Cassie Delaney investigates this week’s Discord image leak, where thousands of images of women and girls in Ireland were added to a database and accessed by hundreds of men – all without consent…
TW this article makes reference to sexual assault and rape.[restrict]
In Brazil, the phrase akaron kaba translated to english, is ‘take a photo’. But the literal translation is ‘steal a soul’. Spoken by the indigenous Kayapo, it’s the belief that the camera somehow steals the soul from the subject’s being. The idea becomes that the picture is a fragment of the person photographed – that in giving over their image, they become somewhat less than they were before.
“I think my photo was on that Discord,” a woman tells me on Twitter.
“But how do I find out? Do I go to the guards?”
In recent days, thousands of Irish women’s photos have been stolen and shared on an online server on a website called Discord, and accessed by hundreds of men. Some of the images are intimate, some were captured while women slept and some are images of minors. In all cases, the images are being shared and repurposed without consent. The incident is being considered image-based sexual abuse and somehow, that is currently not a crime under Irish law.
I scratched the surface of the Internet, following comments from Irish Reddit users, until I landed in a forum full of men requesting and sharing links to the Irish Discord servers. Though the server at the centre of the story has been removed, within a few clicks I was directed to an alternative Google Drive with alphabetically organised folders of girls’ names. Each folder had sub-folders; one for images and one for video. This Google Drive was specifically for images and videos pulled from OnlyFans. There are 200 folders, thousands of images.
“It’s hard to articulate how it feels knowing or feeling like your image is out there being talked about,” says Jenny.* Jenny is a 26-year-old professional and says that sending nudes is a common part of modern dating.
“I’ve sent suggestive pictures on Snapchat to guys I’ve dated. You think it’s just part of the seduction I guess and hope that the person receiving the image is the only one looking at it. You would hope that these moments are private,” says Jenny.
“I guess it’s really hard to think that there are lads out there sharing the images with their friends and laughing at them or laughing at you for sending it. I can’t think about it.”
I spoke to many women and friends this week about dating and nudes and how they would feel if they discovered their images were included in the Discord leak. Most said the same thing – they would feel violated but they have no idea whether it has happened to them or not.
Megan Sims became aware that her images were being shared without consent in 2016 at just 19 years of age.
“I had my photos and videos shared around years ago, uploaded to Facebook statuses, porn websites, sent out thousands and thousands of times. I had 400 messages calling me every name and telling me to kill myself,” revealed Megan.
The experience and messages contributed to an enduring sense of guilt.
“I felt so guilty for taking those images that I still feel it today, even though I did nothing wrong. I went off social media for years because I couldn’t handle it and disappeared off the face of the earth,” she said.
Megan started a Change.org petition calling for legislation around image-based sexual assault that now contains over 60,000 signatures. Megan was imperative in bringing the Discord server down and raising awareness of the breach. She believes without adequate legal protections women will feel unsupported.
I’m on a reddit thread called r/SarahCoughlan which parades itself as a forum for fans of Sarah. Sarah creates content for OnlyFans where she has over 70,000 followers. On this Reddit thread Irish men with usernames like HUGEBASHER83 comment on her latest videos. They call each other ‘bro’ and ‘mate’ while they talk about ‘sluts’ and ‘pussy’.
In every conversation, there are men asking for ‘the Discord link’. Each time a link is shared but each of them is now expired. This thread has been online for two years.
Some of these men were members of the banned thread ‘Irish Sluts’, which was removed from the site in February of last year after violating Reddit’s “anti-involuntary pornography” policy. It featured family portraits, social media posts, public images of women as well as nudes.
Details of where the women live and where they attend college or school were also shared.
TD Holly Cairns spoke passionately about the issue of image-based sexual assault in the Dáil recently.
“These violations of women have been facilitated by the state’s inadequate policy and inaction. We need change now. This is an abuse that primarily impacts young women and we need better laws to protect them,” she said.
“As a nation we need to have an incredibly serious and difficult conversation on this and related issues. Thousands of Irish men are sharing images of women and girls without their consent, there are horrific levels of sexual violence in our colleges, we all know victims of domestic abuse, rape or sexual assault,” Holly tells rogue.
In response to the Change.org petition, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has pledged to accelerate the passing of new law. It’s something Holly endorses.
“I welcome this development and I will be working with victim support organisations and advocates on amendments to ensure that the laws are victim-centred. In the meantime, it is essential that there is a clear message to anyone whose images have been shared without your consent: It is not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. And you’re not to blame,” said the TD.
Much like Reddit, 4Chan is a warren of anonymous comment threads and forums. It is often referred to as the ninth circle of internet hell and is no stranger to controversy.
On August 31, 2014, a collection of almost 500 private pictures of various celebrities, mostly women, and with many containing nudity, were posted on 4Chan, and later disseminated by other users on websites and social networks such as Imgur and Reddit.
The images were initially believed to have been obtained via a breach of Apple‘s cloud services suite iCloud or a security issue in the iCloud API which allowed them to make unlimited attempts at guessing victims’ passwords. Apple claimed in a press release that access was gained via spear phishing attacks.
The breach was nicknamed in the media as The Fappening, a portmanteau of ‘fap’ (slang for masturbate) and the happening. Though the images first landed on 4Chan, a subreddit containing the images amassed 100,000 followers in a day. To rephrase an old adage; nudes travel fast.
In many instances when a forum is shut on reddit, it is reborn on 4Chan. It doesn’t take me long to find multiple iterations of the aforementioned ‘Irish Sluts’ forum. On one, men share pictures of their friends, their cousins and their stepsisters. They comment on their bodies, on their expressions, on their friends. Strangers ask each other what ages the girls in the images are.
This thread has been online since 2016.
The Male Gaze is a feminist film theory first introduced by scholar Laura Mulvey in her now famous 1975 essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. The gaze refers to how we are led to process visual information.
The “male gaze” invokes the sexual politics of the gaze and suggests a sexualised way of looking that empowers men and objectifies women. In the male gaze, woman is visually positioned as an “object” of heterosexual male desire. Her feelings, thoughts and her own sexual drives are less important than her being “framed” by male desire. In short it’s why the camera pans to her breasts.
Dr. Stefanie Davis Kempton writes about the cultural propagation of revenge porn and how the male gaze has contributed to it.
“The media is one cultural structure that encourages the repetition of gendered performances. The male gaze in media serves to reify women’s objectification through its repetition of production techniques that favor male characters,” writes Dr. Kempton.
“Revenge porn is a result of the normalization of women’s objectification in the media as it has become an acceptable form of “punishment” for its victims.”
An abuse of trust is a violent crime.
With trust we can move through the world freely with the default belief that everyone is good and that we are free from harm. Without it, we move cautiously. One foot in front of the other, poised for attack.
“I recently left an emotionally abusive relationship,” Hannah tells me via Twitter. “He used discord and told me it was to order weed but he spent a lot of time on it and was very secretive about it. He would get agitated if I asked why he got so many messages on it.”
Hannah believes her images are being misused.
“The most effective methods of abuse were punishment and abuse of trust. To distribute images or videos would be a convergence of these. As to punishments, any minor indiscretions caused a huge, utterly disproportionate reaction in an unrelated area of the relationship,” she continued.
“I experienced a rape a number of years ago and one of the main fears that I have still have about that is that it could have been recorded and distributed. He has been terribly insensitive about the rape and has said extremely hurtful things about it. Sharing images of me without my consent would be both punishment for leaving and an abuse of my trust in him by bring about something close to my worst fear.”
“When I first heard about the leak, immediately my heart stopped and I felt coldness run through me. I’ve been somewhat numb since but it’s been on my mind every minute since I heard,” she concluded.
The Victim’s Alliance is working to support women who may have been affected by this latest breach. Many women are coming to them for support.
“People are wondering are they affected, they’re asking us to look for them and we can’t at the minute as the Gardai are dealing with potentially illegal content we came across in the files, so we’re just trying to allay their fears and point them towards support services if needed,” a spokesperson tells rogue.
“I know a lot of people are worried and that’s understandable. If they know they have they can make a report to their local Garda station, using section 10 of the non-fatal Offences Against the Person Act and Gardaí can investigate under that act for them. If they don’t know if they are or not I would say, try not to panic, you’re not alone. Sure I could be in there too. The Gardaí will take a long time to comb through the files so, they need to try and not worry. If they are anxious or upset help is available via Women’s Aid on 1800 341 900 or the DRCC on 1800 778 888.”
Back on 4Chan, I find a thread called Great Irish Nude Leak.
In dozens of comments left on Saturday, men are requesting the Discord link.
The deleted Discord server is not the problem. Whether it contained one picture or one thousand pictures is irrelevant. It does not matter who among us is in there because it’s an affront to all women.
The problem is the way masses of men are talking about women in the dark. That there is such a sense of rage against female sexuality that thousands of men are connecting anonymously on 4Chan, Reddit and Discord just to share vitriol.
The problem is that men are deciding who among us is worthy of love and conversely, who is seemingly deserving of shame. The problem is deep rooted misogyny, it’s a lack of legal protection, it’s a lack of holding shit men accountable. It’s men believing women can only be one thing – that one piece is an entirety.
But as we have with the problems that faced us before, we will advocate for better. Whether it’s for the betterment of one of us or thousands of us. We’ll change laws. We will be stronger together. We’re Irish women. We are, and always will be, whole.