Law must tackle online threat - Sexual harassment

SINCE its beginnings, the internet has become an unrivaled source of entertainment and information for tens of millions of people the world over.

It is an extraordinary facility that allows communication from one end of the globe to another, linking friends and families in a way that was never possible before. Unfortunately, it has also become a means whereby nefarious and even criminal elements can use it to their own ends.

That has become all too evident in recent days with the revelation that in University College Dublin a Facebook group of 200 male students has been sharing and rating nude photos of female students on campus. Such harassment of young women is nothing new but what is new is the failure of the Irish legal system to address it in any meaningful way.

Online attacks like this do not attract criminal prosecution because Irish law dictates that it must, in the first instance, originate in this jurisdiction and also amount to assault or the immediate threat of violence. That Dickensian view must be addressed with urgency. In many instances, Irish law has barely entered the 20th century, let alone the 21st.

These online threats are real, substantial and worrying. If our laws cannot protect the vulnerable, they need to be enhanced immediately.

The internet is a wonderful tool. It should not be allowed to be a weapon.

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