‘Conflicting rights make prosecuting rape difficult’
Sir, – In an otherwise informative article, Jennifer O’Connell states that 21 per cent of Irish people believe that sex without consent is okay in certain situations (“Conflicting rights make prosecuting rape difficult”, Analysis, November 24th).
This statistic is taken from a Eurobarometer poll in which respondents were first told, “Some people believe that having sexual intercourse without consent is justified in certain situations”, and were then asked, “Do you think this applies to the following circumstances?”
Clearly, the question was ambiguous – were respondents being asked to identify the circumstances where they themselves thought sex without consent was acceptable or just the scenarios in which they thought other people might believe this to be the case?
We cannot be certain what proportion of those polled had one understanding of the question and what proportion had the other.
However, it is worth noting that in the same survey 96 per cent of respondents agreed that forcing a partner to have sex was wrong.
Similar percentages were opposed to cat-calling and unwanted physical contact.
It seems very unlikely, therefore, that a high percentage of those same respondents would themselves think that sex without consent could ever be justified.
It is right that we should be concerned about issues of consent and that we should discuss ways to improve how rape allegations are handled.
However, we should also be a little concerned that such discussions take place in an environment where many people – your columnist included – would take at face value the horrifying claim that one-in-five Irish people believe rape is sometimes okay. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In Jennifer O’Connell’s excellent article “Conflicting rights make prosecuting rape difficult” she spoke to many experts in the field.
Among the experts she spoke to was barrister Tony McGillicuddy who made the very important suggestion of the “need for public education on how rape trials are conducted”.
For him it all comes back to public education on the meaning of consent. “We have a good definition of consent in the Criminal Law ( Sexual Offences) Act 2017.”
However, we have some way to go to eliminating the victim-blaming myths that still abide in our society. These myths will also be in the minds of jurors who are ordinary members of society.
Judges now have the 2017 legislation available to them which clearly sets out what consent is and what consent is not.
If judges used the instrument available to them of instructing jurors on the consent legislation at the beginning of a rape trial rather than at the end of the trial and before the jury’s deliberations, it would go a long way to challenging these myths in the minds of the jurors as they listen to the evidence during the trial. – Yours, etc,