Wednesday, 1st May 2019: Women’s Aid, the national organisation providing support to women affected by domestic, dating and digital abuse, welcomes media reports of Cabinet debate on new criminal offences to cover digital abuse including cyber stalking and bullying, up-skirting and the non-consensual sharing of explicit images online (often called ‘revenge pornography’). The organisation is encouraged to hear that Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, T.D., has accepted the Labour Party Bill on Harmful Communications and Cybercrime, which received all party support last year, and it hopes that this will be a pivotal step in bringing Ireland’s laws into the 21st century. However, Women’s Aid stresses that any Government response should cover prevention, protection and proper sanctions for digital abuse and we see the need for the creation of an Office of a Digital Commissioner. Any new legislation needs to be fully resourced and implemented to be truly effective.
Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, says:
“Recent developments on this issue, including the Law Reform Commission’s Report, the Labour Party Bill and the latest move by the Minister for Justice, reflects what Women’s Aid has said over the last 8 years and longer. That 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 pornography’). In other cases, abusive partners or ex-partners have advertised their partners on escort sites without their consent or knowledge.”
Ms Martin adds,
“In 2018, we took a snapshot of the issue in our National Freephone Helpline and One to One services and we recorded 561 disclosures of digital abuse and stalking. This is only the tip of the iceberg and 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).”
Ms Martin continues:
“The impact of this type of insidious abuse cannot be underestimated. And I would stress that our language matters around this issue. It’s not revenge, it’s not porn. It is abuse and this type of abuse is one of the deepest betrayals of trust by a boyfriend or ex. 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.”
Research in the UK shows that 41% of women experiencing domestic abuse were stalked and harassed online and it is an area that the Irish public is concerned about too and recently Women’s Aid ran a petition on Facebook calling for action on this area and it received almost 20,000 signatures. We are sending the petition to Minister Flanagan today.
Women’s Aid welcomes the move to increase legal protection for women affected by digital abuse and we look forward to seeing the details of the Bill in due course. We must see real change and the updating of Irish Law to fully protect women who face abuse, stalking and intimidation through digital means.
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, Head of Communications on 01-6788858 or 087 919 2457. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.