‘Shame, hurt, terror’: Victim who had intimate video taken without knowing launches hotline

Campaign to combat sharing or threatening to share intimate images without consent

Alexandra Ryan at age 25 faced a ‘nightmare’ when she was told an intimate video, made without her knowledge by a man she had trusted, would be distributed. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Alexandra Ryan at age 25 faced a ‘nightmare’ when she was told an intimate video, made without her knowledge by a man she had trusted, would be distributed. Photograph: Laura Hutton

 

A young woman, who discovered an intimate video of her had been made without her consent, has spoken of considering taking her own life such was her fear of it being shared online, as she launched a hotline for people to report such incidents on Thursday.

Founder and chief executive of Goss.ie, Alexandra Ryan (31), said at age 25 she faced a “nightmare” when she was told the video, made by a man she had trusted, would be distributed.

She felt shame, hurt and terror for “six long years”, she said, during which time a woman who had access to the video “harassed and intimidated” her, while strangers told her they had heard about her “sex tape”.

Speaking at the announcement of the hotline for people to report the sharing of, or threats to share, intimate images without consent, Ms Ryan said her nightmare had been compounded because at the time such activity was not illegal. She could not report to gardaí and publication of the video would have had no repercussions for her abuser.

Since February, however, when the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act – also known as Coco’s Law – came into force, it is an offence to share or threaten to share intimate images without consent, even if there was no intention to cause harm. Offenders face prosecution and penalties up to and including seven years’ imprisonment.

Victims, or anyone receiving images they suspect have been distributed without consent, can now report to hotline.ie. Reports will be treated confidentially and can be made anonymously. Hotline.ie will pass “relevant information” on to gardaí, according to the Department of Justice.

‘Blackmailed’

Ms Ryan said “for six long years” she was “blackmailed, intimidated and harassed online and in person”.

“At that time there were no laws to protect me. I couldn’t go to the guards. I couldn’t file a criminal charge. I couldn’t even tell people what had happened to me.

“I was so afraid this video would go public and the culprit would face no consequences. I can’t put into words the shame, hurt and terror I felt all of those years, waking up every morning worrying, ‘This is the day my tape is going to go viral’, ‘This is the day another stranger will come up to me and say they had heard about my sex tape,’ , ‘This is the day I will take my own life because I cannot live this anymore’.”

She urged anyone sent a video or photo “and you just feel in your gut it’s not right” to question the person who sent it and remind them they could be committing an offence.

“Don’t forward it to your mates or your WhatsApp group. How would you feel if this was your daughter, your sister or your mum?

“Contact hotline.ie and go to guards,” she added.

Announcing an advertising campaign to publicise the reporting facility, Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton said she had been “particularly struck” by independent research commissioned by the Department earlier this year.

It found one in 20 adults had an intimate image of themselves shared online, rising to one in 10 among 18-37 year olds. Among the reasons given for sharing such images were that people didn’t think about the harm it might cause, “for a laugh”, and to “get back at” someone.

“This can, and has, ruined lives,” said Ms Naughton. “This campaign is also about educating people in their attitudes. It is socially unacceptable and there are no acceptable excuses.”