“It is disappointing that we have to rally again only two years after Repeal”

An interview with End IBSA Ireland co-founder Eboni Burke

This article contains mention of abuse, child abuse, and image-based sexual abuse

At the end of November, hundreds of activists gathered virtually to protest against image based sexual abuse in Ireland. Ten days before, activist and End Image Based Sexual Abuse Ireland (IBSA) co-founder Eboni Burke tweeted asking if anyone would be interested in campaigning in solidarity for victims after a leak of 10,000 images on Discord made national headlines. Speaking to Trinity News over Zoom, Burke reminisces on the online rally and discusses the future of End IBSA Ireland. 

“It is disappointing that we have to rally again, only two years after Repeal, to secure rights for people across Ireland but I’ve never seen such an amazing, passionate collective of people come together like this before,” Burke said. Burke first became interested in social and political activism in 2018 through working with the Irish Secondary School’s Union (ISSU). While working with the ISSU, Burke campaigned for adequate sex and consent education, a topic that is close to their heart. “When I saw the aftermath of the mega-leak this month, it created a fire in me to organise a rally.” 

Burke notes that the biggest challenge they faced when it came to the rally was the concept of guilt and feeling exposed to online hate. “The harsh comments you see online, it hits close to home, makes you realise that this thought process is real. We’re not as far along as we thought we were. Also finding an emotional balance, you want to put your whole self into the movement but that’s not healthy. Finding time to self-care has been a challenge.”

“I got extremely emotional at that point. I couldn’t stop sobbing. It was a moment of empowerment for her as well as everyone else.”

When asked what their personal highlights of the rally were, Burke points to the contributions made by guest speakers, poets and musicians, describing the emotional impact of seeing their mother perform an original song at the rally. “I got extremely emotional at that point. I couldn’t stop sobbing. It was a moment of empowerment for her as well as everyone else.” They also bring attention to the Becoming video featuring poetry from Imelda May and a speech made by Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) representative Adeline Berry that detailed how Irish state institutions have historically ignored women’s struggles. Burke sums up their goal for the rally in one sentence. “What I wanted to do at the end of the day was give victims an appropriate space to heal and to empower themselves after everything that had happened.”

“By platforming victims who are willing to share their stories and having these difficult conversations, little by little, we can dismantle everyday misogyny.”

A phrase mentioned throughout the Rally against IBSA was that “Ireland needs to create a culture of consent”. Burke explains that this is necessary to prevent leaks like this from happening again and points to education as a key factor. Burke mentions how they think early, age appropriate consent education in primary schools could be a key tool used to prevent abuse later on in life. According to Burke, online conduct has been a tough struggle: “It’s easier to engage in combat rather than educate but you’re going to get nowhere from fighting anonymous accounts that are set in their beliefs.” After this, they then detail how the average person can help victims, focusing on how people should “create a safe platform for people to tell their stories. We have this culture of ‘oh if no one talks about it, it doesn’t exist!’, which isn’t acceptable. By platforming victims who are willing to share their stories and having these difficult conversations, little by little, we can dismantle everyday misogyny.’’

On November 25, Garda commissioner Drew Harris made a statement that Gardai were not investigating any crimes in relation to the leak. Burke gave their reaction to the headlines: “I felt let down and I’m sure many victims felt let down. When this government came into power, they said they would prioritise the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Other Offences Bill and the reality is, they didn’t.” Burke then discusses their frustration that a leak of this magnitude had to be the tipping point and that previous leaks had not prompted change. When asked what they think of government action so far, Burke gives a mixed review, explaining how they’re not “a huge believer in the current government”. They then point out what appears to be a lack of understanding of the situation from the Taoiseach and Tanaiste, in particular Leo Varadkar’s use of the outdated colloquial term “revenge porn”, “they’re not really educating themselves on the correct terms and hence it seems like they don’t care.”

Burke moves on to express the need for Gardai to treat victims better, explaining that a lot of the time they often place blame on victims. “It’s not something [the Gardai] specialise in. I think we should incorporate people who understand what it is like to go through image based sexual abuse and thus can support vulnerable victims better.” Burke then mentions their discomfort of how the media have handled this story, focusing on how RTE platformed two activists for only 30 seconds. On the topic of journalists, Burke feels that a lot of writers haven’t realised how grim the topic of revenge porn and IBSA is, noting that “it’s been a mixed bag. Some are lovely and accommodating but some may be writing stories for a few clicks and don’t know how much anguish victims are going through.”

The conversation turned to the social media backlash against the campaign. Burke states that they are in “two minds” about those who are silent on social media, noting that although not everyone shares their beliefs on social media, it is disappointing for gender-based issues to be glossed over. “It’s very hard to take a stance on it. I’m also aware people will share posts on Instagram to make themselves look better. It would be nice if more people could stand up and raise awareness, it’s the only way we can stop leaks from happening again.” Some activists have criticised the lack of support, pointing to how women willingly support men’s issues like Movember. 

They take the woman out of the work and think it is okay for them to be publicly humiliated.” 

Burke explains that a lot of the time, people don’t realise the gravity of the situation. “It’s disappointing that we have to ask ourselves the question of how we can get men to support us. I’m currently dealing with a lot of ‘not all men’ comments. I have been villanised for speaking up about IBSA when it affects us all. It is strange to see people who normally share everything on Instagram suddenly become silent.” Burke notes that they think the lack of support is due to victim blaming and a lack of sympathy towards sex workers, noting how often OnlyFans creators are dismissed when they discuss this issue. They explain how sex work can be de-stigmatized through mentions in sex education: “many people do not see sex workers as human. They take the woman out of the work and think it is okay for them to be publicly humiliated.”

The End IBSA Ireland rally currently has over 3000 views on Facebook and trended first on Twitter trends in Ireland on November 28. With the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill being debated in the Dail, it can appear to some that the movement has achieved its goal in less than a month. Burke, however, reveals big plans for the future, explaining that this problem is far from solved. When asked on what’s next for End IBSA Ireland, they muse over the possibility of an in-person demonstration in the new year: “the safety of our demonstrators are our first priority. It is something I feel is worth having, to show solidarity.” Burke also details current funding initiatives such as Creatives Against IBSA and a Go Fund Me set up by the Victim’s Alliance. As the interview concluded, Burke gave some advice to those looking to create change, “all we can and should do is make as much noise as we can.”

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, support or further information can be found at the following resources:

Women’s Aid Ireland, https://www.womensaid.ie/

Revenge Porn Helpline UK, https://revengepornhelpline.org.uk/

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, https://www.drcc.ie/about/contact/

Samaritans Ireland, https://www.samaritans.org/ireland/

End IBSA, https://www.facebook.com/endibsaireland/

Eva O'Beirne

Eva O'Beirne is the Social Media and Management Editor of Trinity News and a Senior Sophister History Student. She has previously served as the Deputy Life Editor and Sex and Relationships Editor.