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BBC NI’s Aileen Moynagh on teen stalker ordeal: ‘If sharing my experience puts plans in place to better future victims, that’s something positive I can take’

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Victim: BBC’s Aileen Moynagh

Victim: BBC’s Aileen Moynagh

Victim: BBC’s Aileen Moynagh

BBC NI’s Aileen Moynagh hopes that her traumatic ordeal with a teenage stalker will help change laws against social media firms here, to protect future victims.

The Co Tyrone journalist revealed that she rarely walks alone from her Belfast city centre office to its nearby car park anymore, following her "horrific” experiences last year.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Moynagh said she felt “silly” for being “terrified of somebody who’s so young”, after receiving continued online threats and harassment from the then 16-year-old Dublin stranger, over a five-month period.

She added: “But I felt sad for him as well. How could somebody so young do this?”

In February, the boy in question was given a six-month deferred sentence and supervised probation – shortly before his 18th birthday – for what a judge had referred to as “horrific” sustained harassment against Ms Moynagh.

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He has been ordered to remain under the supervision of the Republic of Ireland’s probation service for the next 12 months in relation to threats made against another reporter from RTÉ, who was not named in the proceedings.

Ms Moynagh gave a powerful victim impact statement during her court case against the teen last December, in which she addressed the boy directly.

“I hope you’ll look back at this point in your life and see it as the day things turned around for you,” she said. “While I couldn’t have always said this, I don’t wish you any ill – I just want you to stop.”

She has since disclosed that she felt she “could barely get through the first line” of the statement and has struggled in the subsequent months about whether she wanted to share her experiences further with the public.

“If I could take myself out of the story and just be the reporter, I would,” she continued. “But, sometimes, telling your own story is more powerful.”

She added: “Hopefully, this gets him the help he needs. When I said to him in court that I hope this is the day things turn around for you, I meant that.”

Ms Moynagh’s harasser, who has a range of complex orders, used up to 40 aliases on the internet to contact her and had been barred from Twitter about 150 times, the court had heard.

He had forced her to leave her home in fear that he was tracking her movements and was found to be responsible for harassing dozens of other women online too.

After giving her victim impact statement, the boy’s father requested to meet the BBC broadcaster, which she agreed to.

“How hard must it be to have a child so young, obviously incredibly intelligent, who could have his whole life in front of him – and yet, this could change his life forever one way or another?” she said.

The court heard how the boy’s father had been trying to get specialist help for his high-functioning son since he was eight.

“He came up to me, and he was so emotional. He was just like, ‘I’m so sorry.’ My heart broke. And so I ended up hugging him. I said I felt guilty for bringing him to court. He said this was ‘our last chance’ to get help for his son before he turned 18.”

After learning of the boy’s “uncontrollable obsession” with another female journalist, Ms Moynagh added: “I said all along that I wasn’t the first person, but I wanted to be the last. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.”

In a statement she released after court proceedings, she commented: “All organisations need to learn – including the BBC – how to better approach these situations from the outset. The BBC has accepted that its initial approach should have been better and is now actively working to put practices in place to help staff deal with harassment of this nature.”

Since then, Ms Moynagh and other colleagues who have experienced online abuse have participated in a meeting with the BBC’s top management to share their experiences and “suggested where we felt things could be improved".

She said “action has been taken and new policies are being worked on” to deal with online abuse.

"If sharing my experience puts plans in place that makes it better for someone else in the future, well that’s something positive I can take from having gone through this.”


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