Global opposition to victim blaming in Irish rape trial
On Tuesday, 13 November Solidarity TD (member of parliament) and Socialist Party member Ruth Coppinger held up a thong in Ireland’s national parliament, the Dáil, while questioning Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the outrageous victim blaming of a 17-year old young woman in a rape trial in Cork. The previous week, in summing up the trial, defence barrister Elizabeth O’Connell said:
“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.”
It is estimated only 10% of the sexual assaults or rapes that are even reported result in a conviction. One third of these convictions result in suspended or partially suspended sentences. The above comments have only helped add insult to the injury that rape survivors face.
Ruth correctly pointed out, that it may while it may seem incongruous to hold up a thong in the national parliament, it’s even more so for underwear to be used in court as evidence against a woman. Her words and actions were a defiant stance against the blatant injustice of misogynistic rape myths being perpetuated in open court. They are once again illustrative of how socialists can use the platform of parliament as a powerful voice for the oppressed and exploited that live under capitalism.
ROSA – the Socialist Feminist Movement, of which the Socialist Party is a central part, called protests against victim blaming in the courts. In Cork, 500 marched to the courthouse where the comments were made, many leaving underwear on the steps and railings of the building. Five hundred also protested in Dublin, 250 in Belfast, 50 in Limerick and 40 in Galway.
Ruth’s bold actions, alongside these protests helped bring the reality of victim blaming in the capitalist courts to both national and significantly international attention. The level of coverage received by both the print and broadcast media globally is simply unprecedented in our experience (see list below), as indeed were the actions themselves. The hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent alongside pictures of thongs has also trended on social media internationally as an act of solidarity by women disgusted by the comments of O’Connell, and the culture of victim blaming that exists within the courts system.
This attention and solidarity, speaks to a growing anger and radicalisation in opposition to gender-based violence and harassment, and the oppression of women generally in capitalist society. The mood amongst women, young and LGBTQ people that “enough is enough” is now widespread. This can be seen with the emergence of the #MeToo phenomenon and movement late last year on social media, in the mass movements against machismo and violence against women in Latin America through the #NiUnaMenos movement and in the strike against sexism that took place this year in the Spanish State on International Women’s Day. Such movements come at a time when capitalism in the proverbial “belly of the beast” is led by the “grabber-in-chief”, Donald Trump.
In Ireland, the radicalisation outlined above was dramatically witnessed by the historic referendum to repeal the 8th amendment (the constitutional ban on abortion) linked with the introduction of abortion up to 12 weeks on request. In April, thousands took to the streets of cities across Ireland after the acquittal of Ulster Rugby players in a rape trial where similar methods of victims blaming were used.
Google workers worldwide, including in Dublin, staged a walkout as part of global action by the company’s workforce against sexual harassment, pay inequality and racist discrimination. It is clear that there is now a real potential for workers to organise in their workplace against sexual harassment. The trade union movement has a key role and responsibility to spearhead such a campaign.
International Women’s Day
Ruth’s actions have also garnered significant support for the Socialist Party and ROSA’s call for International Women’s Day 2019 to be a day of protest and walkouts, pointing to the possibility and need for a global strike against sexist inequality.
Speaking on Indian TV, Ruth pointed to the example of the Google workers as the kind of action that can be taken against sexual violence and harassment. Rosa is calling for trade unions, student unions, feminist and LGBTQ groups to support this call and have suggested the following initial demands that such protests and walkouts could organise around:
- End gender based violence and harassment
- Church out of hospitals and schools- Separate church and state
- LGBTQ positive and consent-based sex education in schools
- Equal pay - close the gender pay gap
- Real rent controls. Build public housing on public land
- Solidarity with IWD strikes and protests around the world.
Why capitalism must be challenged
Such a movement should also fight for important legal reforms to counter victim blaming and rape myths being used in court cases — such as education for the judiciary and juries; advocates to support plaintiffs; massive funding and resources to end long court delays. Judges themselves must be held to account for their actions in facilitating victim blaming and giving lenient sentences to those found guilty of rape and sexual assault, they should be elected and subject to recall. We need a real justice system that is run by and in the interests of the working class and the oppressed.
The Cork case is unfortunately not an isolated example. We live in a capitalist system that has inequality, sexism and oppression in its core. This reflects itself in the victim blaming and rape myths that exist within the institutions of its state such as the Gardaí and the courts. Within society at large capitalism helps to foster a culture of sexism (which in turn helps foster these myths and victim blaming) that also ensures that victims of sexual violence are denied justice.
The new global feminist revolt in Ireland and internationally needs socialist feminism — because the whole capitalist system is incapable of dishing out anything but more inequality , exploitation and oppression. Such a movement must link with a struggle of the whole working class — uniting under a socialist programme, such a movement can spell liberation and equality for all.
Links to international press coverage for the #ThisIsNotConsent protests:
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46207304 BBC (Britain)
https://guce.oath.com/collectConsent?brandType=nonEu&.done=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.huffingtonpost.com%2Fentry%2Frape-trial-thong-consent-ireland_us_5bec642be4b057089767d51d%3Fguccounter%3D1&sessionId=3_cc-session_c363971a-dbc8-402c-9f50-c7eaa53ad17c&lang=en-US&inline=false Huffington Post
Spain La Sexta (TV) https://www.lasexta.com/noticias/sociedad/tanga-una-diputada-muestra-en-el-parlamento-irlandes-la-prenda-femenina-en-senal-de-protesta-ante-la-sentencia-de-una-violacion-video_201811155bed7e160cf2c5d6155a3e5f.html
Spain (Burgos - Local paper) https://www.burgosconecta.es/sociedad/tangas-violaciones-motin-20181115141815-ntrc.html