An internet troll who sent sexually explicit videos to Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeil as part of a “scary” harassment campaign has been sentenced to a year’s probation.
Judge Patricia Ryan said the messages sent by Gerard Culhane, 43, to the politician, which contained videos of a man masturbating, were “very disturbing and frightening for the injured party”.
But the judge decided not to send him to jail after hearing that he was repentant, had no criminal record and was very isolated socially at the time and suffered from medical issues.
Following the sentencing, Ms Carroll MacNeill urged women who receive unsolicited sexual messages to report the matter to Gardaí.
“I recognize that because of my position as elected public official, there is an additional level of interest or importance in this case. However, there are many women who face the same things I do, unwanted advances, whether online or in person,” she said.
“And so I want to be clear that it is not acceptable to send unsolicited sexual content – to have to receive it at all times of the day – whether with frivolous or threatening intent – sending unsolicited sexual content is not normal, it is not acceptable.
“If you find yourself in this or any other situation that is happening without your consent, it is possible to raise your concerns with An Garda Siochana – you are taken seriously, the criminal justice system is there to support you. And while I recognize that it is not pleasant to be here, yes I have already said that I absolutely do not want to be here, it is possible to put an end to this experience through the criminal justice system and I hope that someone will will hear today.”
Ms Carroll MacNeill, 42, a TD for Dún Laoghaire, was harassed by Culhane during and after the 2020 election campaign when he sent her a barrage of inappropriate messages via Facebook messenger.
This included sexually explicit videos he downloaded from pornographic websites and comments about their appearance.
Not knowing who was sending her the messages, she feared for her personal safety as she appeared in public during the campaign.
The TD was joined in court by her husband, former rugby international Hugo MacNeill, her mother Mary Carroll, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Fine Gael General Secretary John Carroll and TDs Brendan Griffin, Neale Richmond and Alan Farrell.
Ms Carroll MacNeill lodged a complaint with Gardaí and Culhane of Marian Place, Glin, Co Limerick was identified following an inquiry.
The court heard that Culhane had no criminal record, was unemployed and lived at home with his parents.
He had had conversations with some women via Facebook Messenger. His lawyer said he contacted Ms Carroll MacNeill because he was “curious to see if he could engage her in conversation”.
The court was told he had no intention of distressing or upsetting her and was now repentant, acknowledging his actions were foolish and feeling shameful and guilty.
In a lengthy victim statement submitted to the court earlier this year, the TD said trying to deal with the harassment in the middle of an election campaign was “extremely difficult”.
She said Culhane invaded her life, sanity, sense of security and shattered her personal life.
“What happened scared me terribly at a time when I was very much in the public eye and trying to be personally available to as many members of the public in Dún Laoghaire as possible,” she said.
“I had to question my personal safety for the first time, and I’ve never faced that in my life.”
The TD said it was the first time in her life that she felt she was at real, actual risk.
“I felt it and 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’s next? Was it just a video? Was it a precursor to something else? Was that person far away or was he just over there? Did they cross the street towards me? What would you do? Would you wait for me somewhere? would i get hurt Would I be attacked?”
Culhane pleaded guilty to molesting Ms. Carroll MacNeill between January 13, 2020 and March 26, 2020 at undisclosed locations in the state.
In January this year, Ms Carroll MacNeill was bombarded with unsolicited messages and explicit content for three days.
Detective Sergeant Rachael Kilpatrick gave evidence and said 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 at the 40ft bathing area in Sandycove with the message: “You look so sexy Jen. What a great body you have.”
She didn’t respond to any messages.
When she was elected in February, she received a message saying “Congratulations” and that he had seen her “beautiful and glamorous” on The Tonight Show.
The news continued into March, with one reading: “Swit Swoo” with a fire emoji.
The court heard that when Gardaí arrived at Culhane’s home, he immediately said he knew why they were there. He confirmed he had sent Ms Carroll MacNeill “pictures” but nothing offensive.
Culhane said the images and videos were not his but were downloaded from a porn site, he said
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/its-not-acceptable-jennifer-carroll-macneill-urges-women-to-speak-up-as-harasser-who-sent-her-sexually-explicit-messages-is-sentenced-42084969.html ‘It’s unacceptable’ – Jennifer Carroll MacNeill is urging women to speak up as the molester who sent her sexually explicit messages faces condemnation