A bill aimed at criminalising the distribution of intimate images without consent has passed all stages of the Seanad and will now be sent to the President to be signed into law.
The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill introduces two new offences to deal with the non-consensual distribution of intimate images with a penalty of an unlimited fine and/or up to seven years imprisonment.
The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, said the taking or sharing of intimate images without consent is abuse and "will not be tolerated".
"This new legislation will give An Garda Síochána the tools they need to make sure that those who commit this abusive crime can be prosecuted and, if prosecuted, our Courts will have sentences available that reflect the level of harm these crimes cause to their victims," Minister McEntee said.
The Bill, also known as Coco's Law after Nicole Fox who died by suicide following years of online bullying, was first brought to the Dáil by Labour's Brendan Howlin in 2017.
As Labour's justice spokesperson, Mr Howlin said the legislation will "make the internet a safer place".
"We all know the often-tragic consequences of online harassment and image based sexual abuse and the passage into law of this important Bill will ensure that the perpetrators of this vile abuse will be brought to justice," he said.
It follows a lengthy campaign from Nicole's mother Jackie Fox.
Minister McEntee said: "Nicole and Jackie are one of the main reasons that I was determined to deliver on my promise that the Bill would pass through the Dáil and Seanad before Christmas. Nicole's memory and Jackie's campaign to honour her are recognised in the explanatory memorandum accompanying the legislation."
Coco's Law has passed. This new legislation will make the sharing of intimate images without someone’s consent a crime. It is abuse and should never be tolerated. It’s up to all of us to call out and report this kind of behaviour when we encounter it. #NoToleranceForOnlineAbuse pic.twitter.com/42zAh7YJRv— Helen McEntee TD (@HMcEntee) December 18, 2020
The Bill creates an offence that deals with the taking, distribution, publication or threat to distribute intimate images without consent, and with intent to cause harm to the victim and will carry a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or seven years’ imprisonment.
The second offence will deal with the taking, distribution or publication of intimate images without consent without a requirement that the person intended to cause harm to the victim and will carry an offence of a maximum penalty of a €5,000 fine and/or 12 months’ imprisonment.
It will be 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.
The legislation will update existing harassment legislation by broadening the scope of the offence of harassment to cover all forms of persistent communications about a person, not just indecent images, and to increase the penalty from seven to ten years to reflect the harm that can be caused by most serious forms of harassment.
Earlier this year, separate legislation to include provision for an online safety commissioner has been proposed by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.