Council mandates union to support end to image-based sexual abuse

TCDSU must now support a campaign seeking to end image-based sexual abuse following a major incident last week

Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ (TCDSU) Council has passed a mandate to support the ‘End Image-Based Sexual Abuse Ireland’ group.

The group, which was set up last week in response to a significant leak of private images from a Discord group, is calling for the urgent criminalisation of IBSA by the passing of the ‘Harassment, Harm- ful Communications and Related Offenses Bill 2017’ which is currently in its third stage in the Dáil and to campaign for the application of the proposed amendments.

At Council this evening, a motion was proposed by Law Convener Rebecca Kelly. Education Officer, Megan O’Connor spoke on behalf of Kelly at council, stating that “solidarity on the matter is needed” from the SU.

Speaking in support of the motion, class representative Catherine Arnold said that the incident is a “matter of human rights”, and everyone has “the right to feel safe”. Arnold then continued to state that she would “implore everyone to vote for this”.

Specific supports have been mentioned in this week’s Welfare Officer report by Leah Keogh, including Women’s Aid and Men’s Aid Ireland.

Speaking to Trinity News, Kelly explained that she has been volunteering with the Victims Alliance and was “really overwhelmed by the material” that had been leaked. 

“One file alone had over 140,000 non-consensual sexually explicit images in them,” Kelly continued. “The discord thread was discovered afterwards and was just truly overwhelming.”

“I noticed how the majority of girls affected fell within the age range of university students and thought that it was really important that universities offer adequate supports for those affected.”

The Council noted that recent events, regarding the discord leak, meant that thousands of Irish women and girls became victims in the incident, and it was a “profound violation “ of these individuals. There is no current legal protection for those affected by the leak.

Kelly explained: “The situation is so much worse than you could imagine. It’s not just an only fans leak, these are girls who sent photos in their private capacity to their intimate partners with a great degree of trust that was not respected.”

The proposed bill was approved by Cabinet in May 2019 and is yet to be enacted. 

Kelly stated that it’s “disgraceful that the State allowed this delay while simultaneously encouraging citizens to engage in cyber-sex during lockdown restrictions”.

“It’s sad that now approximately 10,000 victims will not be afforded effective remedy because of this gap in the legislative matrix,” Kelly added. “It’s clear that the problem is societal and rooted in gender-issues.”

Speaking to Trinity News, Kelly explained that she “truly hopes” that this Bill is enacted “before another 500 men gather to do this again; requesting photos of minors and leaving vile remarks on threads on the dark web”. 

“Consent is at the heart of this and ought to be more highly respected by our State by introducing more efficient protection measures.”

TCDSU, with the passing of this mandate, are calling for legislation to be passed to protect victims of IBSA, as current lack of legislation prevents victims from “pursuing effective and adequate legal remedy”.

Education Officer, Megan O’Connor, proposed a procedural amendment, to make the mandate gender neutral, referring to “people” rather than women in the mandate. 

Speaking about the Council mandate, Kelly stated that “the best way to bring about change is by demanding it”, and she would “love for TCDSU to stand behind this movement in solidarity with those affected”.

In passing this mandated Council has regarded that recent events were a “flagrant violation of privacy” and unequivocally non-consensual”.

TCDSU Welfare and Equality Officer Leah Keogh, who seconded the motion, urged Council to vote in favour of this motion.

In proposing the mandate, Council recognized many campaigns that have been set up in response to the incident, such as the Victims Alliance and the Gardaí investigation of the event. 

Council has mandated that the Welfare and Equality Officer to continue to provide support to all victims through the provision of relevant resources and information with passing of this motion, as well as mandating that the union to support the ‘End Image-Based Sexual Abuse Ireland’ group in their call for the urgent criminalisation of IBSA by the passing of the ‘Harassment, Harm- ful Communications and Related Offenses Bill 2017’ which is currently in it’s third stage in the Dáil and to campaign for the application of the proposed amendments.

Last week, both the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and TCDSU condemned the Discord leak.

The images, some of which are of underage girls, were shared on private online forums. 

TCDSU Welfare Officer Leah Keogh spoke to Trinity News at the time condemning the act, stating the union are “both aware of and disgusted” by the online-image based sexual violence (IBSV) that occurred in the past week.

Speaking to Trinity News last week, Philly Holmes, Communications and Marketing Officer in TCDSU, echoed Keogh’s sentiments, urging students that “the SU are here if you need to reach out”.

“This isn’t a once-off incident, it will remain a systemic problem until we see legal protections for those affected.”

USI have also condemned the leak, “encouraging the victims involved to use the range of services available if needed at this time or in future”.

USI is calling for legislation to make image-based sexual abuse illegal, to be implemented immediately to protect individuals from such future incidents of non-consensual sharing and publication.

Additional reporting by Kate Henshaw and Connie Roughan.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.