Last week a 27 year old man was acquitted of raping a 17 year old girl. As part of his defence, the jury were told that the underwear she was wearing should be taken into account.
“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
So, just to get this straight, the underwear you choose to wear is a signed and sealed contract of whether or not you want to have sex. Who would have thought? In my 26 years, I’ve never known that the underwear a woman wears is or is not an invitation to sex. Yet somehow, this was part of the defence for a man that was shortly after found not guilty of rape.
On Tuesday, Irish MP Ruth Coppinger stood up in Parliament holding up a pair of lace knickers. She said that although “it might seem embarrassing to show a pair of thongs here in this incongruous setting of the Dáil” she went on to explain the reason she was doing it was to try to give some idea of how a rape victim “feels at the incongruous setting of her underwear being shown in the court?” She ends by asking “when is the Dáil going to take serious action on the issue of sexual violence?” Coppinger later tweeted;
I hear cameras cut away from me when I displayed this underwear in #Dáil. In courts victims can have their underwear passed around as evidence and it’s within the rules, hence need to display in Dáil. Join protests tomorrow. In Dublin it’s at Spire, 1pm.#dubw #ThisIsNotConsent pic.twitter.com/DvtaJL61qR
— Ruth Coppinger TD (@RuthCoppingerTD) November 13, 2018
Protests have taken place in Ireland demanding an end to victim-blaming as a defence in rape cases. Around 300 women gathered outside Central Criminal Court in Cork, chanting “whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”, protesters also placed knickers on the steps to the Courthouse. In Dublin a “washing line” of women’s underwear was put up, while in Limerick people gathered with knickers attached to signs saying “This is not consent”. Online women are sharing photos of their lace knickers or thongs with the hashtag
So all of this begs the question, in 2018 do we really have to continue having this same conversation again and again? Because, for some strange reason, consent is still a matter of confusion for so many, and apparently wearing a lace thong is unspoken consent that you absolutely, 100% want to have sex with someone. It doesn’t stop at just a short skirt or a low cut top. Now, we have to consider what we wear underneath, so if the worst happens, our rapist can’t claim we wanted it because of what we chose to wear under our clothes. Or perhaps, rather than blaming the victim for sexual assault and rape, we could blame the people that commit these heinous crimes. Perhaps, we could stop telling women that if they don’t want to be raped, or sexually assaulted they shouldn’t go out dressed a certain way, they shouldn’t walk alone at night, they shouldn’t get drunk. Perhaps it is finally time to see these crimes for what they are by placing the blame entirely on the people committing them and STOP sharing or pushing the blame onto the victim.
It’s estimated that “only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police” and approximately only “one in ten rapes or attempted rapes reported to police in England and Wales are brought to trial.” And then, in the few cases that actually go to trial, victims are often interrogated, belittled and humiliated, like using their choice of knickers as an attempt to prove that they are lying. The law must be changed to protect victims in cases like this. If victims are expected to come forward, they need to be treated with respect and given access to proper resources from the moment they report to the police. Enough is enough, it is time for change.