New offence to carry up to 7 years' jail for sharing sexual images without consent

Even if a person consents to the taking of the image, it will be deemed irrelevant if it is subsequently published or distributed without their consent
New offence to carry up to 7 years' jail for sharing sexual images without consent

The new measures are to be brought to Cabinet by Justice Minister Helen McEntee on Tuesday. Picture:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Anyone found guilty of sharing intimate images without consent will face up to seven years in prison under new offences to tackle the non-consensual posting of sexual images.

The new measures are to be brought to Cabinet by Justice Minister Helen McEntee on Tuesday after the alleged sharing of thousands of intimate images of Irish women online.

New offences to deal with the recording, sending, distributing or publishing of intimate images without consent will all be included in the Harassment, Harmful Communications and other Related Offences Bill which had been brought forward by Labour's Brendan Howlin in the last Dáil and which has the support of the Government.

Mr Howlin, who has campaigned on the issue for many years, said it is an offence to assault a person either physically or verbally walking down the street, however, he said the internet, which is also a public space, does not come under the same regulations.

"Our laws are hopelessly out of date. 

Some of the legislation that I am amending goes back to the Post Offices Act.

"We haven't updated this area since the advent of text messages much less the volume of traffic that is now an everyday occurrence among young and old on the internet."

He also pointed to what he described as the "unacceptable" and "shocking" difference in reaction to almost identical videos about image-based sexual abuse which he and his Labour colleague Senator Annie Hoey posted on the party's twitter feed.

"If you wanted a practical example of what some people, particularly younger women, have to face out there, that's a stark example. It's quite shocking, some of the things that were said were just beyond the pale.

"It is just shocking what it is out there and the frame of mind of people who feel that they can just say anything online," said Mr Howlin.

Ms Hoey said she had been "taken aback" by the stark differences in responses to her video and that of her male colleague.

She said: "I think Brendan got mainly messages of congratulations and I got all sorts obscenities hurled at me. That's the first time that I've really seen it that blatantly.

"There was a really targeted hateful response to me, to my body, to my personhood, to what I was saying," she said.

Ms Hoey pointed to a number of comments which suggested that if women didn't send nude photographs then it would not be possible to have them posted and shared widely online.

"It's nonsense, it's like saying if people stopped being alive, then when they were murdered they wouldn't be dead, it's ridiculous.

"I will never be surprised at the level of victim-blaming that is out there and the lengths that people will go to," she said.

It is understood Ms McEntee will seek approval for an offence that will deal with the distribution or publication of intimate images without consent and with intent to cause harm. This would carry a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or seven years’ imprisonment.

The second offence will deal with the taking, distribution or publication of intimate images without consent without a requirement that the person intended to cause harm to the victim of the offence. It is intended that this offence will carry a maximum penalty of a €5,000 fine and/or 12 months’ imprisonment.

Even if a person consents to the taking of the image, it will be deemed irrelevant if it is subsequently published or distributed without their consent.

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