“I was 12”: The Reality of Image Based Sexual Abuse in Ireland

Image based sexual abuse, also known as ‘revenge porn’, occurs when intimate, nude or sexual images or videos of you are shared — or threatened to be shared — without your consent or permission. Currently in Ireland there’s no legislation or criminal liability associated with sharing images, meaning people are completely unprotected in the eyes of the law.

In recent weeks, a discord server containing what is thought to be tens of thousands of images of Irish women and girls, posted without consent, was discovered. This has created a new surge in the #EndIBSAIreland movement.

Caroline Counihan, a member of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, spoke to us about the different types of image based sexual abuse (IBSA). “Image based sexual abuse can take many forms,” Counihan explained. “One of them is referred to as ‘revenge porn’ whereby a person who is in possession of an intimate image, which may have been taken and shared with consent and decides for their own reasons to share it widely on the Internet.”

Other forms of IBSA include sextortion, in which someone is threatened with sharing intimate photos in order to get them to do things, as well as ‘deep-faking’, in which a person’s face can be grafted on to pictures of strangers who may be naked or performing sexual acts, giving the impression that it is an intimate photo of that person.

“More recently and very disturbingly, I’ve come across scenario where a sexual offence such as a rape or a serious sexual assault is literally planned and staged, by usually more than one perpetrator,” continued Counihan, “and then one of them films the whole thing and then the film of the actual active sexual violence is distributed.”

IBSA is incredibly common – a study by the University of Exeter showed that 9 out of 10 people will suffer some form of IBSA in their lifetime, be it intimate photos shared or someone threatening to do so.

The first time Anna* experienced IBSA she was 12 years old. “I started first year when I was 12 and started dating a boy after he asked me out,” Anna told Oxygen.ie. “He was 16.

“He used to send me photos of himself without me asking that I didn’t particularly want to see and he would always ask me to send him some photos back. After a few weeks I gave in because I realised it was normal, asking for nudes would be the second or third thing a boy would say to you from the first time you spoke to him.”

However, Anna later realised this boy had shared her intimate photos without her consent. “A few days later my friend told me he had seen the photos I sent to that boy. He also told me that he had been offering them around to other boys in the changing rooms telling them out he “scored” my nudes. I found out he had sent them to people. I didn’t even break up with him or fight with him at the time despite feeling disgusted because that’s how normal it all was.”

“We definitely need legislation and plenty of consent education for boys, starting from a young age,” said Anna. This is something Counihan also agrees with.

“The idea that consent is given once and for all, you have a boyfriend, you’re in a relationship and therefore through some kind of alchemy you are in some mysterious way bound to consent to anything else and that any intimate images you’ve shared are fair game – no they are not,” said Counihan. “You absolutely have the right once you give consent to any sexual activity to change your mind, to withdraw that consent before or during the activity.”

Another young woman also reached out to Oxygen.ie, sharing her experience with IBSA. “When I was in secondary school, my nudes were put into a group chat filled with boys from the school,” she explained. “They were all ranging from 14 years old to 18years old and a load of other girls nudes were shared too.” She also shared how despite these photos being shared without consent from any of these girls, it was the girls called names like ‘slut’ in the group chat.

Many women have taken to social media to share their stories, showing how common this and how urgent action is needed. After forums were found by the Victims Alliance full of intimate images of Irish women, posted without consent, a new #EndIBSAIreland movement was formed, with an online rally taking place on the 28th of November. Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said she now hopes legislation will be passed at the end of the year to make distribution of these images a crime. However, as a large amount of images in this leak were taken without permission from women’s OnlyFans platforms, it is important to many that this legislation is inclusive to all. “The legislation shouldn’t exclude sex workers,” Anna said.

If you or someone you know has been affected by IBSA, it is important to know there’s help out there for you. “People can seek help from a Rape Crisis center or another specialist sexual violence service,” said Counihan. “It’s always worth having a chat with members of an Garda Síochana because depending on the circumstances it may be possible to prosecute.

“Remember they’re all all specialists now. The whole country now has access to a Divisional Protective Services unit which is a specialist team of members of an Garda Síochana with an advanced level of training in everything related to domestic and sexual and gender based violence, and a couple of other areas as well relation to things like sex trafficking and also child protection and child sexual exploitation. The help is out there!”

The Rape Crisis Centre National 24-Hour Helpline: 1800 77 888

*Anna did not wish to be identified by her real name for this article

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