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Victim blaming alive and kicking women

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

This writer has spent days seething, after reading of the recent rape case in Cork Circuit Criminal Court, where the defence barrister, senior counsel Elizabeth O’Connell informed jurors that they ‘should have regard for the underwear the girl was wearing on the night’. The suggestion? The fact that the rape victim was wearing a lacy thong implied that she was ‘open to meeting someone and being with someone’.  
Yes, it’s 2018, and here we are. Where to begin?
Firstly, it’s clear that Ms O’Connell in her position of privilege, as well as being out of touch with modern thinking, is unfamiliar with modern clothes shops, where such garments of all shapes and colours sell in their thousands, to be worn by many young women. Sometimes they buy thongs just to avoid a visible panty line, and not to invite men to rape them. Imagine?
As a woman, reading a report like this feels like being punched in the face. For a man to make a comment like this would be unsavoury, Neanderthal, even, but sadly still not unexpected. For a woman to do so feels like a betrayal. How must it feel for survivors of sexual violence?
Frighteningly, Ms O’Connell cannot be anything other than aware that behaviour like hers, accepted by the judiciary, actively deters people who have been sexually assaulted from pursuing justice in the courts – as evidenced by the recent Belfast rape trial involving Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison, equally horrific in its victim-blaming. This goes beyond acting irresponsibly; it is downright sinister, because it ultimately protects sexual predators and ensures they remain at large in our society.  
How do we address these problems? Predictably, government is lacking, by failing to address victim-blaming in courts or educate the judiciary (a cohort who frequently seem so out of touch with modern society, one wonders if they even inhabit this planet).
Resourcing preventative strategies for sexual violence also appears a bridge too far, with negligible progress on funding a new Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report leaving support services and policy formulators to rely on an invaluable but hopelessly outdated document relating to Irish society a generation ago.
And of course, the decimation of the rape-crisis sector on this government’s watch also proves that neither the safety of women, nor the wellbeing of survivors are priorities.
Of course, it is not just misogynistic barristers, the judiciary or government who perpetuate a culture in which rape and sexual violence are so rarely punished. We all comply, by ignoring the concept of consent, and by feeding patriarchal norms.
We happily judge women on their appearance, clothing or engage in ‘slut-shaming’, the act of criticising a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity. Despite it no longer being 1950, many of us have not yet realised that our own moral or religious beliefs do not confer upon us the right to judge women – and only women – on how they choose willingly to enjoy their sexuality. We still subscribe to the ‘she was asking for it’ myth, instead of minding our own damn business.
In case it hasn’t already been made clear, listen up. No one asks to be raped. The way a person dresses does not imply consent to sex. Neither does their alcohol consumption nor their previous sexual behaviour. How is that not obvious?
Sexual violence and support for survivors are not comfortable topics to discuss. Unlike, say, mental health, it is still challenging to hold an open conversation about sexual violence, and it is difficult to inspire the greater population to fight for change. It’s never top of the ‘good cause’ list for fundraisers. But these crimes are endemic, and by our apathy and compliance, we sustain them.
We bleat, virtue-signalling, about the way women have been subjugated and oppressed by the State for years, yet by our inaction – by our participation in this rotten, toxic culture and failure to call it out – we contribute to the atmosphere that deters survivors of domestic and sexual violence from seeking justice, ensuring that these monsters remain free to rape and abuse at will on our streets, or, more frequently, behind closed doors in our homes.
Just think about that.