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Image-based sexual abuse now a criminal offence as President Higgins signs legislation

The bill includes two offences relating to the distribution of intimate images without consent


President Higgins signed legislation that has two offences in relation to image-based sexual abuse

President Higgins signed legislation that has two offences in relation to image-based sexual abuse

President Higgins signed legislation that has two offences in relation to image-based sexual abuse

Today it has become law that it is a criminal offence to distribute intimate images without consent after President Michael D Higgins signed legislation.

The Harrassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 has two offences in relation to image-based sexual abuse.

The 2017 bill has been referred to as Coco’s Law after Nicole Fox Fenlon, affectionately known as Coco, died by suicide following a period of online abuse.

Passed by the Dáil on December 18, the first offence deals with the taking, distributing, publication or threatening to distribute intimate images without consent with the intent to cause harm to the victim. This offence will hold a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or seven years imprisonment.

The second offence is the same, however, without the requirement that the person intended to cause harm to the victim. This will carry a maximum penalty of €5,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment.

Although this bill was initiated in 2017, the addition of offences for image-based sexual abuse garnered cross-party support after it emerged last month that thousands of images of Irish women have been shared online without their consent.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said it was not possible to legally change the title of this bill to ‘Coco’s Law’ in memory of Nicole Fox Fenlon, but that the legislation her mother successfully campaigned for will always be known as such.

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Nicole Fox Fenlon died in January 2018. Jackie Fox, her mother, revealed afterwards that Nicole had been suffering from persistent online abuse since the age of 18. The bullying had continued even after Nicole had tried to take her own life in 2016.

Her campaign led to the Labour Party drafting a bill in 2017 to ban cyberbullying, stalking and sharing intimate images online without consent.

The justice committee heard calls to formally name the new legislation Coco’s Law in honour of Nicole Fox Fenlon. Labour TD Brendan Howlin said he wanted to change the name of the bill as it would mean a “huge amount” to Nicole’s family.

“The very visible face of this campaign across the country for the last number of years has been Jackie Fox. Her beautiful daughter, Nicole, was driven by vicious online bullies to the point of suicide, to taking her own life,” Mr Howlin said.

Ms McEntee said she had been given legal advice which said the title of the bill could not be changed.

“I do completely understand that this is something that people want to be connected with Nicole and her legacy. And I do believe that it will be known as Coco’s Law – even if it’s not in the title,” Ms McEntee said.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please contact Samaritans helpline 116 123 or Aware helpline 1800 80 48 48 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247.

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