The cowardly backlash against women who discovered online campaign of image-based sexual abuse

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“YOU should go private right now,” the post said.

By Tuesday, young Irish women were warning each other to lock their social media accounts as a massive anonymous forum of men started to actively hunt for intimate and sexual images of specific women to leak.

It was a cowardly backlash against the women who had uncovered one of the largest known examples of online image-based abuse in Ireland.

“They won’t let us w*** in peace,” one post said.

Tens of thousands of intimate images of Irish women, shared without their consent, had been discovered by the Victims Alliance. As word spread on social media, the anonymous men who had shared the pictures threatened to find and leak intimate images of the women who were trying to expose them and shut them down.

The sites hosting these megafiles of images are hotbeds of rancid misogyny. Irish men swap stolen sexual images of women as if they are trading cards. The images are shared alongside women’s full names, and often pictures of specific women are requested by the men on the site. “Hopefully someone has ******* ******,” one post read. “Any ones of ***** *********,” said another.

The images are taken from a number of private social networks, or leaked by individuals who were sent them in confidence. In some cases women appear to have been photographed without their knowledge, for example in changing rooms. Some images are also leaked without consent from OnlyFans.

OnlyFans is a subscription-based website which has risen in popularity in Ireland over the last year. Many young women and men make money selling sexual images to subscribers on the private social network. Most do not operate their accounts under their real names.

According to posts seen by the Irish Independent, women choosing to profit from their sexuality appears to specifically rankle with the sexist men leaking the images. They claim a woman sharing images with one person gives them licence to widely leak the same images without consent under the woman’s real name. In other cases, men blithely claim any woman who has ever sent an intimate image of herself either deserves or should expect to have it leaked.

One poster challenged men on the server this week, pointing out that one of the women who had had her images leaked had been suicidal. “Why’d she send the pics out then?” one poster responded, “We all have a choice idiot.” While another simply posted: “Was she hot.”

Image-based abuse, which was previously known as “revenge porn”, is not a criminal offence in Ireland. In 2017, Labour drafted a bill that would create a new offence of sharing an intimate image without consent. The last government indicated it would back the bill in 2018, but it has still not been passed. The bill is due before the Dáil before the end of this year, but campaigners warn it needs to be amended and strengthened if it is going to protect all victims of image-based abuse.

There are concerns that women who consensually shared or sold images to someone on OnlyFans might not be protected if or when the images are leaked to a wider audience without their consent.

There have also been calls for the same bill to criminalise people who sent intimate images to someone without their consent, like men who harass women with pictures of their genitals.

In an email to members of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, Victims Alliance warned that it was aware of cases where such images had been sent to children.

The Victims Alliance is a lobby group made up of about 10 victims which has suddenly found itself trying to trawl through hundreds and thousands of leaked images to find and identify the Irish women affected. There is no specific support service in Ireland for women affected by image-based abuse, though Women’s Aid is aware of the issue and is able to take calls from those affected on their phone line. Victims Alliance has also been tracking down and alerting the servers which are hosting the images to get them removed, and has also passed information on to gardaí.

Linda Hayden, the group’s founder, said she was extremely frustrated that the failure to legislate against image-based abuse had left her group trying to investigate ways to protect women and get the images taken down. “We shouldn’t be the ones left to deal with this,” she said.

The sheer scale of the number of images shared and Irish women affected, combined with the brazen misogyny of those responsible, meant the issue was raised by almost all political parties and groupings in the Dáil yesterday. Some politicians directed their ire at the men involved, branding them the “lowest of the low”.

Holly Cairns, the Social Democrats TD, stood and spoke directly to the women affected. “It is not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. And you’re not to blame,” she said.

“However, unfortunately, despite warnings about situations like this one, image-based sexual abuse is still not a crime here. So these violations of women have been facilitated by the State’s inadequate policy and inaction.”

Ms Cairns told Ms McEntee that the Government needed to act “now” to protect women from image-based abuse rather than leaving it until the end of the year to try to enact a law.

“This house can move quickly. Not before the end of the year, now. We saw this in relation to Dublin Zoo, we’ve seen it in the past in relation to the banks, I’m asking you to move immediately to protect victims of what we all know is a crime,” she said.

Source: Irish News