Sunday 19 August 2018

Martina Devlin: Two-tier morality means girls face an impossible list of Dos and Don'ts

PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman (left) and Detective Chief Inspector Zoe McGee hold a press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Belfast in response to the acquittal of Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman (left) and Detective Chief Inspector Zoe McGee hold a press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Belfast in response to the acquittal of Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

Some guidelines for young women who may encounter Irish rugby international stars letting off steam in a social setting appear to be in order.

In a fair world, the list of Dos and Don’ts below would be directed at men, but society continues to operate by a two-tier morality which holds women to a higher standard. Consequently, girls need to bear in mind the following:

Don’t set foot in the VIP section of any nightclub where well-known rugby players are partying because they’ll automatically assume you’re asking for it.

Don’t appear to recognise any of these men in case they later claim you were star-struck and kept staring at them.

Don’t chat with them because it may give them grounds for insisting you were flirty or led them on. Talking to red-blooded young males is inherently provocative.

Don’t make the mistake of kissing any of these men, under the impression that nothing else needs to happen.

Don’t presume they might find it unusual for their mates to join in during sexual activity.

Don’t expect such men to think of you with respect simply because they are educated, well-spoken and come from a comfortable background.

Now, here’s some Dos if you go to a party at one of their houses:

Do be aware your behaviour may be described as “quite forward” if you show any signs of being interested in one of these men.

Do realise they seem to believe any 19-year-old girl would welcome being part of group sex – it’s every young woman’s dream, right?

Do resign yourself to going home in jeans later described by a forensic officer as “grubby and stained” with blood visible on several areas, including the thigh, knee, waistband and crotch.

Do be prepared for chest-beating afterwards about the men’s sexual prowess: “We are all top shaggers” is the kind of thing you might hear.

Do brace yourself for all of the women at the party to be treated like fresh meat laid out for the men’s gratification and later described insultingly as “brasses”, cockney rhyming slang for prostitute as in brass nail – tail.

Do assume if you pose for a photograph, to have it posted to a social media group under the slogan ‘Love Belfast Sluts’.

If you decide to make a complaint to the police and a case is taken:

Do expect to spend eight days in the witness stand as barristers tear lumps out of you.

Do expect to feel like the person on trial rather than the complainant.

Do expect lacerations to your vagina to be presented as a normal part of drunken sex.

Do expect to have your purple lacy underwear paraded about court.

Do expect your drinking habits to come under scrutiny.

Do expect your distress to be characterised as that of “a silly little girl who has done something she has regretted”.

More in the Don’ts category:

Don’t expect the jury to spend long in its deliberations. Even though there are four defendants and multiple charges, they will make up their mind in less than four hours.

Don’t expect the judicial system to support you – chances are you’ll feel let down by its workings.

Don’t expect other women to follow your example and make complaints if they believe themselves to be the victims of sex crime cases. They won’t.

Indeed, women all over Ireland are weighing up the lessons from the Belfast rape trial, and fewer reports of sexual violence will be brought to the police in future.

That is the inevitable consequence of this verdict.

Who, in all conscience, could advise any woman to put herself through a similar ordeal? Any woman would have to be enormously resilient to survive it unscathed.

The girl at the centre of the Belfast case was extremely dignified and stood up well to the lengthy cross-examination, but

the experience is bound to have scarred her.

As for the privileged young men involved, three of them came across as thuggish louts inflated with a sense of entitlement, and not one kind or empathetic bone in their bodies. Blane McIlroy, found not guilty of exposing himself, is laid bare as a man with a loathsome attitude towards women.

Repeatedly, he used repugnant terminology. But he wasn’t alone. Paddy Jackson referred to “spitroasting” (the woman is the pig). Stuart Olding talked about a sexual “merry-go-round”. They tried to shrug off such language of pornography as a silly lapse in the witness box, but hearing these words used on social media messages  made your skin crawl.

The fly-on-the-locker-room-wall perspective of how women are regarded, discussed and treated by such men is deeply unsettling. Here is a group of young men with every advantage in life, but they plainly know nothing about treating women with dignity.

While their alcohol consumption is mind-boggling, and not in a good way, where they really show themselves up is by their sexual patterns. Unless their values have altered dramatically in the two years since the incident happened, their focus appears to be on the pursuit of instant gratification and meaningless one-night stands.

Perhaps this trial may have made some of them think twice about their sexual conduct in future.

What of the defence barristers’ behaviour? The criminal justice system allows them to call a woman a liar in pursuit of a robust defence for their clients. Another moral learned must surely be that rape victims ought to have separate legal representation, over and above the prosecuting lawyer.

Also, isn’t there a case to be made for rape trials always to be held in camera? Once something is said, it can’t be unsaid. A degree of privacy must benefit both plaintiff and defendant. After all, the four men were acquitted, but their reputations and careers will struggle to recover. How can they ever hope to play for Ulster or Ireland again? The presumption must be that sponsors would balk at their inclusion.

Rugby’s good name has also suffered, although it should be acknowledged that prompt action was taken to stand down the men as soon as the police became involved.

I hope everyone involved in this bruising trial – which boiled down to whose word was believed, one woman’s or four men’s – has a solid support network because they are going to need it in the years ahead.

Nobody’s interests – not the complainant’s, nor the defendants’, nor society’s – were served by that avalanche of sordid details spilled out in the Laganside Courts complex.

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