Today, I grieved, because yesterday, my heart – and those of countless other Irish women and our allies – were smashed to pieces by the verdict of a highly publicised rape trial in the city of Belfast. Despite the many sordid details that were revealed about the actions and the hateful words of the men on trial, all four of them were unanimously acquitted of all charges.
Today, I was painfully aware that if the woman at the centre of this case had become pregnant as a result of what happened, and had wanted to end her pregnancy, it would have been illegal for her to get an abortion anywhere on the island of Ireland, because our abortion laws are still – still – indescribably restrictive and backward. Today, this is the reality faced by anyone who is capable of becoming pregnant in this country.
Today, I attended a massive rally in Dublin to support the young woman at the centre of this awful case. I was heartened by the fact that hundreds of people turned up to stand in solidarity … but one young man, backed up by a group of his friends, thought it would be hilarious to jeer at us, mock the victim, and shower us with insults. He was right behind a friend of mine, who burst into tears when she heard his words. I comforted that friend as well as I could, knowing very well that if I said anything to those men – or sought to confront them in any way – they would simply laugh in my face. I’m only a woman, after all.
Today, I was forced to confront the latent misogyny within Irish society. This misogyny has manifested itself in so many forms over the years: in the existence of abusive mother and baby homes, in the horrendous abuses that were perpetrated by Magdalene Laundries up and down the country (the last of these infamous laundries did not close until 1996), in the retrogressive attitudes of the Catholic Church, and in the fact that married women were obliged to resign from their jobs in the civil service until the year 1973, to cite just a few examples.
“I knew that if I said anything to those men – or sought to confront them in any way – they would simply laugh in my face. I’m only a woman, after all.”
Today, it manifested itself in the form of people who maliciously revealed the identity of the complainant in the Ulster rape case by sharing her name and face all over social media, despite the fact that this action was illegal. Police are now said to be investigating the incident, but given the horrendous treatment that was meted out to the young woman in the courts, I am not confident of any action being taken over this most recent violation of her privacy.
In the face of all this horror, my spirits were briefly raised by one person who wrote the words below on his Facebook page. I will not name him, but before his post was removed (Facebook has been deleting many posts related to the #IBelieveHer and #UlsterRapeTrial tags today) he gave consent for his words to be shared. What he said truly touched my heart.
No-one other than those on the jury can know the interpretations and rationale underpinning acquittals and/or not guilty verdicts. What we can all know as fact though, are the messages these men sent to each other, the language they used, the attitude they displayed, the behaviour they described. Toward this woman. Toward women in general. These are not open to debate, these are fact, admitted by the defendants in court. All of it was outrageous. All of it was disgraceful. All of it was absolutely, inarguably unacceptable. It was not immaturity, or drunkenness, or ‘the lads’. It was abuse. It was misogyny. It was the inverse of being a man. As a father, as a brother, as a son, most simply as a man, I object. I refuse. I condemn. You may have lost a decision in court today, young woman, but you have shown these men to the world.
I won’t go into details about the case itself. I cannot bear to do that. My heart is shattered and I know it will eventually heal, but today is not that day. I would ask anyone reading this post who does not live in Ireland, but who may want to know what happened: please, Google it yourself or read the article links I will provide below for that information, rather than asking me directly. Content warnings apply for each article, though the final two – which provide stories about the national outpouring of support for the young woman – are a little more positive in nature.
- Inside Court 12: the complete story of the Belfast rape trial (Conor Gallagher, The Irish Times)
- Ulster rape trial: Toxic masculinity culture must not win (Louise O’Neill, The Irish Examiner)
- Hundreds at Belfast rally to show solidarity with sexual assault victims (Amanda Ferguson, The Irish Times)
- Large crowd turns out in Dublin for #IBelieveHer rally (Elaine Edwards, The Irish Times)
Today, I mourned for that poor young woman and all those like her who will never see justice done for what happened to them.
Today, I cried.
Today, I believed her.