By Amy Donohoe 

Recently it has been made known that some males have a lack of empathy, warmth, and respect for women.

We have seen the appearance of toxic laddish sexual culture and spread by social media through WhatsApp groups – and social media has made it easier than ever for people to exchange degrading messages about others, and even share explicit content without people's consent. 

The recent Belfast trial has provoked questions about whether the behaviour of young men is being influenced by the free access to online pornography. The trial also highlights the importance of improved sex education in Ireland.

Louise O’Neill, author of the bestselling novel Asking for It said, 'When I saw messages sent by the men, I nearly felt sick. It was horrifying and degrading.' 

Sexual consent has recently been defined in the Irish law as: 'A person consents to a sexual act if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act.'

Currently, there is no law in Ireland that specifically rules on the act of switching private content online or non-consensual sharing of explicit content.

Last year, an investigation was under took by University College Dublin which investigated an alleged Facebook group in which male students were reportedly sharing explicit images of women with whom they had sexual relations and rating them.

The student newspaper reported around 200 students were members of the private Facebook group. The investigation found no evidence that the group existed. They were unable to find any individual who had any first-hand access to these specific postings.

Consent workshops are now common in colleges and universities. Dr McNeela said they should be also held in sports clubs and schools too.

Trish Murphy, a psychotherapist and student counsellor at Trinity College involved in consent workshops, said, 'If you are in doubt, I think you have to ask.' 

In a survey of 1,691 people, one in 12 young women are certain they have had sexual contact with someone in the past year as they were unable to give consent or stop what was happening due to drugs, drink, being incapacitated or asleep according to NUI Galway.

When you consent to something, you are agreeing. This applies to both genders. A person is deemed not to have given consent in many situations, including if they are asleep or if they are incapable due to alcohol.

There are many ways to communicate consent indirectly. You can ask if the other person is okay, ask if they are enjoying themselves, ask are they sure this is what they want, etc.

What Irish law states on consent Extracted from the Irish statute:

(1) A person consents to a sexual act if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act.

(2) A person does not consent to a sexual act if- (a) he or she permits the act to take place or submits to it because of the application of force to him or her or to some other person, or because of the threat of the application of force to him or her or to some other person, or because of a well-founded fear that force may be applied to him or her or to some other person, (b) he or she is asleep or unconscious, (c) he or she is incapable of consenting because of the effect of alcohol or some other drug, (d) he or she is suffering from a physical disability which prevents him or her from communicating whether he or she agrees to the act, (e) he or she is mistaken as to the nature and purpose of the act, (f) he or she is mistaken as to the identity of any other person involved in the act, (g) he or she is being unlawfully detained at the time at which the act takes place, (h) the only expression or indication of consent or agreement to the act comes from somebody other than the person himself or herself.

(3) This section does not limit the circumstances in which it may be established that a person did not consent to a sexual act. (4) Consent to a sexual act may be withdrawn at any time before the act begins, or in the case of a continuing act, while the act is taking place.

(5) Any failure or omission on the part of a person to resist an act does not of itself constitute consent to that act.

There is a Law Reform Commission currently reviewing laws on cyber-crime affecting personal safety, privacy and reputation.

There are barriers to the non-consensual sharing of explicit images being prosecuted under section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 because of the definition of the term ‘harassment’.

For behaviour to be considered as harassment it needs to be continuous and direct with the victim.

Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 Other legal principles to be considered when it comes to non-consensually sharing explicit images are privacy and data protection.

Under data protection law, individuals haven’t the right not to have their personal data (including their image) published without consent.

Anyone who publishes private content online could be violating data protection laws and could have a civil lawsuit brought against them.

It’s a school’s duty to take care of its students and it extends to ensuring students aren’t exposed to bullying. Given the nature of non-consensual sharing of explicit images, a school would be expected to take active steps in ensuring that its students are informed of the dangers and consequences of it.

The courts still must consider the extent of the duty of care in respect of cyber-bullying or non-consensual  sharing of explicit images.