I RECENTLY hosted an event with UCC Law Society on ‘The Dangers of the Online/Digital World’, kindly sponsored by A&L Goodbody.
This was a very timely event in which the speakers discussed particularly the issues of online abuse and image based sexual abuse.
Recently I also hosted an event on ‘Relationship Violence and the Law’ which focused on the issues of coercive control and domestic violence.
Throughout these two events we have had wonderful speakers from Women’s aid, SAFE Ireland, IACP, Cork Sexual Violence centre, Men’s aid, and Plan Ireland’s Youth Panel. In this piece I will outline my main takeaway points from these events and what I feel needs to be done.
As we have seen time and time again there have been some wonderful young people who are calling for change and reform and trying to get the attention of those in power. The importance of this can not be underestimated. With well over 300 people at both virtual events it is clear these are very important issues for many people.
A key takeaway from both events for me was that we must keep up the good fight. We have seen time and time again movements start, and we begin to see change in certain areas and then we stop. This has been a fundamental issue with change in our society, we must be persistent with these issues, we must not let those in power forget about these issues and we must use our voice to do this. Every voice has with it its own power.
As highlighted by Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s aid in the recent event and their recent report, 1 in 2 women experience online abuse. I could spend this whole piece illustrating the statistics and horrifying stories of the victims of such abuse. One victim stated, “it’s not a crime that just happens and then that’s fine, it’s something that is continual.”
This online abuse and image based sexual abuse does not just go away. It is constantly in the minds of victims who can live in a state of fear for all their life. I can no longer stand by and allow this to happen. While this continues to happen in society and we stand back and do not we are failing ourselves, our friends, the future generation, and humanity.
A key point as highlighted by the speakers at this event was one of legislation. There are two bills currently before the Oireachtas. The one in the context of Criminal law is the harassment, harmful communication, and related offences bill 2017 and in relation to civil law is the online safety and media regulation bill 2019. It is important to have both a criminal aspect but also a civil act.
For many victims, their number one priority is getting this content removed promptly and currently without this civil bill this is not possible.
A very good example of where this has been done correctly is in the Australian model. In some cases here, the content cannot be taken down at all. We must question why is the current protocol that we review the content for what can take up to a few days before it is taken down? Why is it not that we firstly take down the content on instance of a complaint and then review it? Surely the impact of leaving this harmful content up online is far worse than having to reupload content which is not deemed harmful. This seems like a completely disproportionate system.
Another point about the legislation is that it currently does not allow for a review period. To me this is unacceptable considering the fast-changing climate we live in, legislation such as this should be open to review after a certain number of years to see if it is adequately protecting victims or not.
Another issue raised in both events was one of education. In Ireland, on these issues, we are failing from the ground up. The education is just simply not there and is not sufficient. From primary school all the way through to 3 rd level we must continue to educate the youth of our country on these issues in an age appropriate manner.
Alex Cooney from CyberSafe Ireland highlighted how a third of children between the ages of 8 and 12 have friends online whom they do not know in real life.
We must educate our children how to be safe online.
We must use educate to weed out the systemic problems of misogynism, sense of entitlement, superiority from a young level with age appropriate measures.
There can never be any cultural rationalisation for gender violence and such violence must be called out for what it is.
This issue of education also ties in with the issue of coercive control. We must continue to educate students and the public in general what this offence is. We must encourage victims to come forward and speak up and to support them when they do.
The final point as spoken about by Kathrina Bently from Men’s Aid and referenced by all the speakers is that this is an issue for us all. While this year we have grown used to the word pandemic in the sense of the Covid-19 virus, there is another pandemic in this country which for far too long has ripped through the country having devastating effects on the victims. That is the issues of coercive control, domestic violence, image based sexual abuse and all other forms of gender-based violence.
As a young male I feel it is important to encourage other men to speak out, to speak out if you are abused and to speak out in support of the women we have failed for far too long.
This is an issue that requires unity, persistence, and empowerment but I do believe we can bring this important change.