Media Release: Women’s Aid Welcomes and Endorses the Law Reform Commission’s Recommendations on Cybercrime

27 Sep 2016

  • Digital abuse of women is real, harmful and must be treated as a serious crime.
  • Women’s Aid urges the Government to enact new, all-encompassing legislation to better protect women from digital abuse and stalking.
  • Women’s Aid 2015 Snapshot of the issue recorded 293 disclosures of digital abuse.

Women’s Aid, the national organisation providing support to women affected by domestic, dating and digital abuse, welcomes the publication of the Law Reform Commission’s Report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety. Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, says that the reports’ wide ranging proposals to tackle digital abuse within intimate relationships are a pivotal step in bringing Ireland’s laws into the 21st century. The proposals cover the issues of sharing of explicit images without consent (‘revenge porn’), stalking and harassment by digital means and voyeurism (‘upskirting’), Women’s Aid now urges the Government to enact new, all-encompassing legislation to better protect women from digital abuse and stalking.

Ms Martin says,

“Today’s report reflects what Women’s Aid has said over the last 6 years. Digital abuse in intimate relationships is real, it is harmful and it must be treated as a serious crime. We have long been concerned about disclosures of digital abuse made to our National Freephone Helpline and other services. In our contacts with women, they have told us that their personal details have been shared and lies spread about them online. Women disclosed that they have been impersonated by their abuser online. The most common form of digital abuse we hear about are damaging rumours being spread about women both personally and professionally and having sexually explicit images and posted online without consent (‘revenge porn’). In other cases, abusive partners or ex-partners have advertised their partners on escort sites without their consent or knowledge.”

Ms Martin adds,

“In 2015, we took a snapshot of the issue in our National Freephone Helpline and One to One services and we recorded 293 disclosures of digital abuse. While the Women’s Aid snapshot is a small number of cases, we know that the phenomenon is real and growing year on year, especially for younger women. A recent EU wide study on violence against women showed that 12% of Irish women and girls over the age of 15 had experienced stalking with 50% being stalked, physically and online, by a partner or ex (FRA, 2014).”

In a detailed Submission to the Law Reform Commission in January 2015, Women’s Aid outlined the harmful impacts of digital abuse by partners and ex-partners. Ms Martin says,

“The impact of this type of insidious abuse cannot be underestimated. Women feel that their privacy has been invaded and that they have no control over their lives. Women experience anxiety and feel vulnerable and fearful. They also have difficulty in concentrating and sleeping. Women have to change their contact numbers and email addresses, close down social media accounts and in some cases, move out of their homes. Women have to try to repair damage done to their reputation with their family, friends, at work and with their online communities.”

Today, Women’s Aid welcomes and endorses the Report’s recommendations to reform both the criminal law, as well a new statutory national oversight system that would promote and support positive digital safety. It must be a catalyst for real change and the updating of Irish Law to fully protect women who face abuse, stalking and intimidation through digital means.

ENDS

For those affected - Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900, www.WomensAid.ie

Women’s Aid current guidelines for victims of ‘Revenge Porn’ (www.womensaid.ie/help/digitalabuse/revenge)

For more information contact Christina Sherlock, Communications and Campaigns Officer, 01-678 8858 or 087 919 2457. Email christina.sherlock@womensaid.ie.

Further information:

  • Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, is available for interview.
  • Written case study Niamh available here. (www.womensaid.ie/about/newsevents/casestudies)
  • Women’s Aid’s Submission to the Law Reform Commission, download here. (www.womensaid.ie/download/pdf/womens_aid_submission_to_law_reform_commission_on_cyber_crime_january_2015.pdf)
  • Details of the Women's Aid Seminar of Digital Abuse of Women in November 2015 can be found here. (www.womensaid.ie/about/newsevents/pastevents/2015/11/25/digital-abuse-of-women-international-day-opposing/)
  • Digital abuse of women includes online and technology abuse, online shaming and stalking and the non-consensual sharing of explicit images (‘revenge porn’).
  • Women's Aid is the national organisation providing support and information to women experiencing domestic violence through its Direct Services. It runs the only free, national, domestic violence helpline (1800 341 900, 24 hours, 7 days) with specialised trained staff & volunteers, accredited by the Helplines Partnership and with a Telephone Interpretation Service covering 170 languages for callers needing interpreting services as well as a Text Service for Deaf and Hard of Hearing women.
  • Women's Aid also offers a Dublin-based One to One Support Service and Court Accompaniment Service and runs the Dolphin House Support and Referral Service in the Dublin District Family Law Court (in partnership with Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service and Inchicore Outreach Centre.)
  • There were 293 disclosures to Women’s Aid of digital abuse including stalking in 2015.
  • Women’s Aid 24hr Helpline has answered 41 calls a day so far in 2016.
  • The Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline answered 9,308 calls in 2015 (10am to 10pm service). There were 870 one to one support visits and 239 court accompaniments carried out by its One to One Support Services. An additional 308 drop-in sessions took place at the Dolphin House Support and Referral Service. There were also 1,316 additional support calls by our One to One Services, including at Dolphin House.
  • There were 16,375 disclosures of domestic abuse to Women’s Aid Direct Services in 2015 including 10,876 disclosures of emotional abuse, 3,281 disclosures of physical abuse, 616 disclosures of sexual abuse (Including 212 disclosures of rape) and 1,602 disclosures of financial abuse.
  • The Women’s Aid website was visited 167,229 times in 2015.