levels of sensitivity of this content and whether any of it needs to be moved elsewhere before going to the police.


The police have to listen to you, though depending on your case, they may want to conduct an investigation before an FIR can be filed.

There are a range of laws that might come in handy (we’ve noted which offences are cognisable and which ones non-cognisable by adding a C or NC respectively).

  • IT Act

s. 43A: Compensation for failure to protect data (NC)

s. 66C: Punishment for identity theft (C)

s. 66D: Punishment for cheating or impersonation (C)

s. 66E: Punishment for violation of privacy (C)

s . 67A: Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form (C)

s. 67B: Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material depicting children in sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form (C)

s. 72: Penalty for breach of confidentiality and privacy (NC)

s. 72A: Punishment for disclosure of information in breach of lawful contract (C)

  • Indian Penal Code (IPC)

s. 228A: Disclosure of identity of victim of certain offences (C)

s. 354: Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty (C)

s. 354A: Sexual harassment including forcibly showing pornography (C)

s. 354C: Voyeurism (C)

s. 354D: Cyberstalking (which can be used in when you receive repeated missed calls as well) (C)

s. 499 and s. 500: Defamation and Punishment for defamation (NC)

s. 501: Printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory (NC)

s. 503: Criminal intimidation (NC)

s. 505: Statements conducting public mischief (NC)

s. 506: Punishment for criminal intimidation (NC)

s. 507 Criminal intimidation by anonymous communication (NC)

s. 509 Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman (C)

We aren’t fans of India’s obscenity sections, such as section 292 of the IPC and section 67 of the IT Act, because they are so often used for moral policing, but in many cases, these could apply. For the same reasons, we’re also not particularly enthusiastic about the Indecent Representation of Women Act, but some of its provisions could also help, especially sections 2(c), 3 and 4. You can request a police officer to include them, or to leave them out.

And depending on the identity of the harasser and your age, there may also be more specific legislations you can draw on, such as

  • the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (check out section 2(n)), in instances where the harassment involves someone in your workplace;

  • the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (especially section 3), where the harassment takes place in the context of domestic violence;

  • and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012 (see sections 11 to 14) if you are under 18.

In some cases, these provisions can only be drawn upon by women, so if you identify differently and have been the victim of abuse, not all of these will apply to you.

Finding all the legalese tough? There are some more detailed explanations on the laws you can use in police complaints about online harassment in our paper on gender, online harassment and Indian law. Or if you would like an overview of different laws you could use for specific types of abuse, Nyaaya has a great resource here.


Especially if you identify as a woman, there are many laws you can draw on.

Going to the police and explaining your case to them will often involve being asked intrusive questions. As the women we interviewed for Don't Let It Stand told us, police officers tend to adopt protectionist stances and ask women not to share personal information on the Internet, thereby casting the burden to prevent crimes on women themselves.

It helps to take all of these factors into consideration when deciding your course of action. While in some cases the threat of going to the police has led abusers to take down the abusive content and to issue an apology, in other cases going to the police has led to no action against the abusers at all, only increasing their confidence. Where possible, you could try and reach out to others in your area who have been in your position, to ask them of their experiences and to familiarise yourself with the police process.

Ideally, you should receive updates about the status of your complaint, but no formal mechanism exists yet. States that have functional online portals for filing complaints also allow you to track your complaint.


Going to the police does not guarantee you a positive outcome. It's best to consider your case carefully before deciding on this course of action.

When the person abusing or harassing is based in a different country, or when the content is hosted on servers in a different country, that complicates things for the police investigation in ways they can do little about. Treaties have been signed with 39 countries to facilitate cooperation to address the jurisdictional complexities that arise in such cases, but these Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) have not been a very effective mechanism: the processes they prescribe take a lot of time, and even then, for a whole range of reasons, the law enforcement agency in the country where the abuser or data is based might in the end not part with the requested information. Your complaint, therefore, may remain unaddressed.


If your case doesn't move forward, the police is not necessarily to blame. Some roadblocks are out of their hands.

In Summary

Reporting Abuse to the Police

  • Especially if you identify as a woman, India has many laws that you can draw on when filing a complaint.
  • But going to the police can be a disappointing experience. Consider your case and circumstances carefully before deciding on this course of action.
  • When you do decide to approach the police, document the abuse diligently. This will help to make your case.
  • Also make sure that you are aware what’s on your device, the levels of sensitivity of this content and whether any of it needs to be moved elsewhere before approaching the police.
  • The police have to listen to you, though depending on your case, they may want to investigate before filing an FIR.
  • Some roadblocks during the investigation may be out of the police's hands.