A massive group of women in Ireland has taken to the streets and taken off their panties to protest the acquittal of a 27-year-old man of raping a 17-year-old girl after the victim’s thong was used as evidence against her.
The acquittal in early November is being reviewed by the Irish justice ministry after a parliamentary debate in which Ruth Coppinger, a Teachta Dála (or legislative researcher), held up a thong to draw attention to the travesty of blatant victim-blaming in rape cases. On Wednesday, hundreds of women protested in Dublin and other Irish cities. Many waved their own lacey underwear over their heads and chanted “Clothes are not consent.”
During the trial, the suspect’s lawyer, Elizabeth O’Connell, asked the eight-man, four-woman jury to consider the message the young victim was sending in her choice of intimate apparel. She suggested that by wearing such underwear to a party venue, the young victim was “open to the possibility of being with someone and that the person she became attracted to ended up being the defendant.”
The defendant, who cannot be named because he has been acquitted of the crime, told the court that he had kissed the victim and that she suddenly “became funny” and asked him to stop, according to court testimony reported in the local press. He also said that due to the amount of alcohol he drank, he was not fully erect and did not remember if he penetrated the victim, but that they were lying down on a muddy road.
The victim, who told the court she was a virgin before the alleged attack, testified that the man had his hand on her throat and dragged her to a secluded area outside the party venue where they met. She told the court that she immediately told her assailant, “You just raped me.” To which he answered, “No, we just had sex.”
The defendant’s lawyer frequently brought up the victim’s behavior and dress during the trial.
“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone?” O’Connell asked the jury during closing arguments, according to local press reports. “You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
The jury took a little over an hour to come down with a not-guilty verdict.
The acquittal is the latest curious court ruling in Ireland in which the victim’s actions have taken center stage. Susal Dillion, a women’s rights advocate, started the Twitter page and hashtag #thisisnotconsent last March, when Ulster and Ireland rugby stars were acquitted of raping a 19-year-old woman at a house party after the court heard the woman was a rugby fan.
Since then, hundreds of women have been posting photos of their underwear in a sign of solidarity. She told CNN that she had no idea it would go viral like it has.
“We had hoped that as a society we had moved on from these archaic, victim-blaming rape myths,” she said. Since she began, thousands of women have posted pictures of their panties and notes about consent.
Victim-blaming has been used to acquit men in rape cases across the world.
In Italy, a man was acquitted of rape in 1999 after the nation’s high court set a precedent—still used 20 years later—when it ruled that the victim was wearing jeans and must have assisted her assailant in removing them. In July of this year, that high court ruled that aggravated circumstances could not be applied in cases in which a rape victim drank alcohol or used drugs; two years ago, a Turin man was acquitted because his victim didn’t scream while she was allegedly being raped.
In Sweden, a rape case against a 27-year-old man was tossed in 2015 because the judge said his alleged victim was “well-developed” and didn’t look 13 years old. In the United States, several high-profile rape acquittals have sparked outrage.