Thursday 13 December 2018

Protests are about more than case verdict

People at the rally outside the GPO in Dublin last Thursday
People at the rally outside the GPO in Dublin last Thursday

Straight Talking - Deborah Coleman

For more than two months, the rape trial at Belfast Crown Court had Ireland both sides of the border agog, and now, in the wake of not-guilty verdicts for all four accused, things are no different.

It has captured our attention in a way that only very extreme cases do.

While these four men all leave without a conviction, something has stirred in our psyche and the issue of what constitutes rape, and consent has finally been given the debate it deserves. While we are all more willing to talk about it, and as many of us have shared our opinions on the case both during and after with friends and family, the reality is that victims of rape will almost certainly be deterred given the fallout of the Belfast case.

It is reported that an investigation has been launched after the complainant's identity was posted online. It is an offence to do this, but in social media land, some people believe that anything goes, that they can post whatever they like and not be answerable for it.

This alone would terrify any victim. The thoughts of your identity being made public, on top of the court case itself, would almost certainly be enough to deter most people from making a complaint to the authorities.

At the heart of this case was the issue of consent, and this is what needs to be more widely discussed. It is what we need to educate our young people about.

There is a misconception out there that all rapists are strange weirdos lurking in back streets to grab their prey. Sadly this is just not the case and the reality is that if the issue of consent were more prominent, then there would be no ambiguity about one's intentions. It is about respect for others and their boundaries and that when a woman says 'no', that should be all it takes, and her wishes should be respected.

The protests in the wake of the Belfast verdict are of course, in reaction to that particular case, but they are also indicative of a deep frustration within society regarding the treatment of women in general. The so called 'locker-room talk', uninvited gropes here and there, smutty, sexist remarks and unfortunately sometimes - more serious violations have been happening for generations and the tide is finally turning.

There is no place for it in this country any more, and that message is finally hitting home.

Enniscorthy Guardian