By Yasmin Begum
A recent trial in Ireland saw a 27-year-old man on trial for the rape of a 17-year-old young woman. She was forced to hold up her thong in court, evidence that was later used to blame her. This pair of underwear (according to the jury) points to the teenager’s consent as it was a “thong with a lace front”. Following the case, the young woman said that she had been “raped all over again” and felt degraded. The man was acquitted, and the girl later went on to end her own life.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in three women is a survivor of rape or sexual violence in the world. Gendered violence, sexual violence and violence against women and girls is a huge, huge issue all across the world.
In the wake of this news, demonstrations have happened all over the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. People have taken to the street with #ThisIsNotConsent written on their bodies. A new hashtag began on social media, #ThisIsNotConsent and born out in the radical demonstrations. The hashtag directly addresses recent movements of shaming of victims of sexual assault, supposing that their actions led to their horrific experiences. People (and especially women) have been sharing their thoughts on shaming, sexual violence and the hypocrisy of rape culture widely online and offline.
We know that sexual violence is about power, violence, and exploitation: not about the clothe that somebody is wearing. The argument is that unless he had not allegedly raped her, he would not have known what underwear she was wearing.
The publicity in this case acts as a double-edged sword. In one way, it articulates a wider discourse now more prevalent on discussing consent and its structural implications. We have to talk to each other, we have to raise awareness when gendered violence and sexual violence is so deeply prevalent in our society.
In another way, we’re reminded of the deeply institutional nature that places the state as an arbiter of justice while committing so much violence historically in terms of colonialism, and contemporarily. Most rapes aren’t reported, and when they are reported they don’t end in trial, and when they do go to trial they do not necessarily end in a conviction. There’s a deeply embedded reason as to why people have not historically reported rape to the police.
Others argue that we are just waiting for another victim before we end up eventually making changes to the law. The mother of the 17-year-old girl has come out and publicly backed the #ThisIsNotConsent campaign. Ultimately, to quote the radical scholar, philosopher and activist Angela Davis, we have to win both hearts and minds. The person is political, and these conversations are increasingly important to raise awareness of topics such as rape, violence, consent and asking about why it is that such horrific things like this can happen.
This movement has come in Ireland following the recent referendum on abortion after a series of high profile cases. Despite that referendum, not all women in the country can access abortion, with women from Northern Ireland forced to travel to the mainland for abortion. Women’s rights are human rights.