Calls for new laws to combat the abuse of women online
Ireland needs new laws to combat the abuse of women online, according to a national agency supporting victims of domestic abuse.
Online stalking and harassment by current or former partners, as well as online shaming or 'revenge porn', have been highlighted by Women's Aid as issues that need to be tackled by "all-encompassing" legislation.
The organisation made the call yesterday at a national conference in Dublin, which was addressed by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.
The conference also heard from a number of Irish and international experts on the digital abuse of women.
Scottish campaigner Ann Moulds was previously a victim of stalking. For more than two years, an anonymous stalker plagued Ann with explicit letters about rape, bondage and torture. The stalker also sent her ladies' underwear in the post.
"He was making out that I wanted this," she said. The stalking continued with late-night phone calls, and photos that implied he had taken personal items from Ann's house.
When Ann approached the police, she was disappointed with their reaction.
However, Ann's campaigning since 2009 has helped to influence Scotland's approach to stalking, which is now seen as an example to other countries.
"We probably have one of the most powerful pieces of legislation out there," she told the Irish Independent, adding that anti-stalking legislation is the "bedrock" in an approach to combating the crime.
While Ann's experience did not feature digital abuse, she called on the Irish Government to introduce legislation that would protect victims of all forms of stalking in future.
A recent EU-wide study on violence against women revealed that 12pc of Irish women and girls over the age of 15 had experienced stalking, with 50pc being stalked online or physically by a partner or an ex.
Meanwhile, Women's Aid have carried out a "snapshot" study of women who used its support services over a three-month period.
During this time, 25 women reported that digital abuse was a feature of the overall domestic violence they were experiencing.
In 16 cases, the woman, or her family or friends, received offensive and threatening emails, texts or instant messages from their abuser.
And seven women reported they had been tracked and monitored through technology on their PC or mobile phone.
Margaret Martin, director of Women's Aid, explained that digital abuse of women is not always seen as domestic violence. She stressed that these attitudes need to be changed.
"The impact of this type of insidious abuse cannot be underestimated. Women feel that their privacy has been invaded and that they have no control over their lives," she said.
"We must show women who need our services that we are listening to their concerns, believing them when they tell us they are in danger, supporting them to a safer life, and acting to change the law when we see that it is no longer fit for purpose."
The Department of Justice said the Law Reform Commission is currently undertaking a project on cyber crime, affecting personal safety, privacy and reputation. Its report is due to be completed shortly.
The Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline number is 1800 341 900.