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Ireland moves to outlaw revenge porn

Andrew Hamilton

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Non consensual image sharing is a crime
Less than one month after Scotland made posting ‘revenge porn’ a prosecutable offence, Ireland has moved to do the same.

Technology has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and share our lives. Over recent years there has been a surge in applications focused on social networking, image sharing and dating. As a result many people are sharing more about themselves than ever. These new ways to interact can provide liberation and freedom of expression, but there are also inherent dangers. Once an image is taken and shared there is a distinct loss of control, and in the case of personal images this can prove hugely damaging.

For some, sending private or intimate images has become part of dating and relationships in the digital age. For the first time in history people constantly carry a recording device and are documenting ever more of their lives. But as the sharing of private images has become more common, it has given rise to darker trends, most notably revenge pornography.

Revenge porn is the act of distributing sexually explicit pictures or videos of a partner without their consent. In the internet-age, sharing occurs on a global scale and has the potential to cause significant trauma to its victims. The scale of the problem is such that legislators across the world have moved to act.

The charge is now punishable by prison in Britain, and in the U.S. a man has already been sentenced to 18 years in prison for maintaining a revenge pornography site. Ireland has confirmed this week that it is making moves to do the same.

Dr. Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, which spearheaded the campaign to criminalise revenge pornography in Scotland highlighted the intimidation and trauma that can be inflicted on its victims. She told DIGIT: “We should be clear: so called ‘revenge porn’ is not about revenge, and it’s not about porn. It’s about power, control and humiliation. Sharing, or threatening to share intimate pictures or videos of someone without their consent causes devastating harm to victims and it is absolutely right that legal systems should reflect this.”

Scotland only recently prohibited the act under The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act 2016, actioned in April this year. The Bill creates an expansive definition of material which is prohibited for distribution, forbidding the public uploading of anything which might cause the victim alarm and distress.

Success came after a nationwide campaign, co-led by Scottish Women’s Aid, raised awareness of the issue. Part of the campaign were two striking posters, published by the Scottish government in March, which showed a nude man and women on mobile phone screens covered in crime scene tape. The posters highlighted that under the new legislation offenders could face up to five years in prison.

England and Wales outlawed revenge porn in April 2015. Since then, the number of convictions have been considerable. The Crown Prosecution Service’s annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report disclosed that more than 200 individuals were convicted under revenge porn laws between April 2015 and September 2016.

Freedom of Information requests from the BBC to 31 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales highlighted the need for such laws, unearthing that there had been 1,160 reported incidents of revenge pornography from April to December 2015. According to the police, a lack of evidence or the victim withdrawing their claim had led to cases being dropped.

But Ireland currently has no laws which directly address revenge pornography. Irish Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald is now taking steps to considerably widen the definition of voyeurism in Irish law to include revenge porn. Under the proposals, ‘cyber-stalking’ and ‘upskirting’ (taking a photo up a victim’s skirt), are also expected to be outlawed.

Ms. Fitzgerald, who is also the Minister for Justice and Equality, said the government’s decision was made following a report titled Harmful Communications and Digital Safety, conducted by the Law Reform Commission of Ireland in September 2016. The report noted that no legislation in Ireland specifically addressed revenge porn, which then was only covered by the definition of harassment in the Non-Fatal Offences Against the State Act.

The commission recommended significant increases in the charges for voyeuristic acts with summary conviction carrying penalties of a class A fine and/or up to 12 months imprisonment, and upon conviction an unlimited fine and/or up to seven years’ imprisonment. Ms. Fitzgerald said: “It is important that we ensure our laws can deal effectively with phenomena such as so-called revenge pornography and the publication of voyeuristic material without consent, as recommended by the Law Reform Commission’s report.

These acts can cause serious and lasting harm, particularly to young people.

Dr. Scott emphasised: “Our research on this showed that most victims of this crime suffered long term anxiety, and some mentioned feelings of self-harm and suicide because their intimate images were shared without their consent.

“Just like other forms of domestic abuse, the fear and anxiety the crime creates can creep into every corner of a victim’s life and relationships.

“Scottish Women’s Aid is the lead organisation in Scotland working towards the prevention of domestic abuse. We play a vital role campaigning and lobbying for effective responses to domestic abuse, including online abuse.

“Support will always be available for anyone affected through Scotland’s 24 hour National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234 and through our network of local women’s aid groups across the country.”

 

Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton

PR & Content Executive at Hutchinson Networks

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