Consent is as important in the digital world as it is in a physical environment, especially when it comes to sexual activity and the posting or sharing of sexual images.
Sharing intimate images or sexting between consenting adults is a matter of choice, but it is always wise to exercise caution when engaging sexually with people online, including sending or sharing sexual images. There are steps that you can take if your images are used without consent but it may be difficult to limit their distribution.
Adults who choose to engage in legal sexual activity online should freely agree to take part, should not be deceived about the identity of the other person/people, and should agree what images will be taken and what will be sent. They should agree what use will be made of those images. No one should feel pressured into sending or receiving sexts and no one should post or pass on intimate images without the consent of the people in them.
Posting, sending and sharing sexual images - the law
It is illegal for anyone over the age of criminal responsibility (12 for this kind of offence), regardless of their age, to post, send or share pictures of the genitalia or anal region of people under 18, or images of them engaged in sexual activity, or images of them witnessing sexual activity, as these activities are classified as child pornography offences under Section 12 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017. This is true even if a person under 18 sends a sexual picture of themselves.
It is also an offence under Section 8(2) of the 2017 Act to send “sexually explicit material” through information and communications technology to anyone under the age of 17.
The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 (Coco’s Law) also includes image-based abuse.
It is now an offence to:
- Distribute, publish, or threaten to distribute or publish, intimate images of somebody else without consent, intending to cause harm to that person, or being reckless as to whether harm would be caused.
- Take, distribute or publish intimate images of someone without consent without a requirement that the person intended to, or was reckless whether, s/he would cause harm to that other person.
Please note: The prosecution of a minor is subject to the discretion of the Director of Public Prosecutions as the law is not intended to unnecessarily criminalise young people.
- Consent is vital when you’re sharing intimate images and when you’re engaged in any sexual activity, online or offline. If someone asks you for, or sends you, sexts or nudes, let them know if you’re uncomfortable and ask them to stop. If the person won’t stop, you can block their number and report it to An Garda Síochána.
- If someone posts or shares a sexual image of you online without your consent, you can report it in person to An Garda Síochána and to Hotline.ie(the Irish national reporting centre for illegal content online).
- If you are sent sexual images and you are under 17, and/or if the images are of a person under 18, it is an additionally serious crime.
Find out more information:
You can learn more about sexual consent here and the legal age of consent here