The recent Cork rape case has brought the Irish judicial system into disrepute and drawn condemnation internationally, after defence counsel for a 27-year-old man accused of rape, Elizabeth O’Connell SC, requested the jury court to consider that the 17-year-old female claimant was wearing a “thong with a lace front” when considering their verdict. The case highlighted the kind of victim-blaming tactics employed by barristers in cases of sexual assault and the need for more stringent legal guidelines for barristers when dealing with matters so sensitive. The comments sparked “End Victim Blaming” rallies around the country, attended by thousands, and drew international media attention as far and wide as the USA, with the New York Times reporting on the case and its subsequent fallout.
Speaking to the University Express, Mary Crilly, the Director of the Sexual Violence Centre called on the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan TD, to implement simple guidelines for judges and barristers regarding what they can or cannot say in a court of law, adding that “using the argument that somebody brought an assault on themselves by what they are wearing is like blaming somebody wearing a nice suit for being mugged.”
“If a young man or a young girl wants to go out and be sexually active, that’s their business, but we’re talking about rape.To excuse this kind of behaviour by what somebody is wearing is appalling and dangerous. Victim blaming must end.”
A fervent response has been evident here on the UCC campus also, with signs being placed around the college with underwear attached in solidarity with the young girl involved in the case. The matter was made all the more poignant with the launch of SEXPRESS, edited by Rían Browne, which among other things contained articles and discourse on sexual consent as well information on where to get help in the case of a sexual assault. At the launch, the social media manager of the Sexual Violence Centre, Dola Twomey spoke to the University Express. “I don’t feel that consent classes will stop one assault, one rape. Talking about consent when it comes to sexual assault is like living on another planet, the people who perpetrate these crimes don’t want consent. There is value in the discussion in that it will chip away at the blame-game culture that exists in Ireland.” Twomey went on to say she believes we can shift attitudes, and as a result the culture over time.