Eoin McSweeney meets with Mary Crilly, director of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, to discuss the issue of victim blaming in the wake of the scandal which involved young Cork women’s Facebook photos being place on a pornographic website.
“Here’s a girl I fucking hate, she thinks she’s better than everyone and I want to see her taken down a bit. I can think of no better way than getting her faked nudes and cumming all over them.”
“Teasing slut who thinks I’m her friend. Would a friend empty his balls all over your pics? Fuck you, whore.”
“New on this site and love it. Love seeing all the sexy sluts who have no idea their pics are on here.”
These were just some of the comments made recently about young Cork women on an international pornographic website, www.cumonprintedpics.com. The women’s pictures had been taken from various social media accounts (mostly Facebook) and placed on the site without their consent or knowledge.
Users of the site could then comment whatever they wanted on the pictures and could also request fake nudes, which involved superimposing the women’s faces onto naked female bodies. These edited photos would also be posted onto the website, also unbeknownst to the women involved.
Shockingly, names, phone numbers and places of work were all posted on the site. One of the women involved received a call from a prison in Dublin because a prisoner had somehow managed to obtain her number from the site and pretended that she was his girlfriend.
What was even more horrifying about the incident, was that some of the pictures that were posted depicted girls in their school uniform and had been taken 5 or 6 years previously. Even some of these photos had requests for nudes on them and the comments continued unabated.
Once the women involved discovered the photos they were promptly removed from the site, but there has been a public outcry of ‘how’ and ‘what next?’
Who’s to blame?
Is it Facebook’s fault? The largest social networking site in the world has said that it will investigate how the pictures managed to end up on the site despite its privacy settings. One of the victims said that the perpetrators obtained her pictures even though she had enabled these security settings to be as strict as possible. It’s possible that whoever gained access to the pictures made a fake profile and befriended the girls, thus letting them access all their photos.
However, once the media had reported this incident, it shed light on an arguably bigger problem in Cork and Ireland; victim blaming. Within minutes of The Irish Independent, The Irish Times and Cork’s Red FM posting the story on Facebook, social media users had already begun to blame those who had been victimised, rather than the true perpetrators.
“The cabbage has her tits all over Facebook, what does she expect? Big eejit.”
“Why did her mother even let her go on social media sites, is her mother a fool? Does she not know there are paedophiles online?!”
“And yet she still has dozens of photos publicly available on Facebook. Some people never learn.”
This behaviour is not exclusive to this particular incident and it commonly happens to those who have been sexually abused. Motley spoke to Mary Crilly, director of the Sexual Violence Centre in Cork, about the problems that can occur when you blame victims rather than the true perpetrators:
“Victim blaming is alive and well in Ireland, but is not limited to here. Victims of sexual assault and rape have internalised the culture they live in. Victims blame themselves. This leads to shaming and silencing and the environment for sexual violence remains unchanged and unchallenged. Sexual violence ruins lives.”
A history of a safe haven
The Sexual Violence Centre in Cork opened its doors in 1983 and gives crisis support, counselling, psychotherapy and art therapy to victims of sexual violence. The centre sees clients from the age of 14 upwards, male and female, who have recently or in the past, been victims of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking or sex trafficking, among other things. A huge problem for the centre is the culture of victim blaming in Ireland, which can make it difficult for a victim of a sexual attack to come forward.
Why would someone blame a victim of sexual harassment? There are two theories; The Just-World Model and the Self-Protection Theory. The former suggests that individuals perceive the world as largely just and “good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.” So this point of view puts blame on the victim because their previous ‘bad behaviour’ warranted it.
The Self-Protection theory suggests that individuals may seek to attribute blame to a victim of rape to maintain a sense to their own invincibility. As Ms Crilly put it:
“It can be best explained within the context of and by the concept of rape culture. Somehow, we find it easier to blame the victim, as if the victim was in control, rather than the perpetrator. The existence of perpetrators makes the world an unsafe, uncontrollable, ugly world. If it is the victim’s fault, then it will not happen to me. If it’s the perpetrators fault, it can happen to anyone.”
You shouldn’t have drank so much…
Ireland’s drinking culture does little to help those who have been victims of sexual violence. When alcohol is involved, people may think that its consumption will increase a person’s sexual availability which heightens the level of victim blaming. These blaming attitudes will suggest that the victim caused their rape by giving their consent through alcohol consumption or that they facilitated the attack by not taking the precaution of staying sober.
“The drinking culture in Ireland is used by rape culture to deflect blame from perpetrators on to victims. It is used to blame victims and excuse perpetrators. If she hadn’t worn… If she hadn’t been drinking… If she didn’t post on Facebook…” says Crilly.
This leads to a number of problems. The first is self-blaming. Evidence from Rape and Justice in Ireland (RAJI) suggests that women who were intoxicated at the time of their rape are more likely to self-blame and less likely to report the attack. Secondly, juries are more likely to assign blame to the victims if they had consume alcohol when the attack occurred. Finally, RAJI suggests that the Gardaí treat intoxicated victims with less respect.
This culture has not been helped by Diageo’s recent advertising campaign. Last year the UK company launched its Stop-Out-of-Control Drinking campaign and one of the adverts depicted a young woman who has returned from a night out sitting on her bed. The woman had make-up smeared across her face and it read: “Who’s following in your footsteps? Out-of-control drinking has consequences.”
The Rape Crisis Network Ireland slammed the advertising, labelling it as a “sinister reference” that the young woman had been attacked on her way home and that her drinking was the cause. This type of behaviour from companies does nothing to help the culture of victim blaming that has fostered in Ireland.
Social Media takes over
Social media has now given a platform for people to assign blame from afar, as can be seen from the comments above. Facebook, Twitter, and the anonymous posting app Yik Yak gives people the opportunity to shame victims without really thinking of the damage that they may be causing. It has also allowed would-be perpetrators to harass victims online, and this is how incidents, such as the one in Cork, happen.
One of the victims of the attack was quoted as saying: “Unless you never upload a picture to the internet, ever… you’re not safe. Even then, someone can take a photo of you… you’re never safe. So don’t comfort yourself by saying it’s our own fault.”
Young women shouldn’t have to worry about an online attack every time that they put up a picture. However, Ms Crilly had some preventative actions that you can take to help stop such an incident occurring.
“There are steps that people can take such as being mindful of privacy settings and being aware that whatever is put on Facebook or other forms of social media, is essentially in the public realm and can currently be put to any use. These steps may make the difference between it happening to you and it happening to someone else, but it doesn’t affect the perpetrator. This is a case where people’s rights need to be debated and action taken.”
Even if the culprits are found, what can be done? Unfortunately a source within the Gardaí was not reassuring when they spoke to the media about the matter. Due to the legislation that’s there, it can be difficult to assess whether the offender can be charged criminally. While it’s clearly a breach of the women’s privacy, this is not a criminal offence and only civil proceedings may be brought on that charge. A lack of any real remedy in the Irish legal system is another reason for victims to be wary of coming forward with their story. Ms Crilly felt that there needs to be serious changes made to the legislation.
“As the law currently stands, there was no violation of the law. The law needs to be amended to reflect these offences. It strikes that it boils down to property rights. Who owns an image? Who can use an image? In my opinion, a person should be the sole owner of their image. In cases such as the one currently under discussion, a theft would have incurred. This is a criminal offence. There may be many detractors to this view.
“What is central to the issue is the lack of rights that social media account holders have. If a Facebook user owned their own images and / or had the right to have them deleted or not used without their permission, this issue would be a very different one.
“As I write there are children, adolescents and adults whose photographs are swimming around social media, without their permission. These images may be pornographic, in content or in context. If it happens to you, tell someone that you trust. Seek help, because it is available.”
At the moment, for there to be a criminal charge, it may need to involve some sort of harassment under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act. The perpetrators may be criminally charged for child abuse if it was found they had superimposed images of girls under 17 years of age onto sexually explicit pictures. However, for the women that were affected it seems as if there is no recourse for them to bring criminal proceedings against a person who has grossly violated their privacy. While they may be able to sue the culprits for the distress caused or for breach of copyright and privacy, this remains scant consolation.
Only the educated are truly free
Can we tackle this victim blaming culture? Many are advocates of an educational based approach, where we teach men and women the importance of consent and the harm that victim blaming can cause. There is a level of ignorance in Ireland that we must alleviate. Ms Crilly felt that Third Level Institutions in Ireland weren’t pulling their weight in this regard.
“I am of the opinion that Third Level Institutions in Ireland lag behind their international peers in recognising a thriving rape culture within their institutions, on the extent of sexual assaults and on its impact. I am particularly concerned about misconceptions and myths surrounding consent.
For example, there was a recently a campaign run by Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and the Union of Students in Ireland on the issue of consent. I am dubious of its effectiveness as I didn’t detect that it really took off or was adopted outside of Dublin or within many Third Level Institutions in Dublin. However, UCC has had success with its Know Consent Campaign.”
In the past week, Trinity College Dublin has taken a huge step in the right direction. In the first move of its kind in Ireland, new students living at Trinity Hall will be expected to attend sexual consent workshops. These classes have been compulsory for students in Oxford and Cambridge and the workshops will be modelled on the work that those universities have done. Education is the key to moving forward on the taboos surrounding sexual violence and Trinity have taken a great leap in this regard.
Seeing the use of Facebook photographs on a pornographic site is a disturbing sign that Ireland still has a lot to do to protect young people in Ireland from sexual attacks. However, seeing some of the comments that appeared online after the incident had been reported was arguably more harrowing. The importance of ending a victim blaming culture is indescribable, and until we begin to educate the nation’s youth on these topics, ignorance will continue to be our worst enemy.
Featured illustration by Emily Horgan