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Justice MInister Helen McEntee.
Justice MInister Helen McEntee.

Image-based abuse: Being in a relationship with victim 'will be aggravating factor in sentencing'

People could face up to seven years in prison if they publish intimate images without consent.
Dec 1st 2020, 6:22 PM 14,501 17

BEING IN A relationship with someone will be treated as an aggravating factor in sentencing if a person is found to to have published intimate images of the person without their consent. 

Proposed new laws governing image-based abuse were discussed by the Justice Committee this afternoon, with the Minister saying it is hoped the laws would be passed in a number of months time. 

The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 covers a wide range of offences, with Minister Helen McEntee saying the issue “has really come to the fore in recent weeks”.

The new measures against image-based abuse are to be contained in amendments to the bill and the minister outlined them this afternoon.  

The minister said there would not be a separate offence if the perpetrator was known to the victim but that this would be taken into account during sentencing. 

“What I’m proposing to do in amending Section 40 of the Domestic Violence Act, 2018, essentially does exactly what you’re looking to do, in that it would be an aggravating factor where a person is in a relationship or has been in a relationship with somebody,” the minister said.

The minister said having a separate offence relating to the victim and perpetrator being known to each other could cause difficulties in prosecution and that it is best dealt with at the sentencing stage. 

McEntee says this is already provided for in legislation. 

“This would include a spouse, civil partner or someone who is or was in an intimate relationship with the other person,” the minister said. 

“It will absolutely be the case that it will be taken as an aggravating factor if someone has been in or is still in a relationship.”

During debate on the amendments, the minister said the government is proposing to criminalise image-based abuse “whether you intend to cause harm or not” but that the penalties would be different.

Should someone intend to cause harm, the maximum penalty would be an unlimited fine and/or up to seven years in prison and if there is no intent to cause harm the penalty would be up to a €5,000 fine and/or a 12 months in jail. 

‘Coco’s law’

Labour’s Brendan Howlin initiated the proposed bill during the lifetime of the last government, with McEntee thanking him for the “huge amount of work he has done”. 

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The bill also contains provisions against online bullying and harassment with Howlin arguing that it should be named ‘Coco’s Law’ in memory of the late Nicole Fox Fenlon, who took her own life after being the victim of online bullying. 

Howlin said this request comes from Nicole’s mother Jackie and would “mean a huge amount”.

McEntee said she believes “it will be known as Coco’s Law” and that she will use that name herself but that under legal advice it cannot be officially named as such.

Howlin said that while he understands that this is not “tradition” to name legislation in that manner it would be appropriate in this case.  

“It’s not every piece of legislation that would lend itself to something like this but I think this actually does. I think we could create a precedent here without doing any harm or injustice to anybody,” he said. 

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Rónán Duffy


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