Protest held after teenage girl's underwear considered as evidence against her in rape trial

'These lines of character accusation and victim blaming are unfortunately a common tactic used in cases before the courts relating to sexual violence,' say activists

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
@mayaoppenheim
Tuesday 13 November 2018 13:37
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The barrister representing a man acquitted of raping a teenager in the city in southwest Ireland suggested the jury in the case should reflect on the underwear worn by the 17-year-old girl
The barrister representing a man acquitted of raping a teenager in the city in southwest Ireland suggested the jury in the case should reflect on the underwear worn by the 17-year-old girl

A rally is being held in Cork city centre in protest over a teenage girl’s underwear being used as evidence against her in an alleged rape case.

The barrister representing a man acquitted of raping a teenager in the city in southwest Ireland suggested the jury in the case should reflect on the underwear worn by the 17-year-old girl.

The 27-year-old man – who had denied raping the woman in a lane in Cork – was found not guilty by the jury of eight men and four women at the Central Criminal Court.

In her closing address, senior counsel Elizabeth O’Connell told the jury they should have regard for the fact the woman was wearing a thong with a lace front, according to The Irish Examiner.

“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,” she said.

The Rosa (which stands for reproductive rights, against oppression, sexism and austerity) Socialist Feminist Movement is holding a protest outside Brown Thomas in Cork at 1pm on Wednesday to voice their anger at the reference to the teenager’s underwear.

“These lines of character accusation and victim blaming are unfortunately a common tactic used in cases before the courts relating to sexual violence. The judiciary has proven itself time and time again to be utterly damaging to survivors of sexual violence to seek justice,” the group said in a statement on the event’s Facebook page.

“Join us in Cork this Wednesday for a lunchtime rally demanding urgent action to wipe out victim blaming and rape culture from the judiciary! Spread the word!”

The group was involved in a series of protests across the country last March, which showed solidarity with victims of sexual violence. These came after the conclusion of the high-profile Crown Court trial of Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding who were both found not guilty of raping a then 19-year-old woman in 2016.

Noeline Blackwell, the head of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said she was not surprised by the focus placed on the teenage girl’s underwear.

“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,” she said last week.

“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.”

Ms Blackwell, a human rights lawyer, argued that juries were influenced by stereotypes around rape that permeate society and called for there to be more judicial direction to mitigate this.

“This horrendous story just goes to show that it is not the case that, as it is often argued, survivors have ‘nothing to fear if they are telling the truth’, because anything they did, said or wore can end up being used against them in court," a spokesperson for feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut told The Independent.

“This is one of the reasons we are so concerned about the excessive gathering and disclosure of personal data by the CPS in rape cases, as it provides even more opportunities for this type of victim blaming. The underwear, in this case, could easily be a text, call log or calendar entry that could be used to claim the survivor was ‘asking for it’.”

In her closing speech, Ms O’Connell argued the incident had been consensual. The issue of consent dominated the case, with the girl telling the man: “You just raped me,” and the man saying: “No, we just had sex.”

Arguing for the prosecution, Tom Creed SC told the jury: “She is quite clear she did not consent. She said she never had sexual intercourse before.”

Critics condemned the barrister’s remarks about her underwear on social media – accusing her of victim blaming.

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