Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger brandished a thong in the Dáil on Tuesday as she called on the Government to make "massive legal changes" to end the "routine victim blaming going on in Irish courts" in sexual assault cases.
Ms Coppinger held up a black thong to illustrate her point as she referred to a case in the Central Criminal Court in Cork last week, where the defence barrister commented that the complainant in the case, who was 17 at the time, was “wearing a thong with a lace front”.
Ms Coppinger quoted the barrister, who said: “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.”
The jury of eight men and four women subsequently returned a unanimous not guilty verdict.
Ms Coppinger said the Government was not taking sexual assault and harassment in any way seriously enough and had to act to deal with “rape myths”. She accepted she could not comment on the verdict in the case but said the Government ought to focus on the lessons arising from it.
Referring to the “Belfast rugby rape trial” eight months ago, she said thousands of people demonstrated in the streets particularly after the clothes of the woman involved were passed around the court.
Cases like the one in Cork had a “chilling effect” and stopped people reporting such crimes.
Ms Coppinger said the complainant was “put in the dock for her choice of underwear” and that the defence was implying that “she was asking for it”.
As she held up the underwear, she said “the women of this country are getting a little weary at the routine victim-blaming going on in Irish courts, and the failure of law-makers in this House to do anything about it”.
She said that “either the judiciary believes these rape myths, in which case they should be forced to undergo education, or lawyers are using them to introduce sexist stereotypes which they know resonate with some in society and on juries. I suspect the latter is the case”.
Ms Coppinger added that “clothes, fake tan and even contraception have recently been used to discredit women who had the bravery to go to court.
“It might seem incongruous to do that in the Dáil, but she wanted to show that it was incongruous in a courtroom.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted it was "never the victim's fault", regardless of the setting or factors such as alcohol intake, or clothing. He acknowledged that certain tactics used in court should not be used.
He said that the Dáil had taken a number of steps to develop supports for victims of gender violence, and this included legislation against domestic violence.
A new study on gender-based violence was also now underway, he added.