New image-based sexual abuse supports will 'mean the world' to victims


Michael Staines
Michael Staines

11.15 2 Sep 2021


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An Irishwoman who was the victim of image-based sexual abuse in 2016 has said a new online support service would have “meant the world” to her if it had existed at the time.

The Department of Justice has launched a portal to help people whose intimate images are shared without their consent report it and have them removed from the internet.

It is part of a wider campaign warning that non-consensual image-sharing is a form of abuse and a crime.

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"Really difficult"

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, 24-year-old Megan Sims said she tried to take her own life when her images and videos were shared “probably hundreds of thousands of times” online.

“For me I basically felt like my life was completely over was the thing,” she said.

“I thought, I’m never going to be able to get a job because it will get reported to my job. I thought I was damaged goods I would say – that nobody would ever want me again, so I was never going to be able to have a relationship.

“Then, obviously there was the countless bullying messages I was getting. I would log into Facebook and get about 400-plus messages calling me every name under the sun.

“So, it is a really, really difficult thing to deal with. That and with everybody seeing you in a very intimate way, it is an extremely shameful thing.

“I have kind of owned it now and I don’t really care but at the time I was young and I didn’t really understand that it was something that had been done to me rather than something that was my own fault.”

Campaign

Megan spearheaded a campaign against image-based sexual abuse in the years after her experience – launching an online petition calling for it to be made a criminal offence which was signed over 85,000 people.

In February of this year, Coco’s Law, which incudes penalties of up to seven years in prison was officially enacted.

She said the supports that are now available would have “meant the world” to her if they existed in 2016.

“The thing is there was just nothing there,” she said. “I have been saying this from the beginning – this was always kind of part of the plan.

“First, we needed the law, then we needed a service and next we need education because that is the only way anything is going to change.

“But I think it would have meant the world to me as somebody going through it to even be able to do anything because you feel so hopeless and if people aren’t educated on the internet and don’t know how to get their images taken down it can be really, really distressing.”

Law change

She said she is doing much better now.

“We got the law passed you know,” she said. “I hate to say things happen for a reason, but I think I made it a reason. I think it can be a reason if you make it one.

“So hopefully with this as well we are seeing real change spread all over the world. They have changed the laws in America and the UK because of the Irish law, so it is amazing really.”

Anyone affected by any of the issues discussed in this article can call Pieta House on 1800 247 247 or text help to 51444

Anyone who has had an intimate image shared without their consent online can contact that hotline.ie/report.


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