Outcry over teen’s underwear in rape trial

A series of protests over sexual consent are planned in Ireland, a week after a man was acquitted of raping a 17-year-old.

In the trial, the defence lawyer told the jury: “You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

The 27-year-old man was found not guilty of rape shortly afterwards.

The controversy led one Irish MP to brandish a lace thong in parliament to highlight “routine victim-blaming”.

Ruth Coppinger produced the blue lacy underwear in the Dáil (Irish parliament) from her sleeve on Tuesday.

“It might seem embarrassing to show a pair of thongs here… how do you think a rape victim or a woman feels at the incongruous setting of her underwear being shown in a court?”

What happened at the trial?

The case, in which the man was cleared of rape, was originally reported by the Irish Examiner newspaper on 6 November.

The accused maintained that the sexual contact between him and the girl, which took place in a laneway in Cork, had been consensual.

Details of the closing argument presented by his senior counsel Elizabeth O’Connell, however, attracted widespread attention and prompted a series of online protest movements.

“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone?” she asked, according to the Examiner’s report.

“You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

How did the protests emerge?

The day after the publication of that court report, the head of Dublin’s Rape Crisis Centre criticised the barrister’s remarks.

Although she did not question the verdict, she called for reform of a legal system in which she said such suggestions were frequently made.

Amid increasing media attention, Irish social media users expressed their outrage at the remarks in court.

Under the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent, Irish women posted photographs of their underwear in all shapes, colours, and materials to protest the use of such techniques in court.

Many pointed to other countries which have tighter controls on what can be introduced in rape trials, and in what manner the jury can consider them.

After producing lacy underwear in Ireland’s national parliament, Ms Coppinger told one supporter that compulsory training should be introduced for both judges and jurors.

The controversy surrounding the trial has echoes of a case earlier this year in which two high-profile rugby players were cleared of rape in Northern Ireland. Details that emerged in the trial caused a wider controversy in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Where are the protests?

Protests are planned in a number of cities, including the capital.

Socialist feminist group Rosa, which promoted the gatherings on social media, called the rallies “end victim-blaming in the courts”.

Supporters were due to gather at the Spire of Dublin landmark for a lunchtime protest at 13:00.

In Cork, where the trial took place, a protest was also planned on the city’s main commercial street.

Further protests were set to take place in the western city of Limerick and Waterford in the south-east.

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