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Irish women post underwear photos in protest of a recent rape trial

#ThisIsNotConsent is a response to a barrister in an Irish rape trial who used a complainant’s thong as evidence against her

Earlier this week, a 27-year-old man in Cork, Ireland was acquitted of raping a 17-year-old girl. His lawyers made use of her underwear as the trial closed, asking jurors to consider the lace thong she wore on the night of the alleged attack, suggesting that what she wore reflected that she was willing to have sex.

Activists have condemned the barrister’s actions and court decision, rising up in the now-viral hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent. Women online have shared images of their underwear with the hashtag, in a bid to highlight the victim-blaming culture they believe permeates the court system, and affects how survivors report violence against them.

The online movement was started by Irish organisers Mná na hÉireann and I Believe Her Ireland. “We are deeply angered by the suggestion by legal counsel in the recent Cork rape case that any item of clothing constitutes implied consent. We had hoped that as a society we had moved on from these archaic, victim blaming rape myths,” a spokesperson for I Believe Her Ireland told Dazed.

“Irrespective of the other evidence, or whether the thong comment swayed the jury, no item of the complainant’s clothing implied consent, and therefore it should not have been discussed as evidence,” they continue. In response to comments about the accused’s legal defence, the group added: “What’s upsetting is that barristers do this because they feel it works, and that juries will be swayed by it. If a jury is a representative sample of the population, then it’s clear we have some work to do to dispel this archaic myth that clothing invites rape.”

Shubhangi Karmakar, a 21-year-old medical researcher and student in Trinity College Dublin, who also runs Repealist, a pro-choice design brand, shared sketches of underwear with the hashtag. “Wearing gross pants, nice pants or no pants #ThisIsNotConsent,” she tweeted.

“I find the case, as every high-profile case in Ireland has been, perturbing, stigmatising and entirely unsurprising in a land still shrugging off its veils of shame,” Karmakar tells Dazed. She calls the media coverage “significantly troubling”, focusing on the accused’s emotions in court as he “wept loudly”.

“I find it horrific that a person being robbed of bodily autonomy and choice in freedom of expression is justified by what clothes she wore when she was coerced into sexual acts by someone she didn’t even want seeing them,” Karmakar continues. “I find it demoralising that this justification was made by a female lawyer, who is part of a community where sexual assault occurs in higher rates and used the exact weaponised misogyny we encounter everyday to silence a victim.”

“I find it entirely symptomatic of Ireland’s culture of shame and conservative guilt that a group of ordinary people, who formed the jury, actually reached the verdict of ‘not guilty’, reinforcing the fact that those of us who are survivors aren’t safe to trust anyone we know day to day. Because the person you confide in may show more sympathy with the abuser who ‘wept loudly’ than victims who are expected to suffer silently.”

Protests have been organised by feminist group ROSA in Cork, Limerick and Dublin to take place today (November 14). Supporters are being asked to use the hashtag, and bring underwear to show solidarity in demonstration.

Yesterday (November 13), TD Ruth Coppinger brought up the case and protest in the Dail (Ireland’s parliament), during the Leader’s Questions session, holding up a pair of underwear. “I hear cameras cut away from me when I displayed this underwear in Dail. In courts, victims can have their underwear passed around as evidence and it’s within the rules,” Coppinger added later on Twitter.

In the last year, activists in Ireland and Northern Ireland have spoken extensively about the culture surrounding rape, harassment and sexual violence. It was recently reported that the number of sexual offences reported to police in Northern Ireland has almost tripled in three years, while the conviction rate remains at under 2 per cent, the lowest in the UK. A report by the Criminal Justice Inspection says the system “frequently does not provide a satisfactory outcome for victims on any level”.

Earlier this year, the rape trial involving Ireland and Ulster Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding further raised questions about how trials are handled, particularly with high profile defendants, and how claimants are supported. The woman involved in the trial had her anonymity compromised on social media, and local media was slammed for its coverage of the trial.

“I think the general atmosphere is contentious and feelings are rising to a boiling point at the moment,” Karmakar says. “It’s been made clear to survivors that whether your abuser is a common person or a high profile name like in the Belfast trial; whether you wear a long skirt, or different underwear, or even a diaper and are too young to speak; whether your case is assessed by a judge or a jury: your voice will not matter, not in a court of law.”

In December, the first full-service Rape Crisis Centre in 12 years will open in Northern Ireland. During the recent Belfast trial, it emerged that the claimant had attempted to access a closed-down crisis centre.

The I Believe Her Ireland group was set up in response to the Belfast rape trial. “The main aim of this page is to provide an anonymous and safe space for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories and to get support,” their spokesperson says. “In doing so, the aim is to highlight how common sexual violence is, how victims stories are often dismissed and how rapists are rarely convicted. We hope that in telling their stories that we can help to change culture around rape and consent.” The page has shared over 100 anonymous stories, under #CountMeInIre with Ireland’s Minister for Justice, calling for reform to the justice system for rape survivors.

In Ireland, radical grassroots groups are attempting to help the most marginalised tackle the issues and be supported following acts of sexual violence, like Sex Workers Alliance Ireland and Migrants and Ethnic Minorities for Reproductive Rights.

Karmakar is planning an exhibition of portraiture for spring 2019 in aid of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. She is currently looking for participants willing to be drawn (you can speak to her on Twitter here). Speaking of the current culture, she says: “There are hidden survivors all over this isle, wanting to peel our skin off and burn our clothes and do anything, to be whole in ourselves without the feeling of violation. This could be me, my friends, and many I will never know. But I hope with my art I can create simple symbols for unity, for those who support us to show solidarity with our stories.”

Join protesters in Dublin, Limerick and Cork today (November 14), find out more information here