Irish people are known and loved all over the world for many things; our warm personalities, our ability to have ‘the craic’, our appreciation for a perfectly pulled pint of Guinness. But, like everyone else, we are not without fault.
One of the most notable elements in our culture that could be viewed as a flaw is our ability to jump on any band-wagon and ride it to our heart’s content, usually because the person next to us is doing the same thing.
Here, I will be speaking specifically about the Belfast Rape Trial. I know it may seem odd to combine something so light hearted with something that is so polar opposite, but the part that is interesting in relation to the topic of this article is what happened after the trial’s conclusion.
In the days after the verdict was reached, people took to social media to start posting paragraphs filled with outraged feminist opinion under the hashtag #ibelieveher. Now, just to clarify, I am not bashing feminists and what they stand for, nor am I singing the praises of the Irish judicial system.
Being a woman myself, I can see their point of view. To attempt to put yourselves in the shoes of the complainant is impossible. The ordeal she went through, the fact that she had no legal advisor fighting in her corner. There is nothing about the nature of this trial that isn’t horrific, that is without question.
But what I find questionable is the swarms of people, predominantly women, who took to the streets to protest the verdict. At Belfast’s City Hall, there were posters which read “How does it feel to be Ireland’s O.J?”, “What if it was your daughter?”, “15/823 convicted=1.8%, Where’s the justice”.
In Dublin city centre there were posters which read “1/3 of Irish citizens will experience sexual violence”, “not guilty does not mean innocent, victims carry a life sentence and too many women are shackled. This stops now” and “if you’re not angry then you’re part of the problem.”
These posters are obviously trying to provoke feelings of sympathy and possibly empathy amongst the public, something that a court case is distinctly without. I do not doubt the accuracy of their figures, and the fact that most people who are victims of sexual assault do not come forward. But we cannot paint this case with a brush of our choosing.
We all want to be able to say that the judicial system is corrupt and that this scenario was undoubtedly one of rape. If that were true, it would give power to the feminist voice in this country, the one that stands up for women and their rights, and shouts when they are not being met.
But the harsh truth that we do not want to hear is that this may not have been rape. This may have been a deeply regretful act that started off as consensual but quickly turned into something that was never the intention of the woman involved.
The messages shared between the defendants are disgusting. They are words of misogynistic, disrespectful, crude and immature men, but that does not mean they are the words of rapists. I feel as though these lines have become blurred.
We cannot use opinion to fight the facts, the jury acquitted all four accused of all charges. If this verdict did not sit well with you, then go ahead; question the strength of the judicial system, question the members of the jury and the judge. But do not demand change and penalise those involved when you do not have the facts. Unless you were there that night, you do not have the right to pretend as though you were.
I highly doubt that if the #metoo and #timesup movements were not ongoing in America, that the subsequent events of the trial would have unfolded as they did. You cannot change what may never have happened. In typical Irish style, we band together and try to do that anyway, undermining the truth in the process.