Sometimes, it is really difficult to believe in Ireland. A country where the woman’s special place in the home is enshrined in our constitution, alongside the eighth amendment, which disallows those capable of birth bodily autonomy. It is even harder to love Ireland when case after case of sexual abuse gets acquitted or a reduced sentence is sought out and achieved by perpetrators. It becomes impossible to endure when a crime is committed against you and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it; and no one to listen to you either.
When the reports of #UCD200 came out, my heart sank but simultaneously, I felt like we had a chance at change. I hoped for justice – finally we could have a serious discussion about revenge porn and momentum to introduce legislation to combat online sexual abuse. But in fact, once again, women were shut down and no punitive measures were taken, let alone legal action.
This is the reality for women. ‘Lad Culture’ is inescapable in 21st century Ireland. The Lad Bible, UniLad et al. are all male-dominated (I would even go as far to say male-designated) online spaces that encompass some misogynistic features which are shielded by news, sports and ‘bants’. I have written before on The Lad Bible’s “Something To Cure The Hangover” thread, which was, to me, the first instance of widespread revenge porn. The thread was set up for guys to post their exes’ nudes for the pleasure of other men suffering after a night out. So. Much. Bants.
You can #NotAllMen all you like, The Lad Bible et al. boast millions of followers, who are not just men. This is a problem that we have come to normalise in society, and critique on the matter is not welcomed at all. Objectification and misogyny are alive and well, and #UCD200 was shut down due to “no hard evidence”, despite people admitting to being a part of the group, sharing stories and sharing nude photos without the women’s consent.
Do you know how easy it is to delete Facebook messages? Very easy. Two seconds – poof. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Facebook’s help community states that you cannot retrieve deleted messages. The misogyny is no more to the outside world. Because that is what people think will happen – problem solved right?
Think of all the photos that were saved and that can be recirculated at anytime
In October 2012, I discovered that several nude pictures I had sent in confidence were circulated on the internet. They were shared on 4chan’s /b/ thread which refreshes itself every 24 hours, so by the time I could get on to this message board all comments were gone. I found out because dozens of men I wasn’t friends with on Facebook sent my nudes back to me – all saved on their computer, with one of the files named “lol.png”.
I received threats of reposting online elsewhere, demands of more pictures “or else”, called every name under the sun. Two of the guys who messaged me were nice, one telling me not to accepting anyone because I was “about to be screwed” and one letting me know that the pictures were on 9gag. The reason that these guys found me was because my Facebook profile was included in the share of these photos. Men from all around the world had access to my private photos. The photos resurfaced on another thread in 2015.
When we think about #UCD200, it is from a much closer community – women probably in their late teens and early twenties, all known to a specific group of lads.These women probably attend UCD or live in the surrounding area. Unbeknownst to them, their images have been shared, critiqued and saved on the basis of malicious intent and male pleasure.
These women will never get justice because the negligence of the investigation and the failure of the Irish government to acknowledge revenge porn as a sexual offence. These women will never get their privacy back – they may always live in fear that someone somewhere has a private photo of them.
Revenge porn has serious psychological affects on people – depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, self-harm; the list goes on. Ireland’s poor mental health services and high cost of treatment/medication for these mental illnesses often causes people to avoid seeking help. The first emotion you feel when you realise you are a victim of revenge porn is pure shame and embarrassment. If you are humiliated online through revenge porn – who can you talk to about it? You’re a whore if you are a woman who is comfortable is sharing her private photos with a partner. But you’re a frigid if you were reluctant to send them in the first place.
#UCD200 has taught us a lot of things, but the main thing for me is that we need to talk about consent. Consent classes are Public Enemy #1 to many people, as we have seen from the uproar recently with TCD trying to introduce mandatory consent classes to students. But this is amazing – for once Ireland is easy to love because Ireland wants to care about the emotional and psychological impact that sexual relationships have on people. Many people are pressured into having sex/sending nudes/etc. because “everyone is doing it” or “if I don’t he/she/they won’t like me”. But the reality is their is a massive gap between what people think is okay and what people are uncomfortable with. Ireland’s sex education is piss-poor and doesn’t teach children and teenagers about consent. To many people, consent is a new word.
We need to have these conversations in public discourse. Online sexual offences are becoming epidemic. More and more young people engage in sexual acts without a mature discussion about consent. Many young people feel like they have to lose their virginity or at the very least participate in sending nudes for their relationship to be ‘real’. There needs to be more of an engagement with sexual education, consent and safety in Ireland and worldwide. Because sex and nudes can be really positive experiences, as long as boundaries are set.
The solution cannot be “don’t have sex” or “don’t send nudes”. The conclusion to #UCD200 cannot be “women are hysterical” or “there’s no need for consent classes”. Socialisation has caused us to normalise behaviour and attitudes towards non-consensual acts. Taking advantage of someone when their really drunk is the new end to a night out. Sharing/taking non-consensual photos of someone you slept with on snapchat or in a group chat is just for the craic. Because people don’t think about the consequences of their actions because it’s “just sex” or “just a photo”.
#UCD200 made women seem like liars. When UCD announced that no action was to be taken, all the rape apologists came out of the woodwork, denouncing the evidence and seeking out the “feminazis”so that the ‘truth’ can be mansplained on every social media platform.
#UCD200 is something we need to learn from, not silence. We cannot act like it is hearsay, because this happens to women every day of their lives. Every day, in the private and public sphere, online and in real life, women are subjected to misogyny from all angles. Women are threatened, degraded, shamed, ridiculed, jeered at, beaten, killed, left to die all because they are women.
Use your voice and speak out about why #UCD200 is damaging. The battle cannot be lost and misogyny must be obliterated. Not just for ourselves, but for future generations to come.