Women march in Dublin, demand rape trial reform

Protests swept Ireland following the acquittal of a 27-year-old man for the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl whose underwear was used as evidence of consensual sex.

Senior counsel Elizabeth O’Connell suggested the jury consider the underwear the teenage girl was wearing the night of the alleged rape, saying, “You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front,” as she presented the girl’s underwear to the court.

“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 said, according to The Irish Examiner. The man accused of the alleged rape maintained the sex, which took place in a narrow road in the city of Cork, was consensual.

In response to the case, CEO of the Dublin Crisis Centre Noeline Blackwell was quoted by The Independent saying, “The reference to the girl’s underwear and the assumption and inference that the jury was being invited to draw—that because she was dressed like that she was asking for sex —does not surprise us.”

O’Connell has been accused of victim blaming due to her statements in court while many continue to condemn the way in which trials concerning rape are conducted in the country. Hundreds came out in various cities following the trial in protest over the decision. Women laid thongs on the steps of courthouses while protesters in Belfast carried signs with the image of red thongs and the words “This is not consent.”

Campaigner Stacy Ellen Murphy along with two other women, Alanna Cassidy and Lena Seale, marched in Dublin wearing lingerie with the phrase “This is not consent” written on their bodies while encouraging others to join. “I’m not going to stop until I’ve got a crowd of 50 people walking toward me every single day doing this walk, until there’s a change in the judicial system about underwear being brought up in a case or court trial,” Murphy said.

The Taoiseach, or Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar stated he commissioned further investigation into the way evidence is assessed in court. “Whether you are a man or a woman, if you are a victim of rape or sexual assault, you are never to blame for it,” he said as quoted by Dublin Live. “It doesn’t matter what you wear, where you go, who you go with or whether you have taken alcohol or drugs—no one asks to be raped.

This is not the first time clothing has been used to cast doubt in an Irish courtroom on a victim’s claim of sexual assault. Back in March 2018, two rugby players were acquitted after a nine-week trial in which the woman accusing the men was questioned in court for eight days and her underwear passed among the jury as evidence of her consent. The trial also resonates with the 2002 case of the 16-year-old Lindsay Armstrong, who committed suicide after she was allegedly raped and then publicly shamed and made to hold up her underwear inside the courtroom. According to Irish Central, of the 15 percent of reported rapes, only 5.7 percent result in conviction.

In the wake of the most recent trial, women in Ireland have come together demanding reform by posting photos of their underwear all over social media with the hashtag “#ThisIsNotConsent.”