Some acts literally leave us speechless, the violation of rape is chief among them.
It is always: repulsive, unwanted, undeserved and the very antithesis of what it is to be human.
The dark story of what happened to a Leaving Cert student in the midlands over Christmas 2016 is one of high courage and low cowardice. The survivor who endured the terrifying trauma at the hands of five men – four of whom raped her, and one whom assaulted her – epitomises the best of the human spirit. Just as those who brought her to a living hell, represent its basest.
A combined sentence of 66 years for the five is arguably the best articulation of revulsion at the crime that is possible.
To be trapped, raped and filmed simultaneously went beyond cruelty.
After a five-year wait, the woman had to relive the trauma when the case came to trial.
If this outrage numbed most of us, Justice Tara Burns was more than equal to the task of expressing appropriate revulsion at such behaviour. The, men who were aged between 17 and 19 at the time, had “behaved like animals”.
The Justice is also to be commended for her sensitivity to the young woman.
And most especially for sending such a clear signal such crime will be dealt with in the most severe way. When society is lost for words in the face of such sickening acts, it is vital that the law speaks loudly on our behalf.
As Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said: “Our legal system is saying: this we regard as amongst the most outrageous, the most harrowing, the most violent and the most vicious of rapes perpetrated on a vulnerable child, in the eyes of the law.”
In her brave but heartbreaking victim impact statement, the young woman told how she had sought to make herself as unattractive as possible after her rape, for fear of another attack.
In her book, The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf wrote: “Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men’s eyes when deciding what provokes it.”
Rape is never provoked. Perpetrators are uniquely solely responsible.
Sexual violence tears something away which can never be returned; its gravity can not be misunderstood. These men behaved abominably from the night of the attack right up to the trial. What caused them to act as they did is something we can’t know. But they must now, at least, confront the devastating consequences of their actions.
Dr Clíona Saidléar, of the Rape Crisis Network, has said the trial gives hope that there is cultural change happening alongside the legislative change.
If such is the case, the change is overdue.
The very least society owes this young woman and all women, is the modicum of solace knowing the guilty will be punished.