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11th Mar 2021

Collector Culture: After Coco’s Law, image based sexual abuse continues to run rampant

“The most disturbing case we’ve ever dealt with.”

Earlier this week, an Irish OnlyFans user contacted authorities after receiving a threatening message from an individual who claimed to have her home address, college address and the name of her parents.

The individual demanded a large sum of money, and threatened to leak her details if she refused to meet his demands.

The situation escalated when the victim received a photograph of her home.

At this point, Gardaí got involved and planned a sting operation. On Tuesday 9 March, three individuals were arrested for their involvement.

Ceartas – an organisation that stops leaks and removes private content from the internet – worked directly with the Gardaí in this undercover operation. In a tweet on Wednesday, they described it as their “most disturbing case yet”.


Collector Culture

Unfortunately blackmailing and privacy leaks have become all too common. The case we saw this week is a symptom of a much larger issue. When a Discord server leaked 500,000 private images last November, Matt set up Ceartas to take action against image based-sexual abuse.

The enormity of the problem is almost impossible to fathom. “I’d say in the last 90 days alone, I’ve removed about 100 terabytes of stolen content. To put that into perspective, that is millions of images. Millions. To put a number on it, it’s almost like asking how many grains of salt are in the sea? It’s very difficult. I’m personally removing 400-500 images.”

For Matt, his work with Ceartas has become a full-time job. He tracks images that have been leaked – either private images or from OnlyFans accounts – and takes them down, free of charge.

Ceartas is currently responding to “collector culture”, wherein private images of women are ranked, valued and traded around, at a cost.

“It’s one thing to look at other people’s images without their consent,” Matt says. “But it’s another thing when they’re using women as a currency. These collectors are looking at their monetary value. They’re looking at their OnlyFans and thinking ‘Wow, this individual is making X amount of money’. In the incident we saw last week, they knew almost down to the euro how much she was making.”

Matt believes that the sharing of intimate images has become even more insidious as collector culture gains traction: “I don’t even think it’s about sexual gratification anymore. It’s more of a control thing.”

Coco’s Law

While image based sexual abuse is rampant, those caught will face very serious charges. Last year, the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill – or Coco’s Law – was introduced. Those who are found guilty of non-consensual distribution will face the penalty of an unlimited fine and up to seven years in prison.

For those who participate in collector culture, Matt has a staunch warning: “There are laws in place, you will be found and you will be caught. You’re not going to get away with it. We will do whatever we can to make sure that the law is fully executed.”

As for those who find themselves victim of a leak, help is available. “Reach out to us,” Matt says. “We have our own website, and we get a lot of messages through Instagram and Twitter too. Let us know how we can help you.”