strong message | 

Mother of tragic Nicole Fox welcomes jail time for Galway man who put pics of ex on porn site

Joseph O'Connor (27) was sentenced to nine months in prison after posting images, with links to his ex's social media profiles online
Joseph O'Connor

Joseph O'Connor

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

The mother of Nicole Fox (21), who campaigned for tougher laws against online harassment has welcomed a nine month sentence handed down to a man who shared sexually explicit photos of his former girlfriend.

Joseph O'Connor (27) with an address at Lios an Uisce, Merlin Park, Galway - was charged with breaches of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act after he posted the images, with links to his ex-girlfriend's social media profiles on an internet forum.

He was sentenced to nine months in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of harassment, after gardai said the offence came to their attention when the victim made a complaint in August 2018.

Describing a Victim Impact Statement presented to her as "harrowing", Judge Mary Fahy said the message had to go out that "this is just not acceptable".

Given the gravity of the charges before her, she said she would have to impose a custodial sentence of nine months.

Jackie Fox, who campaigned for strengthened legislation in the area, eventually saw the enactment of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 which is known as Coco’s Law after her daughter.

The act targets so-called “revenge porn”, where people distribute intimate photos of others online to embarrass or harass their victims.

Jackie said that while O’Connor had been charged with breaches of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act before Coco's Law was enacted, the custodial sentence still sends out a strong message.

In March, the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, stated that, to date, gardaí have commenced 28 prosecutions by way of charges and summonses, relating to 19 separate investigations under the Act.

The 2020 Act is known as Coco’s Law after Nicole Fox (21), who took her own life after years of online harassment.

Jackie Fox started a campaign to have a new law to punish cyber bullies after ‘Coco’ died by suicide

Jackie Fox started a campaign to have a new law to punish cyber bullies after ‘Coco’ died by suicide

The legislation — signed into law by President Michael D Higgins in late December 2020 and brought into effect in February 2021 — creates an offence where a person distributes, publishes, or threatens to distribute or publish, an intimate image of another person without that person’s consent and with intent to cause harm to another person.

“There are now 28 people being prosecuted under Coco’s Law,” Jackie said.

“It’s still early days but I hope after these first 28 cases are prosecuted that you’ll find more people coming forward.

“We’re only at the start of the process in getting the word out that these laws now exist.

“It’s been a long, hard road but it’s better to have the laws there now than none at all.

“And I also hope that it will act as a deterrent as more people realise you can be prosecuted for these offences.

“It will always take a while for these things to become known about and a good few people still don’t know that they exist.

"And that’s why I still go around to the schools and colleges and teach them about bullying and the sharing of intimate images.

“You have to let them know that there are consequences and I hope that it might deter others from engaging in this type of behaviour.

“So, hopefully, in the future they won’t be able to argue that they didn’t know or hadn't heard that such laws are now in place.”

Ms McEntee said recently that Coco's Law also increases the penalties for the offence of harassment, notably to 10 years for conviction on indictment as well as providing for increased fines.

She said that on September 2, 2021, her Department and An Garda Síochána established a partnership with Hotline.ie to create an online reporting facility.

“This enables victims of intimate image abuse (IIA) to report it to Hotline.ie and request the assistance of Hotline.ie who will engage with the relevant service provider to seek the removal of the illegal content reported,” she said.

At the same time, if a victim requests, Hotline.ie will pass all relevant information to the gardaí so that a thorough criminal investigation can be conducted with a view to prosecuting offenders.

Ms McEntee stated that between September 2, 2021 and March 23 of this year, An Garda Síochána received 39 reports from Hotline.ie.

She said that following the removal of the reported links by Hotline.ie and further engagement by An Garda Síochána, 16 cases have been closed with no further action requested and 23 remain under assessment / investigation.


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