Thursday, 17 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages
The Bill is welcome and the fact that we are attempting to pass it before the end of the year is positive. It is about three years since our society was shocked by the events that led to the death of Dara Quigley. That has to be deeply regretted and we should never see a repeat of it. More recently, there were scandalous events related to a Discord server and what emerged from that. This Bill is being passed and we welcome it. There are a couple of things in the amendments that we are dealing with which I would like to speak to, and I will press any amendments that we have, particularly regarding images being held or stored. It is important that that is included in the Bill, because relationships can come or go, but it is not acceptable for somebody to hold on to images of a private or personal nature with the intent to do something with it.
When one looks at what is going on in Irish society and indeed in other societies, since it is not particular to this country, there is a worrying misogynistic and abusive culture. A recent study from Trinity College and Maynooth University showed how prevalent it is. It shows that approximately 15% of Irish adults have been raped at some point in their life. One in three has experienced some sort of sexual violence. One in five women and one in ten men has been raped. Some 31% of Irish adults experience sexual harassment, unwanted sexual comment or behaviour. It is a deeply embedded part of our society. Although we welcome the legislation, for us to frame the problem solely as a need to criminalise it after which it will go away would be a mistake. If we look at the USA, the amount of legislation on this has not made society there any less misogynistic, dangerous or abusive. If we do not present the problem as simply a need to criminalise this, then we have to look at other social solutions. Tackling these wider societal issues is more of a challenge in the long run, because one cannot just pass legislation to do it.
There needs to be an emphasis on education. As has been said, there is an apparent need for a non-ethos-based sexual education programme, which can deal with issues regarding sexuality and consent. Those of us who worked on the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, dealing with the recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly, will remember well that we recommended that sexual health and relationships education, including on contraception and consent, be provided in schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations involved in education, in an impartial and factual manner independent of school ethos. I recently asked about the plans to implement that recommendation and I am not comforted by the answer. It stated that there is a review of relationships and sexuality education, which is the model we have been using, and it repeated that schools have a responsibility to provide this, having regard to the ethos of the school. I am not encouraged by that answer. I think we have to look outside the criminalisation of these issues and at why it is happening in the first place.
Society as a whole needs to recognise how sexual abuse can impact on us. More investment will be needed, not just in education but in organisations that would support people who suffer from this kind of abuse. In 2018, the organisation One in Four had to close its doors to waiting lists for adult survivors of abuse, because it did not have the capacity to deal with the demand on them. The more we begin to uproot this from all aspects of our society, the more we will have a demand for this. It is imperative that the State, the Government and all Departments connected with health, justice and education release those resources and begin to deal with it in wider society as well as passing legislation. No matter what we do here today, it will not end tomorrow. There is a deep-rooted problem here and we begin with our young people and re-educating adults who have a problem with misogyny.
On amendment No. 12 in the names of Deputies Pringle, Joan Collins and Connolly, anybody convicted under this would be on the sexual offenders list. I would have a problem with that. If a 17 year old is convicted under this for abusive images, that person would carry that for the rest of his or her life, regardless of how many changes he or she makes, how he or she moves forward or how regretful he or she is of it. It has significant consequences on where one can live or work. I have a problem with that amendment.
The use of the word "reckless" in amendment No. 11 is open to being too broadly interpreted. I also refer to minors. Are minors acting recklessly or is it part of a culture that needs to be uprooted? I do not agree with all the amendments but I welcome the Bill.