Facebook porn case shows misogyny is still alive and well in Irish courtrooms

After a year of uprising against poor treatment of women in Irish public systems, you would be forgiven for thinking that we were entering 2019 a little wiser and fairer when it comes to women's equality. But then, a case came along that made us all collectively sigh in anguish once again.

Yesterday on RTÉ Radio One's Liveline, a young Irish woman named Daire Hickey McGovern (21) from Shannon, Co. Clare, told her story of another failing by the Irish justice system. About four years ago, she was made aware that photos of her (which were taken when she was a minor) had been taken from her personal Facebook and placed onto a pornography site, alongside "graphic and incestuous" comments and captions. McGovern was just one of 19 girls whose photos had been uploaded to the site without their knowledge or permission.

Related: Belfast rape trial: here’s my truth

The person behind this breach of privacy was fellow Clare resident Evan Meehan, who was known to the girls in question and was friends with all of them on Facebook. In a court case last month, Meehan pleaded guilty to uploading up to 30 photos onto the porn site.

However, despite pleading guilty to the allegations, Meehan walked free from the court with his convictions struck out. According to the judge, Meehan deserved praise for the steps he had taken to improve his life since the incident, and said: “You have a great life ahead of you. There is no conviction or no order against you. The case is dead if you want to keep it dead.”

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The psychological and emotional trauma inflicted onto the girls affected in this case, including McGovern (who, it bears repeating, was a minor in the photographs in question) was completely ignored by the justice system, which is supposed to be in place to keep them safe. Speaking on Liveline, McGovern described the incident as "incredibly violating and traumatising", and said that she felt the impact of the defendant's actions on her had been ignored by the judge and Meehan's solicitor in the court. As a result of Meehan's actions, McGovern now fears what people might find when they search her name online, and what consequences the stolen photos could have on her future job prospects and personal life.

But while McGovern has been so emotionally affected by the case, Meehan has been allowed to walk away with a clean slate. McGovern herself acknowledged the steps he has taken to turn over a new leaf and said it was "admirable". But the issue goes far beyond one man's actions in this one case.

A system against women

Time and again, we are told that a woman's life and wellbeing comes second to a man's reputation. In Ireland, we are a country obsessed with not making a fuss. We are encouraged to sit quietly, to deal with our problems in private, and not to rock the boat, God forbid it might get tongues wagging. Not making a fuss has its place, and is all well and good when it comes to troubling someone for a cup of tea. But this culture of silencing doesn't cut it when it comes to justice, the law and the emotional and physical well-being of our women.

This year more than any other in Ireland, we've witnessed both sides of the coin when it comes to speaking up and speaking out about women's rights. The long-awaited repeal of the 8th amendment was an encouraging landmark in Irish history, a herald of what can happen when enough "hysterical women" come together and insist on being listened to. The result was the removal of a damaging and dangerous law from our constitution. But another nationwide news story, taking place in Northern Ireland, had a less jubilant result. The Belfast rape trial, in which two well-known rugby players were found not guilty of raping a woman at a house party in 2016, sparked national outrage about the language and attitudes displayed in court against the alleged victim. Protests across the country, using the tagline #IBelieveHer, were organised to support the woman in question, and although the case finished in favour of the defendants, the debates on consent and rape culture taking place in pubs and kitchens around Ireland were far from finished.

Behind the times

Daire Hickey McGovern did not consent to having her private photographs being placed on a pornography site. And yet, the judge for this case did not seem to think that this was important. What was more important was the "great life ahead of"Meehan. What was more important was putting the case to bed, with a man's criminal record still clean.

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McGovern criticised the lack of legislation surrounding cyber-crime in Ireland, and said that “the law is really lagging behind with technology, there is nothing to cover this." In this case, the law was not on the side of the women, and a conviction was off the cards, despite the obvious damage and the admission of guilt. But while legislation can be updated, it will take much longer for attitudes and cultural bias to catch up to a world of women's equality. Laws around technology are not the only things lagging behind in the Irish judicial system.

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