By Francesca Gugino
CORK, IRELAND – In Cork, a city in the Republic of Ireland, a 17 year old rape victim took her life two weeks after her Nov. 5 trial in the city’s Central Criminal Court. She was humiliated in the courtroom, as the defense attorney Elizabeth O’Connell entered the teenager’s thong as an attempt to exonerate her 27 year old client from rape charges. O’Connell asked that the jury to reflect on the choice of underwear that the young girl wore, as if to say that her underwear screamed “YES!” to the 27 year old man who dragged the teen through mud into an alleyway near a nightclub in Cork.
Tom Creed, arguing for the prosecution of the case, relied heavily on two points. The first, that the teen had never had sex before and that there was clear discrepancy in verbal consent. Both the teen and man stated that verbal consent was never given, nor did the 27-year-old ask for the victim’s consent. After the assault occurred, the 17-year-old stated “You just raped me” and the 27-year-old man’s response to her was “No, we just had sex.”
O’Connell left the jury with a closing remark that asked them to take note of the girl’s underwear as perhaps as sign that the young girl ‘was asking for it’ or ‘wanted it’.
“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone?” the lawyer asked, according to The Irish Times. “You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
Unfortunately this case and many others show the systematic problems of sexual assault and rape trials in Ireland, as well as other parts of Europe where survivors are silenced and rape culture is ingrained in society. In the Republic of Ireland, according to the most recent data available, only 8% of rape trials turn into convictions and in Northern Ireland the convictions rate is as low as 2%. According to RAINN, this percentage is even lower in the United States where only 5 out of 1,000 sexual violence cases will lead to felony conviction, meaning that 995 perpetrators walk free.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security statistics, 6 students reported being raped on campus during 2016, as this is the most recent year available. RAINN statistics show that only about 10%-12% of college students who have experienced sexual assault report to campus safety offices and even less report to the police. The top reasons that are shown are belief it was a personal matter, fear of reprisal and belief that it was not important or that the police could not help.
Attention in the United States and other parts of the world has been brought to the need for more rights for sexual violence victims and survivors through movements such as #METOO, #TIMESUP and now #THISISNOTCONSENT. But how many movements will it take for the government to respond to the needs of many survivors who are forced to endure a society that blames victims and survivors of sexual violence?