By:Céline Raynaud, BA Southeast Asian Studies
The viral hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent began trending when media reports on the 6th of November 2018 highlighted a rape trial in Northern Ireland. In this trial, the defence lawyer passed the 17-year-old complainant’s underwear around the courtroom as evidence, claiming “the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone” could not be ruled out based on “the way she was dressed” because “she was wearing a thong with a lace front”. The acquittal of the 27-year-old male defendant by the jury has caused public outcry condemning the victim-shaming sanctioned by the justice system and the creation of the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent.
Under it, womxn have been sharing pictures of their underwear on social media to make the point that, whatever the type of underwear, they are not asking for rape. Susan Dillon, one of the hashtag’s creators was quoted as saying that “clothing is not consent. This kind of victim-blaming is archaic and has no place in our court system.” Irish MP Ruth Coppinger produced a pair of underwear in the Irish Parliament (Dáil) in protest of “routine victim-blaming” and to ask the question “how do you think a rape victim or a womxn feels at the incongruous setting of her underwear being shown in a court?” We have to ask ourselves, what is the jury expected to learn from the victim’s choice of underwear? All that can reveal is the deeply entrenched rape myths and slut-shaming in our society, with the jury and court acting as a microcosm of this problem. This case also highlights the fact that those who perpetuate rape myths and victim-blaming can also be womxn, as the defence lawyer in the case, Elizabeth O’Connell, is a womxn.
Womxn have been sharing pictures of their underwear on social media to make the point that, whatever the type of underwear, they are not asking for rape.
Protesters have also taken to the streets after rallying in a private Facebook group called Mná na hÉireann (Women of Ireland), for example in Dublin on the 22nd of November, where they dressed in revealing clothes with slogans painted on their bodies including ‘This is Not Consent’ and ‘I’m Not Asking For It’. Sir John Gillen, a retired senior judge, has written an interim report calling for measures to change the way rape is dealt with by the criminal justice system in Ireland, which could also have implications for the rest of the UK. His report calls for limiting public access to court in rape trials, providing complainants with legal representation, training juries in debunking rape myths and imposing harsher penalties on them for accessing social media about the trial. He also calls for a shift towards an explicit expression of consent so that a lack of resistance is not to be taken as consent.
Although his review is ongoing, these proposals, once put into action, would very likely help improve the current deplorable statistics showing that only 15% of those charged with rape are convicted of it in Northern Ireland, with 45% of those defendants being charged with another offence instead. In contrast, the conviction rate for non-sexual offences is 88.2%. We have to think about the impact of this culture of victim-blaming, with cases like that of 17-year-old Lindsey Armstrong in Scotland in 2002, where a 15-year-old boy was found guilty of raping her and she took her own life two weeks after her court case. She had been made to hold up her thong in court during the trial and read out the slogan on it which read ‘Little Devil’. Lindsay’s mother has stated in regards to the Irish case that “it is disgusting if a jury took into consideration that a girl was wearing a thong. They should hang their heads in shame if they considered it.”
Our society FemSoc (Intersectional Feminist Society), is currently planning a display of solidarity with the #ThisIsNotConsent movement so keep an eye out for this and if you want to, share your underwear with the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent to protest victim-blaming! You can follow us on facebook/Instagram: @soasfemsoc. Stay updated with our events throughout the year by signing up to our mail list, just email us @ [email protected].
In photo: MP Ruth Coppinger holding up underwear at a protest. Credit: Facebook/Ruth Coppinger