It is very rare that I am shocked, but a recent story coming from the Emerald Isle really has upset me and left me horrified in equal measure.
For those who haven’t seen it, a 27-year-old man was acquitted of rape during a trial in which his lawyer showed lacy underwear worn by his 17-year-old accuser.
A Vile Implication
The implication was clear. A woman is coming for a sexual encounter if she wears clothes like this. The incident was a throwback to what we hoped was a bygone age where women were either asking to be raped, or actually giving consent by what they wore. Sadly, the statements in court showed that those outdated attitudes are still alive and kicking.
Well, it seems that women (and some men) are fighting back. On Tuesday, Irish lawmaker Ruth Coppinger pulled a lacy undergarment out and showed them to peers in parliament. “We’ve seen recently clothes, fake tan, even contraception, being used to discredit women who have the bravery to go to court,” she said.
“It might seem embarrassing to show a pair of thongs here in this incongruous setting of the Dail,” Coppinger added. “But the reason I’m doing it, how do you think a rape victim or a woman feels at the incongruous setting of her underwear being shown in a court? When is this Dail going to take serious action on the issue of sexual violence?”
Since then, anger on social media has made women upload pictures of their underwear using the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent. Protests are also taking place in the capital and beyond, with chants such as “Clothes are not consent” and “Yes means yes and no means no.”
Irish Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan told the broadcaster Newstalk that he was “very concerned at the practice and procedure surrounding rape trials.”
He added, “I don’t like to comment on individual cases but it was a woman barrister that posed the [question about what the woman was wearing] in that particular case which I found somewhat surprising.”
These are all fine words, but what we need is action. It doesn’t seem too much to ask for defence lawyers to be stopped from waving underwear around in a courtroom to show that consent was ‘given’.
Before I am accused of being reactionary, I do realise it is a tough job defending those accused of sexual assault. It is usually one person’s word against another’s, and in that vacuum things like this can happen. But what needs to be remembered is that a woman can wear sexy underwear because it makes her feel good. At no point does that indicate she wants a man to have sex with her. However, in a conservative country like Ireland (which it still is, despite attitudes beginning to change) even some women can believe that something like nice underwear can mean a woman is highly sexed and up for an encounter.
I don’t even want to speak about the individual case. I know nothing more about it other than what is being reported. Maybe there were other factors that led to acquittal? I have no idea. What happened though is more important than one accused and one accuser; it indicates how we treat women all over the country, and it is an ugly picture.
We just hope the government will listen. If we can get enough of us speaking truth to power, then action has to be taken.
There are women, and some men all over the country who are relying on us to do that.