The result in the Belfast Rape Trial was depressingly predictable. Despite major inconsistencies in the defendant’s accounts and a litany of disgusting messages about ‘spit roasting’ and ‘loose sluts’, the four men accused of rape, sexual assault and related crimes have walked free. This is far from an isolated incident.
The statistics around sexual violence and rape suggest that only 1-8% of all allegations of rape are false. This should mean a conviction rate of between 92% and 99%, but instead less than 10% of rape cases that are contested result in a conviction. Last year it was 7% in Ireland. To make matters worse only 1/3 of victims report the crime to the Gardaí meaning that from 1000 rapes committed a maximum of 21 rapists are convicted.
This makes a mockery of a justice system supposedly out to protect the public. More than one in five women and one in ten men experience sexual violence in their lifetime. This is a shockingly high figure that exposes the deep alienation and misogyny that still characterises Irish society.
In the Belfast case, the woman who made the allegation was forced to face eight full days on the stand. In that time every aspect of her character and sexual history was attacked by well-paid and highly skilled defence barristers. In contrast, none of the men accused of the crime were in the dock for more than a day. Meanwhile, the women herself was not represented by anyone despite being the alleged victim in the case.
During the trial one defence barrister asked the woman why she didn’t scream to “alert the nice middle class women downstairs” in what is a deeply offensive and classist remark. The implication is that women must scream and shout that they are not consenting – once again blaming the victim instead of the rapist.
So let us be absolutely clear – the onus is never on the victim to scream, but on men to make sure that what they are doing is consensual.
Not only are convictions rates extremely low, but women who bring cases risk being subjected to sexist and misogynistic questioning from defence teams trained to undermine their character. This effectively puts victims on trial and explains the reticence of women to come forward.
The fact that 85% of rape trials ends in a miscarriage of justice shows the vast gulf between being “found not guilty” and “being innocent”. Women deserve better from the legal system and in People Before Profit – We Still Believe Her.