Last week Mary Crilly of Cork Sexual Violence Centre announced that three students in Cork have come to them having been raped in the first two weeks of colleges re-opening. Two of the three students of UCC and CIT have dropped out of college to go home to their families. Mary Crilly tells us that this isn’t unusual for the time; the centre notices an increase in the amount of young women coming to them at the beginning of the college year. Crilly urges for more resources to be provided for the Garda Protective Service Unit which specialises in investigating cases of sexual assault and child abuse, as well as sex trafficking and domestic violence. As it stands there are only six personnel on the team; six people for the whole of Cork City. Crime statistics for January to August 2018 show a 52% increase in reported rapes in comparison to January to August 2017, while the number of sexual assaults has decreased by 27%. Comparing 2018 to 2017, the combined figures for rapes and sexual assaults shows an 11% decrease, but Mary Crilly believes that this isn’t due to a decrease in sexual assaults but rather a decrease in reports of sexual assaults.
Victim-shaming is appalling in this country, and this is a huge factor in the decrease in the amounts of young women reporting a sexual assault. On Newstalk last week, in response to the news about the three 18 and 19 year old girls in Cork who were raped in their first few weeks in college, a listener text in to say, “I am a woman and I feel the girls are going around with hardly anything on them and then they cry rape? Have these girls no shame? Dress appropriately and nothing will happen to them.” Ciara Kelly, presenter of Lunchtime Live on Newstalk who received the text during her show responded powerfully, saying “Shame on you. Shame on you for sending that text. You may be a woman, but you’re no supporter of other women. Rape exists.”. Louise O’Neill’s novel Asking For It, which was released on September 3rd in 2015, and performed in the form of a stage adaptation in Cork’s Everyman Theatre in June 2018, shed a light on this kind of victim shaming and the acutely devastating effect that it has on victims of rape. Have we not learned anything? Why are people in this country still shaming the victims of these horrific assaults, blaming them for what happened, saying it is because of what they wear, because of their behaviour, how they act, how much they drink; saying that they were, and are, asking for it.
This is not good enough. Why is rape and sexual assault viewed as and treated differently to any other type of assault? Alice Brine, a stand-up comedian from New Zealand, perfectly summed up the twisted logic of victim-shaming in a powerful analogy in a Facebook post in June 2016;
“I’m gunna start going home with random very drunk guys and stealing all of their shit. Everything they own. It won’t be my fault though… they were drunk. They should have known better. I’ll get away with it 90% of the time but then when one brave man takes me to court over it, I’ll argue that I wasn’t sure if he meant it when he said ‘no don’t steal my Audi.’ I just wasn’t sure if he meant it. I said ‘Can I please steal your Gucci watch?’ He said ‘no’ but I just wasn’t sure if he meant it. He was drunk. He brought this on himself. You should have seen how he was dressed at the club, expensive shirts and shoes. What kind of message is he sending with that!? I thought he wanted me to come and steal all of his shit. He was asking for it. When he said ‘no’ to me taking everything he owned I just didn’t know if he meant it. ‘No’ isn’t objective enough, it could mean anything.”
If it is perfectly reasonable to blame the victim of a sexual assault, to tell them that it was their own fault, for being drunk or dressing inappropriately, then it stands to reason that it is perfectly reasonable to blame the victim of a robbery for being drunk, telling them that it was their own fault that they were drunk when they said “No, don’t” as the perpetrator stole their car, or their watch, or their wallet. You were drunk, silly man, how were they to know you meant it when you said no? How were they to know that your protests were genuine? Well, if you were too drunk to even protest then that’s just your own tough luck. Tell the accused to enjoy the Audi, and walk free, because how were they to know?
It’s disgusting. It needs to stop. Innocent lives are being destroyed, literally and emotionally, while offenders are getting off scot-free because this country believes that if you were drunk or dressed provocatively or inappropriately that you were asking for it.
In light of the three college students that were victims of rape during their first few weeks at college, it was announced on Wednesday 26th September that the Government will support a proposal for the creation of a forum on Student Sexual Assault. At the moment, UCC is running a Student Equality Survey, which closes on Friday 19th October. In it are several questions concerning sexual harassment and assault witnessed and/or experienced by UCC students. Sexual harassment is defined in UCC’s Policy Statement on Duty of Respect and Right to Dignity as “any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, if the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person”. The survey asks if you have witnessed sexual harassment of a student or staff member while studying in UCC, if you have experienced/do you experience sexual harassment while studying in UCC, if you have reported it, and if you would feel comfortable doing so. Participation is voluntary and completely anonymous, but it is so important that we all make the effort to do it. I urge everyone to take the survey and to answer these questions honestly. We are not going to make progress or be able to fix the problems until we start talking about them. When are we going to start taking rape seriously?