Ireland's image based sexual abuse laws compared to other countries 4 days ago

Ireland's image based sexual abuse laws compared to other countries

Here's what you should know about the laws in Ireland, and around the world.

Image based sexual abuse, or as it is often known as: 'revenge porn,' is the sharing of intimate or explicit images or videos of a person without their consent.

Incidents of this kind of abuse have escalated in recent years amidst the prevalence of social media and, more recently, the reliance on web communication during the Covid-19 pandemic.

What are the current laws against image based sexual abuse in Ireland? 

As of November 2020, it is not illegal for a person to unsolicitedly share explicit images or videos of another person without their consent.

Although victims can report these incidents, a law has yet to be enacted that would make this kind of abuse a punishable offence under Irish law.

Current legislation close to this kind of abuse relates to harassment. According to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act of 1997, it is illegal to harass a person to the point of distress or to interfere with their privacy. The law does not, however, mention the unsolicited sharing of intimate images.

Earlier this summer, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that she was hopeful that new legislation would be enacted by the end of this year. Back in August, she told Newstalk: "I know the huge and very damaging impact that something like this can have on someone.

"There is currently legislation in place around harassment and harmful communications, but what we're doing with this other piece of legislation is strengthening that from the criminal aspect and the criminal side."

Are there any proposed laws against this kind of abuse? 

Making image based sexual abuse an offence was first proposed in the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill of 2017. Section 4 of the Bill states:

"A person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse records, distributes or publishes, or threatens to record, distribute or publish, an intimate image of another person without the other person’s consent" and subsequently causes harm or distress the person should be charged with an offence.

The Bill in question proposes that the guilty party be liable to a Class A fine or a prison sentence of between six months and seven years, depending on the case.

The legislation was proposed by former Labour leader Brendan Howlin three years ago, but has yet to be signed into law.

What are the laws in the UK? 

Image based sexual abuse became illegal in England and Wales in 2015, with similar legislation being enacted in Northern Ireland and Scotland one year later.

Legislation in England and Wales comes under section 33 of the Criminal Justice Act 2015. The law states that it is a criminal offence to: "Disclosure of a private sexual photograph or film without the consent of the person depicted, and with the intention of causing that individual distress."

Under the law, "disclosure" could mean anything from posting a photo or video online, to sending it to another person directly.

Although this kind of image sharing is an offence in the UK, victims rights groups remain concerned that fewer people are reporting as they are not guaranteed anonymity.

Under the law, this kind of abuse is categorised as a "communications crime", meaning that victims are not automatically granted anonymity, leading to some victims failing to report.

Last year, the BBC reported that although police investigations into this type of crime had increased, the number of charges had fallen.

Similarly, although the law is detailed in some respects, it is vague elsewhere. According to solicitors Leigh Day, it is not enough for a victim to be humiliated by the sharing of the images or video. Rather, the law considers if the person accused had intended to cause distress when they disclosed the images.

What are the laws in other countries? 

Germany has enforced some of the world's strictest legislation that can be applied to this kind of abuse. Under its privacy laws, a person can even ask that their ex deletes their intimate images on request.

Ex-partners can ask the courts to have any photos of them, taken consensually or not, to be deleted from their partners’ devices if they fear the images could be shared without their consent.

This approach has been deemed one of the most successful as it can minimise potential harm to a victim, stopping the abuse before it even occurs.

Elsewhere in Europe, image based sexual abuse is also a punishable offence. In France, it is illegal to share photos or videos “taken within a private place without the consent of the person concerned.” However many other countries, like Ireland, do not have any kind of specific law, making the abuse difficult to punish.

In the US, 34 states have enacted legislation that can pertain to image based sexual abuse, however prosecutions can vary from state to state. As well as this, oftentimes the law can focus on hosts of unsolicited content, like large websites, rather than individual cases.

Canada's cyberbullying act of 2015 also offers protection to victims of image based sexual violence. The government enacted the new law following the deaths of students Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd.

If you have been affected by any of the details shared in this article, you can contact Women's Aid on 1800 341 900, or speak to your local Garda Victims Service Office.

If you are looking for legal advice, you should contact a solicitor.