The Second National Report of the Irish Observatory on
Violence against Women
By Monica O’Connor
Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service
Adapt Kerry Women’s Refuge and Support Service
Limerick Rape Crisis Centre
Women’s Aid Support Service, Dublin
Freedom from Pornography Campaign: www.freedomfromprnographycampaign.com
Special thanks to the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit of An Garda Siochana, Dr.
Geraldine Moane and Grainne Healy for their contributions.
About the Author
Monica O’Connor has worked in the area of violence against women for twenty years. She is now an
independent consultant in the areas of research, policy development and training and is the co-author of
many publications on violence against women including:
“The Links between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: a Briefing Handbook", Healy, G. & O’Connor, M.,
European Women’s Lobby & Coalition against Trafficking in Women, 2006.
In 1997 The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) set up an Observatory on Violence against Women drawing
together experts from the then fifteen Member States, now expanded to twenty five, to share experience, gather
data and examine progress across the European Union. The EWL Observatory is co-ordinated by and feeds into
the work of the EWL Policy Action Centre on Violence against Women in monitoring and highlighting the issue
of gender based violence with the European institutions, including the European Commission and the European
Parliament. National non-governmental Observatories have been initiated as a mechanism to collate accurate,
independent data and create common frameworks and indicators to monitor progress in combating violence
against women within the Member States. The Irish Observatory on Violence against Women was the first such
body to be set up in 2002.
The EWL has a Feminist Charter of Principles on violence against women which underpin the work of the
Observatories; they state that women’s rights are human rights; that the autonomy and empowerment of all
women underpins its work; that prostitution and trafficking in women are fundamental violations of women’s
human rights and that the diversity of women’s experience of violence and intersecting issues of discrimination
must inform the work of combating violence against women.
On April 15th 2002 Mary Banotti, MEP hosted the launch of the Irish National Observatory in the E.U.
Commission offices in Dublin, the first of its kind in Europe. Mary Wallace, Minister of State at the Department
of Justice Equality and Law Reform, publicly welcomed the setting up of an independent mechanism for
monitoring Member State action and pledged support to the National Women’s Council of Ireland, as the
national co-ordination of women’s organisations and host organisation for the EWL in Ireland.
It was proposed by the European Observatory that an national report would be published in each Member State
providing a critical overview of the national context including data, initiatives by the State and the non-
governmental women’s organisations with recommendations for Government action. (O’Connor, 2004)1 This
national report would also include a specific focus on one form of gender based violence. Recognising that the
growth of the sex industry in Ireland was a matter of deep concern to women the Irish Observatory agreed that
prostitution would be the focus of the first national report followed by this the second report on pornography.
Both reports specifically address the issue of the sexual exploitation of women. The Observatory holds that it is
not possible to make clear distinctions between adult and child prostitution and adult and child pornography. The
sex industry is made up of multiple venues and forms into which both women and children are marketed and
sold for the purpose of sexual exploitation through prostitution and pornography. (Kelly & Regan, 2000)
This report contains a brief look at some Irish women’s action against pornography, a summary of legislation
and enforcement by the state in relation to adult and child pornography and some national and international data
on the proliferation of the sex industry. Some evidence that pornography is being used as a form and part of
sexual abuse was provided by specialist women’s services and is included throughout the report in ‘boxes’. The
report also challenges some of the arguments put forward by the defenders of pornography and makes
recommendations for action by the state and civil society.
Pornography in Ireland
The Irish Observatory on Violence against Women holds the position that the proliferation of the sex industry is
a fundamental threat to the dignity and human rights of women and girls.2 Prostitution and pornography directly
1 The Irish Observatory decided that as there have been very few new Government initiatives since 2004 a second national
report would be done on 2007.
2 We recognise that boys and young men and are also exploited through the sex industry. The primary focus of the EWL and
this report is looking at the impact of pornography on women and gender equality but we believe the position taken and
recommendations for action will benefit men, women and children.
undermine the goal of equality between women and men as expressed by the United Nations, the Council of
Europe and the European Union.3 The sex industry is any method or location in which women or children’s
bodies are bought, sold, or traded for sexual exploitation. These systems include pornography, international
sexual slavery, trafficking and prostitution on the streets, in private venues and on the Internet. (Hughes, 2005)
The male demand for a class of women and girls to be available for their sexual gratification in prostitution and
in pornography is the root cause of sexual exploitation. Producers and distributors of pornography, pimps and
traffickers are ensuring a supply to those consumers, marketing women and children’s bodies for massive
profits. Gender inequality, globalisation, poverty, racism, migration and the collapse of women’s economic
stability are global factors that create the conditions in which women are driven into the sex industry. (UNESCE,
Despite the absence of research and data the proliferation of the sex industry in Ireland is visible on an
increasing scale. The last ten years has seen the introduction of lap dancing clubs throughout the country, a
major growth in the advertising of sex lines, massage parlours and escort services and a massive increase in the
availability of all forms of pornography in newsagents and video stores. This has been accompanied by
widespread access to the Internet, which has transformed the immediate free availability of pornography for
adults and young people.
However, despite these developments there has been little debate on the impacts and consequences for Irish
society. The usual claim by those promoting the sex industry that this is an issue of sexual liberation and
freedom is perhaps particularly difficult to challenge within the Irish context as a country still emerging from a
long history of sexual repression and censorship. On the one hand there still remains a culture of repression in
relation to women’s sexuality, sexual diversity and reproductive rights. At the same time there is a growing
liberalism, which welcomes the sex industry as a form of liberation and progress with those seeking to hold anti-
pornography statements/positions often being vociferously misinterpreted as anti-sex, prudish and repressive of
sexual diversity. Ultimately there has been very little constructive and informed discussion in relation to the
social consequences of the proliferation of the sex industry for women and gender equality in Ireland. This
report is a contribution to that critical debate.
The Pornography Industry
In North America and Europe the pornography industry is estimated to be the size of the video and music
industry combined, and includes so-called soft core, hard core and snuff4 pornography, child pornography, and
other genres. 70% of the £252 million that European Internet users spent on the net during 2001 went to various
pornography sites. (European Parliament, 2003) In its hardcore form, pornography is now accessed in the U.K.
by an estimated 33% of all Internet users. Since the British Board of Film Classification relaxed its guidelines in
2000, hardcore video pornography makes up between 13% and 17% of censors’ viewing, compared with just 1%
three years ago. In the U.S. with the pornography industry bringing in up to $15bn annually, people spend more
on pornography than they do on movie tickets and all the performing arts combined. Each year, in Los Angeles
alone, more than 10,000 hardcore movies are made, against an annual Hollywood average of just 400 movies.
(Marriott, 2003) In their publication on violence against women as an obstacle to women’s equality and
women’s participation in society the European Women’s Lobby state that: “ the rapid growth of pornographic
sites on the internet facilitates men’s easy access to pornography making this form of gender based violence
accessible every minute of the day in both the public and private spheres of women and men’s lives. (EWL,
In Ireland there has been very little research carried out which would inform us on the growth, profits,
production, dissemination and usage of pornographic material. However, in this section we outline some of the
evidence that is available from limited research, Garda data and the media.
3 See “The Links between Prostitution and Trafficking, a Briefing Handbook, Healy & O’Connor, EWL, 2006 for list of U.N.
and European declarations/documents.
4 The term snuff movie refers to the filming of an actual murder. Due to lack of evidence there is some debate among police
forces about whether these actually exist. However, the filming of sexually violent scenes using actual dead bodies in war
zones and disasters has been discovered. (DVSAIU)
In the SAVI Report, the first National survey on sexual abuse in Ireland a question was included on exposure to
pornography prior to age seventeen. 2.7% of girls and 6.7% of boys, a total of 9.4% said yes when asked if
anyone ever showed or persuaded them to look at pornographic material (for example, magazines, videos,
internet, etc.) in a way that made them feel uncomfortable during childhood or adolescence. The survey also
found that 8% of people had experience of someone who displayed, used or distributed pornographic or
suggestive materials in an offensive manner in the workplace. 58% of those people felt some level of distress as
a result. (Mc Gee et al 2002) In a recent study on domestic abuse in Ireland 4.6% disclosed being subjected to
sexual abuse, 13.1% of those had been forced to watch or read pornography. (Watson & Parsons, 2005)
In a study involving 302 school students in Dublin, young people had high levels of exposure to pornography
with almost all young men (94%) and a majority of young women (68%) having had some contact with
pornography. More than three out of four reported having seen at least one pornographic film (80%) with a
minority having seen lots of them (17% of males and 2% of females). Two thirds of young women and men had
seen pornographic magazines but patterns of regular use are highly gendered, 31% of boys and 1% of girls.
Similarly two thirds of young men and one third of young women had accessed pornography on the Internet.
(Kelly and Regan, Women’s Aid, 2001)
A follow up study with 306 psychology students in University College Dublin (242 female and 64 male students
reflecting the gender ratio of psychology students) revealed similar high levels of exposure with much higher
percentages of males (92.1%) compared with females (63.9%) having viewed pornography. This study also
shows that while the highest percentages of females (19%-26% of females compared with 18%-20% of males)
have seen pornography only once, a greater percentage of males (48%-52% of males compared with 14%-11%
of females) have seen it several times. A considerable percentage of males (14%-26%) have seen pornography
“lots”, compared with almost no females (1%-3%) who viewed pornography “lots”. (Moane, 2006)
In 1996, the National Women’s Council of Ireland convened a working group on Pornography.5 They were
interested to see just how easy it was to gain access to child pornography on the Internet. 6 A small piece of work
was carried out by two women who had no particular expertise with computers or the Internet to see just how
easy or difficult it was to find pornography. They entered key words such as “children sex,” “schoolgirls,”
“kiddie” and “kiddie porn.” The actual listings, which came up when the above words were entered, show that
pornography is completely accessible on the Internet.
They concluded that:
Any adult, however unused to using internet who sets out to find child pornography will have no
difficulty in finding access to a) explicit online visual images of child pornography and b) addresses and
further information for gaining access to child pornography.
Many adults using Internet for research or recreational purposes will inadvertently be faced with adverts
for pornography if they use any of the keywords above. These include words like schoolgirls, child,
animal, horse, etc. in other words it is almost impossible to avoid exposure to material about child
pornography while using Internet.
Any child who is curious about sex will easily gain access to child pornography.
Children are at high risk for exposure to child pornography through inadvertently using any of the
keywords above. (Healy, 1997)
Speaking at a seminar called Understanding Child Pornography at University College Cork in March 2003,
Professor Max Taylor of the UCC COPINE project (Combating Paedophile Information Networks in Europe)
said that the level of abuse against children depicted in photographs circulating on the net was getting more
vicious and sadistic. While the typical age of children appearing in abusive images on the Internet was between
six and twelve years, he described how the age profile was getting younger and that more babies and toddlers are
appearing in the images and the abuse is getting worse. Professor Taylor said demand for these images was
driving the huge growth in the numbers of new children appearing in the images and on average, twenty new
5 This included researchers and activists from Women’s Aid, Women’s Education Research and Resource Centre at UCD and NWCI Executive members.
6 This was prior to the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998.
children are appearing each month on the internet in abusive or highly graphic sex poses. (Irish Examiner, March
Identifying pornography as a form of violence against women and adopting harm based
definitions in Ireland
There has been a consistent voice of opposition to pornography within the Irish women’s movement over the
past thirty years. In 1989 the Campaign against Pornography and Censorship (CPC, 1989) adopted a clear harm
based definition of pornography: “Pornography is the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through
pictures and/or words which includes one or more of the following - women presented as dehumanised objects;
enjoying humiliation and pain; tied up, cut, or mutilated; shown with severed body parts; penetrated by object
In 1996 the Report on the Working Party on the Legal and Judicial Process for Victims of Sexual and Other
Crimes of Violence Against Women and Children (NWCI, 1996) recognised that: “...pornography operates to
differentiate women from men by representing men in positions of power and influence over women – these
positions are ones which are often abusive and or violent…sexual objectification, common to pornography,
portrays human beings – usually women or children – as depersonalised sexual beings, rather than as multi-
faceted human beings deserving equal rights with men…pornography is the sexualisation or eroticisation of
dominance and submission………”.
In their submission to the Working group on the Illegal and Harmful use of the Internet set up by the Department
of Justice Equality and Law Reform (Healy, 1997), the NWCI adopted a harm based definition and made the
observation that given the inherent violence within the content of most pornography: “it seems redundant to say
‘violent pornography’ – pornography is in essence the depiction of degradation and subordination and is thus a
form of violence – sometimes explicitly so at other times implicitly so.”
During the Irish presidency of the European Union in 2004, an EU Presidency conference was held in Dublin on
Violence against Women. The speakers and participants at the panel on pornography expressed their concern at
the increased availability of pornography and were agreed on defining pornography as a form of violence against
women. Dr. Geraldine Moane from University College Dublin stated that:
The violence depicted in pornography includes rape, assault with weapons, tying up and beating, distortions of
bodily parts, urination and defecation, rape by animals, and in snuff movies, actual killing. Women are depicted
as enjoying such violence, and usually having orgasms during rape and other violent scenes. (Moane, 2004)
In 2005 the Irish Freedom from Pornography Campaign was launched declaring the harmful nature of
pornography through the objectification, dehumanization, humiliation and degradation of women. They
recognise that violence and sexual assault are presented as normal acceptable and even pleasurable and that
pornographic material depicts sexual relationships as based on female subordination and male dominance. They
aim to: “eliminate pornography and promote a society in which all people enjoy sexuality based on respect,
safety, equality and mutuality”. (FFP, 2005)
Legislation in Ireland
The legal response to adult pornography in Ireland has primarily been through censorship of visual and print
materials and the creation of specific criminal offences for the import, distribution and display of obscene or
indecent material. (See appendix 1)
In her critique of the censorship laws, Dr. Judy Walsh observes that existing Irish legislation centres on the
concepts of 'obscenity' and 'indecency' and as such represents a form of legal ‘moralism.’ She argues that: “the
application of censorship law is placed in the hands of a conservative elite …whose task is to advance the
presumed moral welfare of the individual and society and that ambiguities in the definitions of obscenity and
indecency leave the legislation open to abuse.”
Many international experts would support the view that present censorship and obscenity based legislation is
subjective, open to wide interpretation and abuse, unenforceable and that it is completely inadequate to respond
to the massive growth of the pornography industry through technological advances. 7 (Itzin, 1993, Mc Kinnon,
Dr. Walsh observes that several commentators have suggested that the Irish laws may be in breach of our
international obligations in the area of freedom of expression as set out in the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights (Article 19) and the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10). Furthermore the
Law Reform Commission (a statutory body) has also suggested "that an examination of (a) legislation on
obscene and indecent matter and (b) the various schemes of censorship is necessary if we are to attach due
weight to the Irish Constitutional guarantee of free speech."
It is therefore a particularly critical time to examine other legal options and to ensure that the repeal of
censorship laws does not take place in the absence of effective alternatives. The protection of free speech must
be balanced with the protection of the right to live in a society that does not allow the promotion of material that
is degrading and violating of women. We can and do derogate from a rigid adherence to the principle of free
speech where material is for example racist or fascist with the explicit intention of inciting hatred against a group
of people. We recognise that there is a competing right i.e.: the right to live in a society that condemns the
production and distribution of material that degrades and harms our perception of a group and which could incite
actual harm against them. Legislation that is informed by a harm based definition and discrimination such as
incitement to hatred measures need to be examined. As Aminatta Forna says in her discussion of the Race
Relations Act in the U. K 1965:
If we weigh the balance of two apparently conflicting freedoms- individual free speech and racial equality – we
put the freedom of black people first. If we weigh the balance of two censorships, which takes precedence- the
censorship of black people as a result of race hatred or the censorship of race hatred? (Forna, 1993)
There have been major criticisms of the difficulties in the U.K. and in Ireland in enforcing and prosecuting cases
of incitement to hatred. Similarly, arguments against the introduction of legislation to control pornography are
often conflated with the difficulties of enforcement or the use of the law to remove sexually explicit publications
in particular gay and lesbian erotic material. This is not necessarily an argument against the law as much as the
lack of political will to enact effective laws and the selectivity of their implementation.
If we consider the introduction of marital rape legislation we can draw a parallel that it has almost never been
enforced in Ireland (two cases have been prosecuted since 1991). However this does not obviate the need for the
law as much as the continuing need for institutional change in the processing of sexual crime within the legal
system. The existence of such a law – a so called declarative law, has in itself the purpose of stating overtly that
sex within marriage as in any other context must be based on mutuality and consent.
A code of guidance could be drawn up in parallel to the introduction of laws which would expand on a harm
based approach defining the type of material to be considered as graphic, sexually explicit, material which
subordinates, degrades, and violates regardless of whether it is produced for the heterosexual or gay market. It
also could define what material would not fall within the remit of the law, including erotic material that is
heterosexual, gay or lesbian, indicating the intention of the law and the priority for police enforcement. A failure
to do so would lead to conclusion that as Itzin says: “We have to ask why we have such demonstrably ineffectual
7 For full discussion of obscenity and censorship law in the U.S. and the U.K. see Mc Kinnon and Itzin in Pornography, Women Violence
and Civil Liberties, 1993.
laws against pornography and such pretence to the contrary; why we use a definition of pornography that
cannot in practice be applied; why all legislation against pornography is drafted in such a manner as to be
unenforceable, and nothing is done about it for decades; and we must conclude that it has never been the
intention to prevent the publication and distribution of pornography; that it has always been, and remains the
intention to permit pornography and to protect it from prosecution.” (Itzin, 1993)
Enforcement in Ireland
The laws pertaining to Adult Pornography are viewed by An Garda Siochana as seriously out of date and
inadequate in the present climate and need to be reviewed. (DVSAU, 2006) The Customs Consolidation Act
1876 gives the authorities the right to seize any obscene materials being imported into the state but criminal
charges cannot be brought against the importer. This is merely a Revenue offence and the Gardai can only
charge with evasion of excisable duty.
There are also various pieces of legislation, which give the Gardai the power to prosecute for the distribution and
sale of pornography where a complaint is made. In relation to Censorship and Obscenity legislation where they
confiscate material, which has not been certified, they can send this to the censorship board. However, it is only
if they discover the same material at a later stage being marketed that they then can prosecute the distributor.
Furthermore, regarding the display of offensive material, vendors for example can have magazines on the top
shelf in plastic and although the Gardai may know there is offensive material inside it would only be where that
is actually visible or on display that they could have it removed. These measures are clearly ineffective in
responding to the present pornography industry.
The Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 made it an offence to organise or knowingly facilitate the
entry into, transit through, accommodate in or exit from the State of a child for the purpose of sexual
exploitation. Sexual exploitation as defined within the Act includes inducing or coercing a child to engage in
prostitution or the production of child pornography, using the child for prostitution for the production of child
pornography and or inducing or coercing a child to participate in sexual activity.
Even where there is a wide consensus on the outlawing of pornographic material at European level, as in the
production and distribution of child pornography, there is a major gap between legislative measures and
enforcement. In a European study on child sexual exploitation in 2000 very few countries provided detailed
material on prosecutions for child pornography and a wide gap existed between “rhetoric and reality”. Ireland
had documented just 4 cases of prosecution/convictions in 1998. The authors observe: “In relation to effective
action it is salutary to look at the failure and lack of political will to deal with child pornography which most
countries have made illegal… very few European countries are doing anything effective in detecting and
prosecuting it, let alone decreasing its circulation and presence on the Internet, or in its other forms.” (Kelly &
Data from 2002 below (An Garda Siochana 2002) indicates that with the introduction of the new Legislation
(Child Pornography Act, 1998) there was a substantial rise in the number of cases reported to the Gardai,
resulting in a number of successful prosecutions.
Child Pornography Act
Data from An Garda Siochana, DVSAU
Number of offences reported or known to the Gardai
Number of offences which were detected
Number of offences in which criminal Proceedings
Committed for and awaiting trial
Pending in the District Court
In a study of trafficking in unaccompanied minors in the E.U. and Ireland in 2003 the authors comment that in
fact: “the (1998) act has been extensively enforced with consequent prosecutions and convictions in the courts in
relation to child pornography, the downloading of computers or storing of electronic images of children and
other related crimes in relation to child pornography. (Conroy, 2003)
The rise in detection and convictions may also be due to “Operation Cathedral”, an internationally co-ordinated
police investigation into the worldwide Wonderland child pornography network. To be a member of the club
required possession of at least 10,000 different images of children. The FBI and the U.K. police force operation
revealed the involvement of a number of Irish members. In 2001 “Operation Amethyst”, the Irish linked
operation, the Garda Siochana raided 150 premises involving over 100 individuals’ homes and business places at
an internationally co-ordinated time. These included some high profile cases including a member of the
Judiciary and a well-known hotelier. However, Garda figures from 2003/4/5 indicate that despite a substantial
number of reported cases there remains a very low level of successful prosecutions and convictions. (An Garda
Siochana, 2004, 2005)
Child Pornography Act, 1998
Sections 3/4/5 & 6
Number of offences reported or known to the Gardai
Number of offences which were detected
Number of offences in which criminal Proceedings were
Committed for and awaiting trial
Pending in the District Court
It is recognised by police forces that for operations like “Operation Cathedral” to succeed they must have access
to highly skilled personnel with the level of expertise and resources that pornographers’ clearly have and that
initiatives must involve international co-operation. An Garda Siochana have also realised that if members of the
force become expert in this area of work they also need to provide officers with support to continue to deal with
such offensive material.
The 2000 European study (Kelly & Regan, 2000) concludes that if we are serious about reducing and eventually
eliminating the production and distribution of harmful violent pornography, adult or child, it is futile to have
legislation that law enforcers cannot implement as they do not have the technology or resources to detect and
prosecute. It is also futile to have aspirational declarations that legislators and policy makers have no political
will to implement; action plans without monitoring mechanisms, voluntary codes of conduct from an industry
that has no desire to self regulate and no mechanisms in place for ensuring compliance.
Challenging the arguments in favour of pornography
Pornography is sexually liberating for women and men
The pornography industry promotes the falsehood that this is an issue of sexual liberation and that those seeking
to prevent the production and distribution of their material are repressing sexual freedom and are anti-sex. What
in fact feminists have always struggled for is a liberating sexuality for women and men that is based on equal,
mutual, consensual sex for heterosexual, gay, lesbian and bi-sexual people. We support the production of erotic
sexual material that is not based on power and dominance, which presents women as having agency and choice
and contains no violence, abuse or degradation. We reject the idea that pornography is an exciting and liberating
experience for women. 8
As Dorchen Leidholt comments: “The sexuality our culture offers women today through pornography is not
new, not avant-garde, not revolutionary. It’s the same sex male supremacy has always forced on us: being used
as the instrument of someone else’s sexual agency- the instrument of someone socially male…To speak
powerfully in favour of sexual pleasure while blithely ignoring the fact that this pleasure is usually achieved
through women’s subordination and violation is to speak powerfully in favour of a system that keeps all women
down.” (Leidholdt, 1990)
Restricting pornography is a denial of freedom of expression
Civil libertarians recognise and demand the protection of the right to free speech as a fundamental constitutional
and human right. However, to seek to do as a superior right to the human rights of women to be free from
degrading and inhumane treatment is to provide the ideal moral justification for pornographers. Pornographers
exploit the concepts of rights and freedom to exercise their power to profit from the degradation of women.
. “There are certain ‘freedoms’ that people have agreed to forgo because of the damage and harm they do to
other people. These include the freedom to steal, to assault, to rape, to murder, to incite racial hatred and
discrimination and to discriminate in employment on the grounds of race or sex. The freedom to incite sexual
hatred, sexual violence and sex discrimination through pornography is another freedom people should agree to
forgo to ensure and safeguard the civil liberties of women”. (Itzin 1993)
Attempting to enact effective legal measures to control pornography is not to deny the right to freedom of
expression. It is to demand the right for women and men to create a space in which a discourse of liberating
sexuality can take place in a climate of respect.
Pornography is just a fantasy not involving real women
The pornography industry promotes the falsehood that the subjects within the material are not real women and
children that this is only fantasy. Men therefore can justify their gaze on any form of perverse and abusive sexual
act including watching and enjoying women being raped, beaten and penetrated by animals on the grounds that
this is not real.
“Total control is the power dynamic at the heart of pornography. The erotic appeal of this fantasy to millions of
terrifyingly normal men fosters an immense industry in which women and children are abused, not in fantasy but
in reality”. (Herman, 1992)
8 For a full discussion on the sexual liberal debate see Leidholdt, Dorchen and Raymond, Janice G. Eds., The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, Pergamon, 1990.