We live in a deeply sexist society. One where a victim of sexual assault can follow proper procedure, report her experience of rape, present medical and physical evidence to court, only to be denied a conviction because reasonable doubt was inspired by questions about her clothing, character and past choices.
The recent Belfast rape trial played on all of the old, sexist tropes that have no place in a justice system – suggesting that working class women are less likely to react to rape, that being wealthy and ‘reputable’ means you are less likely to rape, and that women who dress in a certain way cannot be raped because they are more willing to have sex.
Coverage of the case was salacious and tantamount to trial by tabloid. The victim was interrogated for 8 days and the invasive details were splashed across the papers and on every news channel.
This trial was a very public example of how the system is stacked against women who are raped. In the North, the amount of rapes reported rose by 40% between 2012-17, but for around 80% of those cases, there was no conviction. Around 30,000 calls are made to the Women’s Aid Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline every year, with 93% of those being women, yet the helpline is consistently underfunded. Women who fall pregnant as a result of rape are denied an abortion, and according to the recent two child tax cap, those who carry pregnancies to term are denied benefits if they have two children already – unless they are willing to document their child as a product of rape.
Failure to prosecute rape, and the way in which women who report rape are treated in the media, are two of the most cited reasons for the under-reporting of sexual assault. There can be no doubt that the ordeal suffered by the victim of the recent trial will discourage many from reporting sexual assault in future.
People Before Profit are unequivocal in our stance: We Believe Her. We offer our solidarity to her and to all victims of sexual violence, especially those who have been let down by a system designed to fail them. We’re calling for an overhaul in how rape cases prosecuted and reported on, and proper funding for rape and sexual assault services. We’re also calling for immediate action to deliver proper sex education in schools and sports clubs to ensure young people can get a comprehensive understanding of consent.
This case comes at a time when the #MeToo movement across the world is growing and fighting back. It comes at a time when the Repeal movement in the South is on the brink of forcing change to repressive abortion law. As thousands gathered today in Belfast, Dublin, Derry. Galway, Cork and more, they represented an anger that women in Ireland are feeling over issues of consent and their bodies. We must continue to take to the streets and fight for a fairer society that treats women with respect, regardless of their class, background, or the colour of their skin. People Before Profit are committed to that fight, for women’s liberation.