If you have been targeted by image-based sexual abuse, here's what you can do
This week, it was revealed that Gardaí are investigating claims that 'tens of thousands' of images of Irish women and girls, many underage, have been shared online without their consent.
Many of the images have been shared in forums on Discord, an online messaging platform. Discord have identified one server on their website that had over 500 members sharing images - the website immediately removed the server and permanently banned the members.
The issue has been raised in the Dáil, as TD's and advocacy groups alike called for action to protect those targeted by these kinds of attacks.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of image-based sexual abuse, here's what you need to know.
What is image based sexual abuse?
Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA), commonly known as 'revenge porn', is when someone shares nude or sexually explicit images or videos of another person without their consent. Most commonly, this kind of abuse happens online, by sharing imagery on a website or on social media.
How does it happen?
IBSA may be committed by someone you know, like an ex-partner or current partner, or someone you don't know, like a hacker. Sharing sexual images of yourself with someone you are in a healthy, consensual relationship with is normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. If that person then shares your images without your knowledge or consent, this is not normal, and can be hugely damaging.
What does the law say?
Currently in Ireland, there is no legislation protecting those who have specifically been targeted by IBSA. Earlier this year, Justice Minister Helen McEntee assured that legislation would be introduced 'before the end of the year', and would see those convicted of the crime being subject to a €5,000 fine, six months in prison or both.
Under Data Protection and copyright laws, you have the right to have images of yourself taken off the internet. A legal professional can assist you in this process.
If you are under 18 years of age and any nude photos or videos of you have been circulated, this is child pornography. Anyone who has distributed this content will be liable to prosecution.
If you have also been threatened, stalked or made to feel physically unsafe by the IBSA, contact the Gardaí.
It has happened to me - what should I do next?
If you find out that you have been targeted by IBSA, try not to panic. This can be a very confusing and scary time, but the first thing you should do is remember that this is not your fault. Try not to feel guilty or ashamed. The fault lies with the person that has leaked private information about you - they are the only ones who should feel ashamed.
Take some time to calm yourself as much as you can, and then try to address the situation.
Talk to someone you trust
Although you may feel embarrassed, talk to someone you trust - either a family member or a close friend - who may be able to help you. If the perpetrator of your IBSA is threatening to circulate these images or videos to your friends or family, it is better for them to be aware of the situation before this happens. Remember, your loved ones only want to support you - you do not need to feel any guilt about what has happened.
Contact support services
There are some fantastic services available to people in Ireland who have been targeted by this kind of abuse - they can support you and advise you on what to do next.
The Victim's Alliance, an organisation to support those affected by IBSA, have said that they are working on a dedicated helpline for those involved in the current leak.
In the meantime, you can contact Women's Aid 24 hours a day at 1800 341 900. Women's Aid are aware of the current situation and that there may be an influx of callers.
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is also available to contact 24 hours a day at 1800 77 8888.
Contact the Gardaí
Contact the police to report the incident and get advice on what to do next from a legal standpoint.
The Gardaí may ask you to collect screenshots and any other evidence of the IBSA. Take screenshots of wherever your imagery has been linked or shared. If you are being harassed through direct messaging, screenshot these too, and be sure to include usernames. This may be a very difficult and upsetting process, but try to remember the key point - this is not your fault, and you do not have anything to be ashamed of.
Alert the platform
If your imagery has been shared on a particular website or on social media, there are a number of steps you can take to addressing it.
If you have been tagged on social media, untag yourself.
Switch your profiles to private where possible, and block anyone who is harassing you.
Report the content to the website in question and request that they remove it. The process for doing this is a little different on each platform, but is largely straightforward - the website will ask you for a reason as to why you have reported a post, and you can explain that it is an example of IBSA. You can also write to their customer support services where possible.
If your nudes are appearing in the first page of Google search results for your name, consider creating a number of extra social media profiles in your name to push them off. There are professional privacy companies that can assist you in doing this.
After all of this, consider taking a step back from social media. It may not be the best place to spend your time until the matter has been resolved.
Look after your mental health
Being targeted by IBSA is an incredibly cruel, hurtful and stressful thing to go through. Above all else, you should focus on looking after yourself and your mental health.
If you are struggling with your feelings about the situation, and feel you can't talk to friends or family, consider getting in touch with professional counselling services that can help you through this time. If you just want to talk, Samaritans is available 24 hours a day at 116 123.
Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed about seeking help - it is completely normal to need help to navigate through a traumatic experience like this.
This experience can be very overwhelming, and it's natural to feel like there will never be a way out. Try to remember that this situation will pass and things will get better. Talk about how you're feeling and don't go through the process alone.