Sexual Abuse in the Digital Age 

An article by Doireann Moroney 


The attitude of lawmakers in Ireland around the handling of sexual abuse in the digital age has been heavily scrutinised, not just by survivors but also by the general public.  

Up until 2017 there hadn’t been any formal law introduced into Ireland to include different forms of image based sexual abuse, but a private member of government had drafted a bill on this issue and handed it to Labour TD Brendan Howlin in 2017.  

This new draft was based on a previous bill drafted by the Law Reform Commission in 2016, where they also tried to push to further laws on image based sexual abuse. 

Janice* a survivor of sexual abuse, stated, “It’s hard to feel like you aren’t cared for in the eyes of the government. When I had issues with my ex-boyfriend in 2016 and he started spreading intimate images of me online, it felt like my world was ending. There wasn’t even a law to get him punished back then, so I felt stranded and powerless.” 


Covid-19 had severely impacted the number of intimate images of women being leaked online, with young people having been urged by health officials to try and date online to avoid the spread of Covid-19. In 2020 alone, there were 140,000 intimate images shared. 

The word “Intimate Image Abuse” describes the posting of an intimate image of someone online or sharing it by any other means without the consent of the person in the image. If the image was taken and / or shared without consent, then it is a crime. 


Officials didn’t grasp the severity of the issue until 2018, when Nicole ‘Coco’ Fox had tragically taken her own life after relentless bullying online and three years of physical abuse. She was just 21 years old.  

Nicole Fox’s story is just one in thousands of men and women in Ireland who have taken their lives as a result of the bullying from the sharing of intimate images.  

Her mother, Jackie Fox, has campaigned endlessly for the government to introduce legislation to better protect others from online bullying and abuse. She also campaigns to criminalise the distribution of non-consensual intimate images. 


According to Wolfe & Co solicitors, there are two levels of punishment under Coco’s Law. The first being an unlimited fine and/or seven years in prison. The second, less serious level deals with the maximum fine of €5,000 fine and/or 12 months imprisonment. 

While it is important to note that the government is trying to raise awareness of the seriousness of this issue, a startling number of people have no idea that Coco’s Law exists, and that threatening to publish someone’s intimate images is a criminal offence. 

Kate Moloney, a chef, stated, “I had no idea Coco’s Law existed. I only learned recently that sharing intimate images of someone is deemed a crime. It was because of the ads on TV letting people know it’s a crime. That’s where I learned about it.” 


The psychological effects of having to deal with your intimate images shared online differ from person to person. Most people effected by image based sexual abuse develop agoraphobia due to feelings of humiliation and concern that their local area has seen the intimate images. Victims reported that they feel everyone is staring at them, judging them, and talking about them. 

There is also an intense fear that the perpetrator will find the survivor on work related social media, like LinkedIn, to find where they currently work to show their employers and colleagues the intimate photos. 


According to research done by the Sage Journals, there is a tendency for people to place the blame on the survivors, even though those survivors did not consent to anybody other than the intended recipient seeing the images.  

The victim was seen to be more at fault and provocative in the eyes of those who scored higher on the Sexual Double Standard Scale, which measures support for traditional gender roles. 


In December 2023, the Minister of Justice, Helen McEntee, released figures of the number of investigations and prosecutions. This is 349 charges in relation to the 254 investigations for image based sexual abuse. 

The continued prosecution of individuals for sharing and threatening to upload intimate images is the only way to tackle and hopefully stop image based sexual abuse. 


If you know of anyone threatening to share images or an image of you is posted online, please go to  and  file a report, which will be dealt with by Hotline and An Garda Síochána. 



* This quote is from a real survivor but the name has been changed for confidentiality. 

Psychological effects: (1)  




Criminal law:,Act%20to,sentence%20and%20the%20anonymity%20of  


Wolfe & Co:,and%2For%207%20years%20imprisonment 


Irish legal: 


Image based awareness, Simon Harris: