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McEntee says anyone who shares intimate images without consent 'will face serious criminal sanctions'

The justice minister said the recent sharing of images without consent has angered her and she will bring in “tough new laws”.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee (file photo).
Justice Minister Helen McEntee (file photo).
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated Nov 20th 2020, 6:00 PM

ANYONE WHO SHARES intimate images of a person without their consent “will face serious criminal sanctions”, the justice minister has said.

Helen McEntee said the recent alleged leak of tens of thousands of intimate images of females has caused “much upset and anger“, adding: “I share that anger.”

The minister said she is “determined to act and to introduce tough new laws”.

TheJournal.ie yesterday confirmed that gardaí are investigating the uploading of images and videos of Irish women and girls, without their consent, to a number of online forums.

It is understood that there were concerns that some of the images and videos are of minors.

McEntee said she will bring measures to Cabinet that will make it a criminal offence to share intimate images without consent.

“This is not just about revenge porn – sharing such images will become a criminal offence, regardless of the motivation of the person who passes them on.

“It will also be irrelevant if consent is given for an intimate image to be taken – I will ensure they can never be shared, even if consent was given for the image to be taken.”

The sharing of intimate or explicit images of a person without their consent is typically referred to as ‘revenge porn’, or image-based sexual abuse, and is usually done by an ex-partner. It is not currently an offence in Ireland.

Over 50,000 people have to date signed a petition calling for this type of abuse to be made a criminal offence.

Any images of, or depicting, a person under the age of 18 engaging in sexual activity is considered child sexual abuse material under the 1998 Child Trafficking and Pornography Act.

In a statement released this evening, An Garda Síochána said that if you have been the victim of harassment, to get in touch with Gardaí. 

The statement said that “some of the comments circulating on social media are not factual, and we wish to reassure the public An Garda Síochána is working quickly to establish the factual aspect of the matters alleged”.

We are acutely aware of the concern and upset that the public may have in respect of the matters reported.
Any person who is concerned that they have been the victim of harassment following the uploading of personal explicit imagery online without their consent, at any time, should contact their local Garda Station.

Discord

The Victims Alliance, an advocacy group, yesterday told TheJournal.ie that it believes tens of thousands of images have recently been shared on various online platforms.

The group is working to identify the victims but believes many of them are Irish.

Linda Hayden, who co-founded the Victims Alliance, said members of the group forwarded the files or folders marked as ‘minors’ to An Garda Síochána.

Many of the images have been shared in forums on Discord, an online messaging platform.

At least one forum on the website where users were sharing images has been removed, Hayden said. The forum in question had about 500 users, all of whom were banned from the website.

The first server was initially deleted by its owners, along with all the photos on it, once it started attracting attention online. A second server was then set up as a replacement for the original server.

A spokesperson for Discord told TheJournal.ie that as soon as the website “became aware of this server, we permanently deleted it” and “identified and banned the approximately 500 users involved”.

“We deleted it and banned its users before they could upload pictures again. We continue to monitor proactively for any new attempt to recreate a server.”

The spokesperson said the company “will cooperate on this matter with Irish authorities subject to applicable law”.

“No one should have to endure the pain of having private images posted online without their consent.

“Discord has a zero-tolerance approach to nonconsensual pornography and child sexual abuse material, and we work aggressively and proactively to keep it off of our service,” they added.

Conversations between users on Discord are private, but not end-to-end encrypted so administrators can view the content if inappropriate behaviour is reported.

Images of females have also been uploaded to pornography sites without their consent.

A Garda spokesperson earlier confirmed to TheJournal.ie that AGS is “aware of the reports and Assistant Commissioner (Organised & Serious Crime) has commenced probative enquires into the matter”.

Hayden said some of the images and videos in question were taken by the victims and privately shared but were later publicly shared without their consent or knowledge.

Many of the images were taken from online platforms such as OnlyFans, Tinder, WhatsApp and Instagram.

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Screenshot 2020-11-19 at 09.37.01 Comments on one of the forums

Screenshot 2020-11-19 at 12.21.03 Comments on one of the forums

Hayden said she is very worried about the mental health impact of the situation on the victims, and the group is providing support to those who need it.

Legislation 

Image-based abuse is covered in the Harassment, Harmful Communications, and Related Offences Bill. The legislation was first proposed by Labour in May 2017, but it was not passed prior to the dissolution of the last government.

The Bill will be brought before the Justice Committee on 1 December. After the Bill is debated in the Dáil, it will go before the Seanad.

The legislation, if passed, could see offenders sentenced to up to seven years in prison.

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Órla Ryan

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