I was appalled to read of Dara Quigley’s experience in the days before her suicide. An expert in digital and online policies, I’ve come across many egregious online violations of privacy rights. These include the devastating consequences in Dara’s case.
Dara Quigley was an Irish activist and journalist who wrote for Dublin Inquirer, among other places. In 2017, members of An Garda Síochána forcibly detained her under the Mental Health Act 2001 for walking naked in a Dublin street. The Mental Health Act dictates that An Garda Síochána receive training in how to detain a person.
Today, I will tell the Oireachtas Justice Committee about what can happen after the dignity and rights of a person like Dara are not respected. On that day in 2017, state CCTV captured images of her walking naked on Harcourt Street and subsequently being forcibly detained.
The footage was held by An Garda Síochána. Somebody recorded the CCTV images off a monitor screen and shared them in a WhatsApp group. The images were posted on Facebook, and it’s estimated that they were shared 125,000 times. Several days later, Dara Quigley took her own life.
No organisation or individual has ever been held responsible for their role in the violation of Dara’s rights. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) confirmed to the Irish Times that a garda accused of sharing the footage will not face criminal charges.
I’ll be joined at the Oireachtas Committee today by Aileen Malone, Dara’s courageous mother, who saw the footage circulated online. Though she will not present today, Aileen continues to fight for justice against a system which has treated her family with coldness.
They have had no substantive answers. GSOC, the body that deals with allegations of garda malpractice, has sent a report to the Garda Commissioner. Aileen has not seen that report.
Aileen agreed to come with me today to show the committee what she calls the devastating consequences of online sexual harassment and public humiliation.
The committee is considering how to tackle extreme forms of online harassment, including what they term “revenge porn”. I’ll be asking the committee to stop using this term. This is not pornography, it’s sexual abuse. It can be motivated by many factors other than revenge, principally to violate someone’s autonomy and dignity.
Calling it revenge porn implies the victim somehow did something to deserve the abhorrent violation of their rights.
At the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), we use the term “image-based sexual abuse”. Coined by UK academics Clare McGlynn and Erika Rackley, this term better captures the sexualised violence, behaviours, and harms involved.
My research shows that while anyone can be a victim of image-based sexual abuse, the majority are women and the majority of perpetrators are men. And, just like in the offline world, intersectional factors place people at greater risk of online harassment generally. The LGBT+ community is at increased risk. One’s race, religion, ethnicity, mental health and ability are also risk factors.
I’ll be expanding on evidence that the committee has been hearing about just how harmful image-based sexual abuse is for individuals and society as a whole. And yet, there is no specific law against it.
I’ll be making three sets of recommendations to deal with this situation.
First, I’ll be asking the committee to bring forward criminal and civil legislation to deal with image-based sexual abuse as a matter of urgency. I’ll also ask that they put in place procedures for restitution and compensation, including access to legal aid, so that people like Dara Quigley and her family have clear avenues of redress.
And I’ll ask them to ensure they draft this legislation very carefully – broader terms like “harmful content” are too vague and risk censorship and surveillance.
Second, I’ll be outlining enforcement steps at the Gardaí level. My colleagues at ICCL have published a blueprint for reforming An Garda Síochána so that it might become a police service that respects human rights. The government has committed to most of these reforms, and my colleagues often write about their progress – or lack thereof – in this paper.
My second set of demands today at the committee will be to include calls for integrated training across units on gendered online harassment, including image-based sexual abuse. To halt the victim blaming that sometime mirrors people’s offline experience of sexual abuse offline. And to foster the will and capacity for Garda follow-up.
Third, the Department of Justice have rolled out what they call a “community-based CCTV programme”. At ICCL, we are completely opposed to this programme. Installing CCTV to maintain public safety is based on flawed logic. As evidenced by Dara’s case, blanket surveillance can be harmful. We shouldn’t treat this as an isolated experience. It can be very hard to build protective walls around retained data in order to protect it from misuse.
Not only that, but there is significant research suggesting CCTV doesn’t effectively deter crime and that footage of crimes doesn’t necessarily lead to higher detection rates. Further, in our society there is already a tendency towards over-surveillance of specific communities, such as the Traveller community, and those living in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. This is discriminatory. We need to rethink this wrongheaded approach to policing segments of the Irish population.
Very often, privacy rights are dismissed out of hand. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, critics say. Dara Quigley’s tragic case highlights the terrible flaw in this logic. Our right to privacy is fundamental and it is at the heart of many of our other rights – including the right to free speech and the right to associate with others. We must do all we can do to protect our privacy.
Alongside my presentation to the Oireachtas today, ICCL will launch the Justice for Dara campaign. Please visit iccl.ie/justice-for-dara to find out how you can help to ensure what happened to Dara can never happen again.