KATIE KIRWAN struck a defiant tone when asked this week if she would change her online habits in light of the discovery that her innocuous Facebook photographs had been harvested and uploaded to a pornographic internet forum.
“People keep asking me that,” the 19-year-old said in exasperation.
“It can happen to you at any time, anywhere. Even if you don’t use the internet, someone can still take a picture of you and use it like that.
“There are no measures that are enough. I feel that the perpetrators are the problem, they need to be caught and made an example of. You don’t have to be on social media for this to affect you,” she said.
She has a point. None of the images taken from Ms Kirwan or her peers over a five-year period could be deemed provocative or explicit. They are typical of the kind of photographs taken by teens — pictures from nights out, group shots, and selfies.
None of them suggest that the young women are, as one forum member said, “asking for it”.
Such comments are indicative, however, of one of the motivations behind such exploitative websites. Underlying the sexual gratification these forum members derive from sharing these images is a thirst for control.
Many of the misogynistic, violent remarks accompanying the shared pictures involve graphic descriptions of forcing these young women to degrade themselves against their will.
While these women — or disturbingly in many cases, young girls — are out living their lives, pathetic voyeurs debasing themselves behind a screen fantasise about how they can dominate these girls, command them, and ultimately shatter the carefree life they watch on social media.
This is why Ms Kirwan’s defiance is the perfect response. She has not yielded an iota of influence to the men who fantasise about controlling her. Since discovering their unwanted attention, Ms Kirwan and her friends have controlled the narrative by appearing on radio, television, and in newspapers, sharing their experience to raise awareness.
They are not the meek, compliant fictions played out on a computer screen, but strong young women willingly putting themselves into the public eye to do their bit to right a wrong.
If young women allow the lurid attentions of anonymous cowards dictate how they live their online life, where is the line drawn?
Should young women shun group photo opportunities in case someone puts the picture online? Should they avoid public spaces in case a creep with a cameraphone decides to make them his latest offering to his network of perverts?
It is defiance in the face of a gross personal invasion that has prompted Ms Kirwan and her peers to publicly challenge the perpetrators rather than delete their Facebook profiles and shy away.
The onus now is on us to respond in kind. We must not surrender to the instinct that tells us to shield young girls from harm, but instead ensure that the full force of the law is there to strike fear into those who prey on their youth.
Parents who will not have grown up with social media may understandably feel defensive in light of what emerged this week, but locking up our daughters only serves to grant to these men a degree of the power they crave.
Barrister Fergal Crehan yesterday told this newspaper that it is uncertain whether the perpetrators of this invasion are guilty of any crime under Irish law.
This needs to change.
Internet sleuths may attempt to uncover the men responsible for sharing the girls’ pictures, however such vigilantism will not bring proper justice, even if the guilty parties are identified.
But this mob justice will thrive in a vacuum where there are no clear laws in place to punish this behaviour, and make examples of those responsible.
We pride ourselves on having an environment capable of hosting the European headquarters of online giants such as Google and Facebook; it is time our legislation caught up.
The response to the distasteful story that emerged this week is not to tell our daughters to hide their light under a bushel, but instead to ensure that those who would seek to exploit youthful innocence will think twice before they engage in their sordid behaviour.