IWD2023 - Let's work together to end online sexual violence
Online sexual violence is sexual violence
On International Women’s Day 2023, following the United Nation’s theme of technology for gender equality, we are calling on governments, activists and the private sector to make the digital world safer, more inclusive and more equitable.
In Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, we regularly hear from people affected by abuse in the digital world. They tell us that an intimate image of them has been shared or they have been sent an intimate photo or video online without their consent. Someone may have edited and shared a photo or video to make it appear they are in a sexually explicit scene. People may be ‘cyberstalked’ online – harassed and monitored via online channels. As highlighted in a new Garda campaign on ‘sextortion’, people may be threatened or blackmailed with sharing intimate images or clips. It is unfortunately common to see sexually violent, threatening and abusive messages on social media. In all these cases, the abuse is largely directed at women and girls.
Online abuse is upsetting and violating, and those affected can be highly distressed and in some cases traumatised by it, with real and devastating impacts on their daily life and relationships with others.
In Ireland, online harassment and abuse is governed by the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020, also known as ‘Coco’s Law’.
- This law outlaws the sharing of, or threatening to share, intimate images of a person without their consent, with or without intent to cause harm to that person.
- It also prohibits intentionally causing harm to another person by sending a threatening or grossly offensive message either to that person or about them online
- It bans sharing anything that might identify the victim of such abuse.
- It outlaws persistent communications about a person as well as to that person.
- If the offender is in an intimate relationship with the victim, this makes it an aggravating factor that could increase sentence length if found guilty.
The law also applies to anyone who receives and then shares on an intimate image of someone without their consent. These are serious offences, with strong penalties of up to 10 years in prison as well as hefty fines.
It is therefore very important that we are all aware of what is acceptable behaviour, and that we always seek consent before taking or sharing images or videos.
It is also important to remember that anyone can seek support after online sexual violence - just because these events occur online, over a phone or laptop, does not make them less harmful. It is normal to feel distressed about it, and you are not alone.
Online sexual violence is sexual violence.
On International Women's Day - and every day - let's work to end it.
What you can do if you’ve experienced sexual harassment or abuse online:
- You can call the 24-hour National Helpline at 1800 778888 for free, confidential support at any time. Webchat support is also available during office hours on www.drcc.ie
- You can report online abuse at any Garda station – a list is available here. Every Garda division now has a Divisional Protective Services Unit which is specially trained to deal with sexual offences.
- You can contact Hotline.ie Irish national centre responsible for combatting illegal content online and removing intimate images.
- If your image has been posted on an online social channel or site, you can request the site to take it down – most channels have a report/complaint button or contact link, and a policy and procedure on removing images.
What you can do to help stop online sexual abuse and violence:
- Learn about this issue – read our stats below and check out the UN’s page with information on online sexual abuse worldwide.
- Check out this article by DRCC's chief executive Noeline Blackwell - and share it!
- Share information on supports listed above with anyone who might need them – including the freephone 24-hour National Helpline at 1800 778888 for free, confidential support at any time.
- Share this information with friends – understand and discuss safe and consensual online behaviour.
- Donate to support DRCC’s work and services
Some facts about online sexual violence:
- Since its enactment in February 2021, An Garda Síochána has had 72 prosecutions related to 49 investigations under Coco’s Law. In 2022, Hotline.ie received 688 reports in relation to Intimate Image Abuse.
- A Too Into You poll published in February 2023 revealed 93% (15,877) of young women surveyed said that their partner has threatened to post explicit or intimate images or videos of them when they have a fight.
- A recent report from the UK Victim’s Commissioner revealed that the most common types of abuse reported there were cyberbullying and online harassment. Intimate image abuse (sometimes referred to as revenge porn) and cyber-stalking were the two most high-impact offences. It also showed that
- DCU Anti Bullying Centre survey of young people (2022) showed almost one in five girls had been pressured to send sexually explicit images of themselves and well over a third had received unwanted sexual messages and sexual images. The RCNI ‘Storm & Stress’ report (2022) showed 42% of adolescents commonly experienced sexual harassment online.
- In a survey by UNESCO in 2020, 73% of women journalists had experienced online violence in the course of their work, and 18 % had been threatened with sexual violence. And 20% reported being attacked offline in connection with online violence they had experienced