Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Cork and Dublin in protest of victim-blaming, after a court case in which a rape complainant’s thong was held up as evidence sparked outrage.
Activists and campaigners are demanding judicial reform over sexual assault cases, as well as better training for barristers — to put an end to a culture that puts the blame for sexual assault on survivors, rather than perpetrators.
The case, at the Central Criminal Court earlier this month, saw a lawyer representing the accused hold up the underwear worn by the teenage complainant — telling jurors they should consider the underwear when making their verdict.
“Does the evidence out rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone?” the lawyer asked jurors in the closing argument. “You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
While the man was found not guilty, the case sparked concern from activists, campaign groups, and members of the public in Ireland and around the world.
As well as protests on the street, Teachta Dála Ruth Coppinger, the Solidarity TD, also held up a thong in the Dáil chamber on Tuesday to speak out on the issue.
She said that women’s clothes, fake tan, and even contraception had been used as evidence during trials, according to the Times.
“A study by the Rape Crisis Network estimated that, at most, 10% of rapes are reported and only one in 40 rapists appropriately punished,” she said. “How heroic and what levels of fortitude must a woman have to pursue a rape trial in this country?”
“It might seem incongruous or embarrassing to show a thong in the Dáil, but I do so to highlight how a rape victim feels at her underwear being shown in the incongruous setting of a courtroom,” she said.
And women around the world are joining together in solidarity with Irish protesters too, posting images of their underwear with #ThisIsNotConsent.
Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar has said in response that the government must examine how alleged rape victims are treated in court.
Varadkar reportedly responded to Coppinger by saying: “Let there be no doubt that nobody asks to be raped and it is never the fault of the victim. It doesn’t matter what someone wears, where someone went, who they went with, or whether they took drugs or alcohol.”
“Nobody who is a victim of sexual violence or rape is ever to blame for the crime committed on them,” he said. “I believe any defence on those lines is reprehensible.”
I hear cameras cut away from me when I displayed this underwear in #Dáil. In courts victims can have their underwear passed around as evidence and it's within the rules, hence need to display in Dáil. Join protests tomorrow. In Dublin it's at Spire, 1pm.#dubw#ThisIsNotConsentpic.twitter.com/DvtaJL61qR— Ruth Coppinger TD (@RuthCoppingerTD) November 13, 2018
Legal expert and academic Tom O’Malley is carrying out a review of changes that can be made to help protect those who make complaints of sexual assault.
“This is just one example of what is every day in cases of sexual violence where your clothes, your manner, which has nothing to do with sexual violence can be used as evidence against you, can be used as evidence of consent,” said Cork Solidarity councillor Fiona Ryan.
“I was inundated over the weekend with people outraged and with people wanting to show their anger,” she said.
The rallies were organised by Reproductive Rights Against Oppression, Sexism, and Austerity (ROSA).
“Obviously in the courts, the idea that a person’s underwear being used by a defence barrister as some indication of their intentions is absolutely despicable,” said Rita Harrold, from ROSA.
“This culture that tells us we have to keep ourselves safe, we have to wear conservative clothes, we can’t go to certain places, is a culture that tolerates rape and blames victims and we won’t take it anymore,” she said.
Meanwhile, Noeline Blackwell, head of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said it supported “rape stereotypes” in trials.
“The reference to the girl’s underwear and the assumption and inference that the jury was being invited to draw — that because she was dressed like that she was asking for sex — does not surprise us,” she said.