WEST Cork campaigner and law student has started a campaign to have all gardaí trained in the compassionate handling of people reporting offensive online posts.
Alicia O’Sullivan from Skibbereen said she was reduced to tears after reporting to gardaí that obscene pictures purporting to be of her, appeared online last week.
Last Thursday, Alicia advised her followers on Instagram that a fake account was made in her name.
View this post on Instagram
The account shared her photos, but faceless naked images claiming to be her, and trying to sell porn, were also posted online. She was alerted to the fake account by friends and family who sent her screenshots of the account that she herself could not access because it was established by someone else.
‘I have been very distressed all day,’ Alicia told her followers. But, true to form, Alicia was proactive in her response. A complaint was made and the fake account was removed.
Things went less smoothly when she reported the matter to the gardaí. As an independent young woman, the 19-year-old declined to have anyone accompany her, but afterwards she reported she was upset by the way her complaint was dealt with.
‘I didn’t think I would be mistreated,’ she told Jess Kelly, Newstalk’s technology correspondent. She said one of the gardaí told her: ‘I don’t even know what Instagram is.’
She said the interview with the gardaí was ‘more about me and what kind of photos I post.’ It was even suggested to her that she discontinue her public account and have a private one instead, but as a prominent campaigner and environmental activist, that suggestion was nonsense.
‘I came out a million times worse,’ said Alicia, who admitted that she broke down in the garda station. ‘I basically got slut-shamed,’ she said in an angry post on Instagram later.
Her campaign calling for all gardaí to be trained in the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 – otherwise known as Coco’s Law – is already up and running and is drawing lots of support. Alicia said her experience ‘put a fear in me … I think these guards need retraining … all I needed was a bit of empathy.’
Supt Ger O’Mahony said the gardaí do not comment on individual cases but added that he is fully familiar with Coco’s Law and is of the opinion that there will come a time when all members of the gardaí will be fully trained in this regard.
‘It’s only a matter of time before this becomes standard practice and is ingrained in the training at Templemore,’ he added. He also pointed out: ‘We have a divisional protection services unit which investigates such complaints and the members fully understand the distress such offences can cause.’