The Belfast thong protest raises concerns about rape cases

It was a simple piece of cloth, deep blue and bordered with lace. But when legislator Ruth Coppinger pulled her out of his sleeve and kept her in the Irish parliament this week, the female underwear chief caused consternation among her colleagues.

Elsewhere, women took to the streets wearing lingerie. In Cork, dozens of belts were laid on the steps of the courthouse. In Belfast, on Thursday, protesters tied the knickers to the posters and sang: "My black dress does not mean yes".

Thousands of women have posted photos of their underpants on Twitter under the hashtags #IBelieveHer is #ThisIsNotConsent.

The trigger for the protests throughout Ireland, and the explosion of fury on social media, were the words of a lawyer who defends a man accused of rape in a trial in Cork.

Suggesting that the plaintiff – a 17-year-old woman – was "open to meeting someone", Elizabeth O'Connell said, "You have to look at the way she was dressed in. She was wearing a loincloth with a lace front."

The defendant was acquitted with a unanimous verdict following the 90-minute jury deliberations.

According to Fiona Ryan, city councilor in Cork, the anger on the November 6 defender's comments took a few days to build.

"At the beginning it did not explode, it was almost a delayed reaction, but it crept in," he said. Ryan suggested staging a protest in Cork on Wednesday, eight days after the end of the trial, and he was amazed when up to 500 people arrived to take part, many with undergarments.

Ruth Coppinger holds a thong in the Irish parliament.



Ruth Coppinger holds a thong in the Irish parliament. Photography: Oireachtas.ie/PA

The day before, at the Dáil in Dublin, Coppinger had expressed his point of view. "It might seem embarrassing to show a pair of flip flops here … how do you think a victim of a rape or a woman feels the incongruous context of her underwear being shown in a court?" He said.

During a demonstration in Dublin on Wednesday, Tara Brown of the National Women's Council of Ireland said: "We stand in solidarity with the sexual assault survivors who have severely failed by our criminal justice system. worn by a victim has no place in our system of criminal justice and has had no room in determining what is the consensus.

"We have a responsibility to create a safe system for survivors of sexual assault, and we are repeatedly shown that we are very far from reaching a victim centered [prosecution] system."

In Belfast, on Thursday, Cerys Falvey of the feminist campaign group Rosa said: "We have seen protests throughout Ireland say that it is no longer acceptable, so what we have to do now is to build a movement and counterattack."

According to Noeline Blackwell of the Dublin Rape Crisis Center, jury test reports are often given details of what the victim has worn.

"It comes out very, very regularly, as someone was dressed, the amount of drinks they had taken, because they had not screamed if they were in trouble," he told the Irish Independent, after the verdict.

"This kind of mythologies and stereotypes about rape are more and more repeated in court, because the defense against rape is that sex was consensual, so everything that the defendant can do to suggest that consent will be used," He said.

Ryan said: "Unfortunately, the answer, especially from younger women, is that if this happened they would not report it."

There was a lot of anger directed at the lawyer, mainly because she was a woman, he added. "But the reality is that it's a cog in a malfunctioning wheel.This is a normal practice in rape trials and a reflection of sexism and misogyny in our judicial system."

This week's protests echoed another in Belfast at the start of this year when 1,000 people demonstrated solidarity with a 21-year-old woman at the center of a rape trial that ended with 39, absolution of two international rugby irish. At the time there were also protests in Dublin, Derry, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

In court, a 19-year-old woman who had accused the couple of rapes was subjected to a cross examination for eight days and her underwear was reviewed for the jury.

The case led to an independent review of how the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland deals with serious cases of sexual offenses.

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