‘Victim blaming’ criticised at protests over lawyer’s thong comments

About 600 attend Dublin, Cork rallies amid concern women’s choices being ‘weaponised’

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger showed a thong in the Dail during Leaders’ Questions to highlight issues in rape cases. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

The Irish judicial system must eliminate a culture of victim blaming and turn away from traditional assumptions that women who dress in a certain way are consenting to sex, protests in Cork and Dublin have heard.

About 600 people took part in the protests which were organised by the Rosa socialist feminist group in response to the comments of defence barrister Elizabeth O’Connell SC in a rape trial last week.

In her closing remarks to the jury at the Central Criminal Court, Ms O’Connell said consideration should be given to the underwear the 17-year-old complainant wore on the night she alleged she was raped by a 27-year-old man while out socialising in Co Cork.

“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front,” Ms O’Connell told the jury, which later acquitted the man.

Many of those who attended the protests held thongs in the air and carried placards stating that wearing a particular type of underwear should not be interpreted as implying that someone was consenting to sex.

Weary

Mary Crilly, of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, told the rally on Patrick Street, attended by some 400 people, she was weary of having to highlight that what a woman chooses to wear should be not regarded as indicating anything.

“I’ve met women in their 80s who wore long johns and have been raped and I have met 14-year-olds who wore jeans and were raped,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter what they wear. We need guidelines in court cases on what should and should not be brought up in rape and sexual assault cases.”

Ellen Byrne, of the University College Cork Feminist Society, said it was bizarre to be protesting over something as simple as a pair of knickers.

However, she said the reality was that it was “perfectly acceptable to take something as fundamental as a woman’s underwear and weaponise it and use it against her”.

“The toxic and dangerous culture of victim blaming is a betrayal against our fellow humans and the weight of the responsibility does not rest solely on a judge’s gavel. We, the people, serve as Ireland’s jury every single day. It is our duty to say, ‘Enough. This is unacceptable’.”

Cllr Fiona Ryan (Solidarity) said anger had grown over the weekend at the lawyer’s comments but people should realise what she said was not “an outlier” but often the norm where a woman’s choice of clothing was raised in court.

‘Rape myths’

In Dublin, Rita Harold of Rosa told some 200 people at the Spire on O’Connell Street that “rape myths” were “based on the false assumption that if you take certain precautions you won’t be assaulted”.

“The reality is you’re most likely to be attacked by someone you know; intimate partner violence, violence within families and relationships.”

Tara Brown, of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said the criminal justice system had a responsibility to create a safe and supportive system for survivors of sexual assault. She said that “fear, self-blame and a lack of effective legal sanctions” continue to prevent women from seeking help.

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, who raised the issue in the Dáil on Tuesday, 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. “We need to take this into colleges...we need to take this into workplaces where most people are actually situated.”

A separate rally took place in Limerick on Wednesday and further protests are scheduled for Belfast on Thursday and Waterford on Friday.