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  • Jack McClelland

Coco’s Law – Criminalising Online Sexual Abuse

It is clear that technology, specifically social media, has presented a new challenge for the protection of fundamental human rights which has led to the need for legislative developments.


The posting and sharing of sexual imagery online without a person’s consent uses sophisticated technology to threaten basic rights, notably Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 provides every individual with the right to a private life and the protection of one’s image.


As we have entered a time of significant technological advances, this has led to an increase in the distribution of sexual images and videos. 59% of the entire population has access to the internet, opening up a dark opportunity for those involved in exploiting women and children. Now this isn’t happening on the dark web – it is not always hidden from plain sight. An investigation into the popular adult site ‘Pornhub’ revealed that a large number of the videos on their platform included either underage girls or women who had been trafficked. 9 million videos were removed.


According to the founder of Victims Alliance in Ireland, there are a number of forums with thousands of regular users, circulating sexual images of Irish women and suspected underage girls, all without their consent or knowledge.


Although the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998 considers the publishing and sharing of images of minors as child sexual abuse, there have been recent legislative developments in order to protect adults.

For many years, the Irish Labour Party campaigned to criminalise online harassment, bullying and revenge porn through the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017. As we speak generally about laws and statistics, it is easy to lose sight of those who fall victim to these crimes.


However, after commendable campaigning from her mother, this bill will be known as ‘Coco’s Law’ following the suicide of Nicole Fox (21) in 2018 after years of online harassment. Although Justice Minister Helen McEntee stated that it was not possible to change the name to ‘Coco’s Law’, she stated that the legislation will always be known as such.


The Law

On Monday 28th December 2020, President Michael D. Higgins signed the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 (Coco’s Law) into law.


The Act will consider the following a criminal offence:

“[A] person who distributes, publishes or threatens to distribute or publish an intimate image of another person—

(a) without that other person’s consent, and

(b) with intent to cause harm to, or being reckless as to whether or not harm is caused to, the other person, is guilty of an offence.”


With an increase in revenge porn from ex-partners, the law will require Irish Courts to consider the involvement of an ex-partner as an aggravating factor.


Sentencing

The new law states that, where an offender has shown intent to cause harm, the sentencing includes an unlimited fine or up to 7 years prison time. For the same offence with intent removed, the maximum fine is €5,000 or up to 12 months imprisonment.


As we continue to enjoy social media and technological advances, it is important that the law develops in order to protect a person’s basic human rights.

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