My Lords, in this morning’s Times there is an article in which the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead officer for child protection, Simon Bailey, said that arresting hundreds of sex offenders every month has little effect, because millions of abuse images are readily available online. Mr Bailey pointed out that the number of indecent images in circulation has risen exponentially, from 7,000 in 1990 to 17 million today. They predominantly involve girls aged between 11 and 13, because 44% of these images were or are self-generated. This is part of the ever-growing online library of intimate images, curated—in the loosest sense of the word—by technology and social media platforms, only some of which grudgingly acknowledge a limited degree of responsibility.
Consider the 11 to 13 year-old girls of today and how they may feel about these images existing and getting into the wrong hands as they navigate through adolescence and towards adulthood. Consider those women who were the 11 to 13 year-olds five, 10 or 15 years ago, who not only have their legacy images stored in the cloud but who may have continued to populate that library in the interceding years. This is the reality of the scale of the problem we are discussing tonight.
The statistics are compelling and depressing. An estimated 130,000 young people aged between 18 and 20 have experienced threats to share their intimate images, and almost 1 million people now in their 20s have experienced similar threats. Whether we like it or not, the sending and receiving of intimate images is an increasingly common part of dating and relationships. In 40% of cases in which individuals have received threats to share intimate images, they did not consent to those photos or videos being taken in the first place.
The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, which I wholeheartedly support, is an important and necessary part of what must be a legal and societal assault on the myriad ways in which technology can be used to abuse, control and coerce. Whether individuals consented to their images being taken is irrelevant; they should have ironclad protection under the law from those images being used without their consent. Their bodies, their self-esteem and their right to privacy and protection should be theirs and theirs alone.
The second offence deals with the taking, distribution or publication of intimate images without consent, without a requirement that the person intended to cause harm to the victim, with a maximum penalty of a €5,000 fine or up to 12 months in prison. It is irrelevant that a person may have consented to the taking of an image if it is subsequently published or distributed without their consent. It will be an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing if the perpetrator of the offence is or was in an intimate relationship with the victim of the offence.
“taking or sharing intimate images without consent is abuse and will not be tolerated”.
This is an Irish protocol that we should warmly welcome and aspire to emulate at the earliest opportunity—which is to say, in this Bill, now.