A FINE Gael TD said she was “terrified” by a harassment campaign by an internet troll who sent her sexually explicit videos and inappropriate texts with kiss and love heart emojis.
ennifer Carroll MacNeill was targeted by Gerard Culhane, 43, who sent her a barrage of messages and clips he’d picked up from pornographic websites via Facebook Messenger.
Presenting evidence of the victim’s impact in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, The Dun Laoghaire TD said the news left her with a “cold feeling of fear” and she didn’t know if she was going to be hurt or attacked.
Judge Patricia Ryan adjourned the case to an October date for a parole report before sentencing.
Culhane, 43, of Marian Place, Glin, Co. Limerick, pleaded guilty to molesting Ms Carroll MacNeill, 41, at undisclosed locations in the state between January 13, 2020 and March 26, 2020.
The court heard in January that Ms Carroll MacNeill was subjected to a three-day barrage of unsolicited messages and explicit content.
Detective Sergeant Rachael Kilpatrick told prosecutors Pietr Le Vert BL that Ms Carroll MacNeill received messages from a user she did not know, including three videos of a man performing a sexual act on himself.
The first video showed a man masturbating and she was “shocked and surprised” when she received the video, which was “extremely unwelcome”. She found it “disgusting” and scary and didn’t know why it was being sent to her. The video was accompanied by winking, smiley face and love heart emojis.
There were two other sexually explicit videos showing a male torso, one in pink underwear, the other in sweatpants. As soon as she saw what was going on, she turned away and didn’t watch the rest.
She later received messages, including one that read, “Stay warm beautiful” with a thumbs-up emoji, and another that read, “Love your campaign poster.” She was sent a picture of a man “hintingly” pulling down his boxers.
Ms Carroll MacNeill was also sent a photo of herself taken in a bathing suit in Sandycove at 40ft with the message: “You look so sexy Jen what an amazing body you have.”
She didn’t reply to any messages but “didn’t know where it was going” and it made her nervous so she contacted the Gardai, the court heard.
When she was chosen, she received a message saying “Congratulations” and that he had seen her “beautiful and glamorous” on The Tonight Show.
The messages continued, with a reading: “Swit Swoo” with a fire emoji.
She found it all “creepy, freaky and scary.”
A Garda investigation identified Culhane and when officers got to his home he immediately said he knew why they were there. He confirmed he had sent Ms Carroll MacNeill “pictures” but nothing offensive.
The pictures and videos were not his but had been downloaded from a porn site, he said.
Ms Carroll MacNeill said she did not want to speak in court but had to “because a man thought it was okay to invade my life and my sanity and my sense of security because he came out for some twisted reason”.
“I don’t prefer to be sexualized in that way, to appear in media articles with sexual content,” she said, “but because a man decided to send me sexually explicit videos, they are forever more visible to all.” All of this is happening without my consent. I don’t want to be a victim. I realize that this is having a negative impact on me both professionally and very personally. I’m proud of my work and I’m a private person and I just don’t like it.”
Ms Carroll MacNeill said what happened “gave me a terrible fright” as she was “very public” during an election campaign.
“I had to question my personal safety for the first time, and it’s something I’ve never faced in my life so directly,” she said. “I don’t like to admit it, but it shook my private life and my sense of security: it also made me very aware of how my family and close team treated me differently, whether it was intentional or not, everyone was suddenly on one.” greater alertness, concern, and protection for myself, my physical being, and my emotional well-being.”
“No one should have to receive unsolicited sexual content. It influenced me a lot when trying to become an elected representative,” she continued. “That morning, suddenly and without warning, I was afraid for the first time… for the first time I felt like there was real, actual risk to me. I felt it and I couldn’t see it.
“I didn’t know where it was, I didn’t know what the nature of it was. Ok, that was just a video, but what next? Was it just a video? Was it a precursor to something else? Was that person far away, or were they just over there? Did they cross the street towards me? What were they going to do? Would you wait for me somewhere? would i get hurt Would I be attacked?”
“It was something I just thought about all the time, it was kind of a cold feeling of dread no matter where I was, at home, on the promotional tour, wherever,” Ms. Carroll MacNeill continued.
“But in my opinion, rational or not, this person, whoever they were, now had every opportunity to just walk up to me and see me up close and be close to me. And that scared me.”
Culhane had a criminal record, was unemployed and was living at home with his parents, the court heard.
Karl Monahan BL, defending, said Culhane’s social services had shrunk at the time, he was “not in a happy place” and was spending his time unhealthily.
He struck up a conversation with some women via Facebook Messenger and reached out to Ms Carroll MacNeill because he was “curious to see if he could engage her in conversation”.
He had no intention of frightening or upsetting her but acted out of “stupidity”, Mr Monahan said. Culhane was very remorseful and felt ashamed and guilty. Mr. Monahan asked the judge not to impose a custodial sentence.
Judge Ryan said she wanted a parole report before proceeding with the sentencing. She adjourned the case to October 21.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/fine-gael-td-was-terrified-by-harassment-from-internet-troll-who-sent-her-sexually-explicit-videos-41639343.html Fine Gael TD was “appalled” at the harassment from internet trolls who sent her sexually explicit videos