Irish Consent

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | November 15, 2018 0

A series of protests over sexual consent have been taking place in Ireland, a week after a man was acquitted of raping a 17-year-old in Cork.

In the trial, the defence lawyer told the jury: “You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.” The 27-year-old man was found not guilty of rape shortly afterwards. The controversy led one Irish MP to hold up a lace thong in parliament to highlight “routine victim-blaming”. Ruth Coppinger produced the blue lacy underwear in the Dáil (Irish parliament) from her sleeve on Tuesday. “It might seem embarrassing to show a pair of thongs here… how do you think a rape victim or a woman feels at the incongruous setting of her underwear being shown in a court?”

There was a sharp rebuke from Leas Ceann Comhairle, Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher, as the displaying of matters during debates is normally not permitted. “Women in this country are getting a little weary of routine victim-blaming in Irish courts and the failure of lawmakers in this House to do anything about it,” Ms Coppinger said. “Clothes, fake tan and even contraception have recently been used to discredit women who had the bravery to go to court.”

The case, in which the man was cleared of rape, was originally reported by the Irish Examiner newspaper on 6 November. The accused maintained that the sexual contact between him and the girl, which took place in a laneway in Cork, had been consensual. Details of the closing argument presented by his senior counsel Elizabeth O’Connell, however, attracted widespread attention and prompted a series of online protest movements. “Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone?” she asked, according to the Examiner’s report. “You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

The day after publication of that court report, the head of Dublin’s Rape Crisis Centre criticised the barrister’s remarks. Although she did not question the verdict, she called for reform of a legal system in which she said such suggestions were frequently made. Amid increasing media attention, Irish social media users expressed outrage at the remarks in court.

Under the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent, Irish women posted photographs of their underwear in all shapes, colours, and materials to protest the use of such techniques in court. Many pointed to other countries which have tighter controls on what can be introduced in rape trials, and in what manner the jury can consider them. After producing lacy underwear in Ireland’s national parliament, Ms Coppinger told one supporter that compulsory training should be introduced for both judges and jurors.

Lunchtime protests calling for an end to “victim-blaming in the courts” took place in a number of Irish cities on Wednesday, organised by Socialist feminist group Rosa. In Cork, where the trial took place, an estimated 200 people gathered to march on the courthouse and lay underwear on its steps.

The barrister involved in the case Elizabeth O’Connell SC was a prominent local campaigner in Cork against the repeal of the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution giving women the Right to Choose and allowing the introduction of safe legal abortion in Ireland,

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, who held up a thong in the Dáil yesterday in protest, was speaking at today’s demonstration in Dublin and called on the Government to approve the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill proposed by her party earlier this year. “We need to have proper objective sex education in schools with consent at its core,” she said, via the Irish Times. “We need to take this into colleges…we need to take this into workplaces where most people are actually situated.”

Speaking yesterday, Ms Coppinger said the Dáil “ hasn’t taken sexual assault and harassment any way serious enough.”

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