By Megan Jackson
Last week, a jury in Cork were asked to consider the underwear choice of a 17 year old as evidence of consent. Apparently, wearing a lace front thong is an indication that you are open to the idea of meeting someone and having sex.
Still in 2018, post Me Too, lawyers insist on finding blame in women accusing men of rape.
Women’s clothing, behaviour, and sexual history is up for scrutiny and considered evidence of willingness for sex at any given time, or rather that they are ‘asking for it’.
The trial was very much a case of ‘she said he said’. The 27 year old man denied raping the woman in an alley, but the prosecution put to the accused that he had dragged the woman 30 metres, and a witness claimed to see the man with his hand around her throat. In an hour and a half, jurors found the man not guilty.
The man’s lawyer, Elizabeth O’Connell, said in her closing statement: “You have to look at the way she was dressed”.
The idea that underwear choice should be considered legitimate evidence of consent is a sad reflection of how the justice system treats women.
Rape stereotypes are often played up to by lawyers, in a calculated strategy to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of jurors. The blame is shifted from the accused to the accuser.
At the very worst, the facts are distorted, and at the very best (if you can call it that) details that are insignificant and wholly inappropriate are laid bare before the court.
The gut-wrenching reality is that this is not a one-off case.
The head of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Noeline Blackwell, said she was not surprised the woman’s thong was used against her.
“We accompany people to court and the whole time, we see rape stereotypes used to discredit complainants and to enforce elements of the defendant’s case”.
Writing this article, with a sense horror and visceral anger, I am reminded of similar cases.
In 2016, Ched Evans was acquitted of rape, after serving five years in prison, when two witnesses were called to the stand to testify about the sexual history of the woman alleging rape.
Ched admitted he had sex with the woman after walking in on his friend having sex with her. He said he didn’t talk to the her before, during or after. Like so many cases the verdict hung on the issue of consent.
Could the jury be satisfied that she willingly had sex with the men? The use of her sex life as evidence of consent undoubtedly discredited her character and undermined her testimony.
Earlier this year, Ulster Rugby players, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were cleared of rape. They were accused of raping a woman at a party.
The prosecution claimed that DNA evidence, and text messages recovered from the woman’s phone, suggested the sex was unconsentual, whilst the defense suggested it could be inferred the woman was attracted to the men, and “inconsistencies” in her account showed consent was given.
Her bloodstained trousers and underwear were paraded in front of the jury in an attempt to further undermine her version of events.
In 2012, Canadian Judge Robin Camp, asked a woman alleging she was raped in a bathroom at a house party: “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together to avoid penetration if you didn’t want it?”
He showed himself to be biased against the woman before all of the evidence had been heard, or a verdict had been reached. He assumed that if a rape had taken place that the woman could have somehow avoided it – the epitome of victim blaming.
These cases show where if there is an opportunity for blame to be placed upon the actions or behaviour of women, it will be. Rape stereotypes are still being perpetuated.
Women are being humiliated, scruitnised and let down by a system that allows character assassination and extrapolation to be presented as evidence. Women are still, somehow, getting the blame for their own trauma.