The rugby rape trial demonstrates that victims will be punished, but women will rise

According to the Belfast Telegraph, “Our young men and… their families face the challenge of putting their lives back together after one of the most harrowing, high-profile court cases of recent years.”

Harrowing, indeed.

On Wednesday, March 28, a jury of nine men and three women found two Irish rugby players — Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding — not guilty of rape. A third, Blane McIlroy, was cleared of charges of exposing himself, and a fourth, Rory Harrison, of perverting the course of justice and withholding information. The trial had been scheduled for five weeks, but went on for nine, capturing the attention of the Irish public and sending a clear message to women: do not report.

The victim (who is entitled to lifelong anonymity in the press, in accordance with Irish law) did everything right. Despite her (prescient) fear that, as she told a friend, “It will be a case of my word against theirs… It will serve no purpose for me but be embarrassing… Ulster Rugby will vouch for their good character and I’ll just look like a stupid little girl,” she went to the police. She submitted to a medical examination, which found a laceration on her vaginal wall. According to Crown prosecution witness Dr. Janet Hall, “Any injury can occur, but vaginal wall injury is not common.” A DVD recording of the examination showed “a pool of blood,” according to Dr. Hall. Blood matching the victim’s was also found on a duvet cover, her jeans, and her underwear. She had bled for 14 hours. When asked by the prosecution whether a majority of victims would resist such a brutal attack, Dr. Hall said that an overwhelming majority do not.

In messages found on their phones, the defendants said things like: “It was like a merry go round at the carnival.” “We are all top shaggers.” “Love Belfast Sluts.” “Boys, did you lads spit roast lasses?” “What the f**k was going on. Last night was hilarious.” “Mate no jokes she was in hysterics, wasn’t going to end well.” “Really, f**k sake, did you calm her, where does she live?” “Aye, just threw her home then went back to mine.”

The taxi driver who took the victim — then 19-years-old —  home that night told the court, “The young woman definitely seemed very upset. She was crying/sobbing throughout the journey.” That same night, she texted two friends saying she had been raped.

What is a defense attorney to do with overwhelming forensic evidence of a vicious attack, witness testimony, and a client all but admitting guilt in messages to friends? Is an enthusiastic participant in a sex act likely going to be in “hysterics”? Is she going to text friends to say, “I got raped by three Ulster fucking rugby scum brilliant fucking night”? How to spin this?

The above questions are rhetorical. Unless you live in a utopia where men don’t feel entitled through fame, social position, or simple ownership of a penis, enabling you to bond with other penis-owners over the violation of women’s bodies (and if you do, please tell me where it is — I’ve got my bags packed), you know how this story goes: the victim is put on trial.

Despite the rarity of false rape allegations, women are afraid to come forward because, as this victim’s friend told counsel, “Of what’s happening in this room. It’s daunting, quite horrible, and you get blamed. It’s a distressing process.”

Women who come forward are consistently cast as having some ulterior motive — of grasping for money or instant fame. After “analyzing the voices” of Bill Cosby’s accusers, TJ Ward, CEO of Investigative Consultants International Inc, concluded, “It’s all about fame and money.” In December 2017, Donald Trump’s White House issued a statement saying the women who accused him of harassment and assault were on a “publicity tour” to spread their “false claims.” Samantha Geimer, who was 13-years-old when she was sexually assaulted by Roman Polanski in 1977, says she and her mother “were (treated) as lying golddiggers who were attacking poor unfortunate Roman,” the original judge in the case asking if Geimer was part of “a mother-daughter hooker team.”

The increasingly vocal “Men’s Rights Movement” (also known as “Men’s Rights Activists” or MRAs) claim that we live in a “gynocentric” culture, which “puts women on pedestals.” They paint women as neurotic and hysterical — just clever enough to manipulate men and fabricate lies to destroy their lives. They insist that women are perpetrators of sexual assault just as — if not more — often than men, and that at least half of rape accusations are false. Not surprisingly, numerous studies refute their claims.

In 2010, the CDC found that nearly one in five of American women had been raped, whereas for men it was one in 71, and that female victims are twice as likely as males to be injured during an assault. A 2005 Department of Justice study found that, between 1998 and 2002, 84 per cent of spousal abuse victims were female, while males made up 83 per cent of all spouse murderers.

What a pedestal.

But none of this stops MRAs from spreading their dangerously distorted version of reality. In 2014, Paul Elam, founder of one of the most popular MRA sites, claimed that A Voice for Men gets about 10,000 to 12,000 hits per day.

Even children are not immune. When, in 2011, 18 men and boys were charged in the gang rape of an 11-year old girl in Texas, a resident said in a town meeting:

“She lied about her age. Them boys didn’t rape her. She wanted this to happen. I’m not taking nobody’s side, but if she hadn’t put herself in that predicament, this would never have happened”.

In 2013, a 48-year-old teacher was given a 30-day jail sentence for raping his then 14-year-old student, who was described as being “older than her chronological age.” According to the judge, he had “suffered enough.” A 16-year-old girl who went to a party with some football players from Steubenville High School in 2012 was transported, undressed, photographed, and repeatedly sexually assaulted while incapacitated by alcohol. The boys mockingly documented the acts on Facebook, Twitter, and in text messages. Subsequent comments on Twitter included: “That whore was asking for it.” “This bitch was clearly drunk and a slut. Own up to your mistakes, bitch.” “So you got drunk at a party and two people take advantage of you, that’s not rape you’re just a loose drunk slut.”

A UK poll published in 2005 revealed that a third of British people felt women who flirt are partially responsible for being raped and that over a quarter believed a woman is at least partially responsible if she is wearing sexy or revealing clothing. More than one in five held that same view if the woman had had many sexual partners, and more than a quarter said she was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk.

Apparently, this tradition holds strong today. Arthur Harvey QC, who was representing McIlroy during the trial, informed the victim she “had sex with a number of men after going to their home without an invitation,” and said, “You went up to a bedroom when there were girls down below. Any call that you would have made that night would have been heard.” He accused her of “moving from truth to untruth, or falsehood and self-delusion” and told her, “Your memory of the incident was either clouded by drink or clouded by an unwillingness to acknowledge what happened.” She was questioned by defense counsel for shifting to the third person, at times, when describing the events (a common reaction to dissociation from a traumatic event), as though she were “repeating something she had read.” Brendan Kelly, Jackson’s defense council, told the jury that the complainant had taken the morning after pill to convince her friends she had been raped, “to run the lie of the classic rape victim.” In response to the victim saying she was frozen in fear during the attack, Kelly asked the court: “What does frozen mean? Is it one of the lies? Is it a lie deployed to explain what happened?”

After reporting restrictions were lifted on Wednesday, the reported: “Jurors were unaware that there were photographs of additional blood on the sheets of Paddy Jackson’s bed, with the rugby player’s barrister saying he had ‘no intention of saying where the blood came from.’” The jury also hadn’t been told that Harrison sent a pornographic video of a “spit-roast” to Olding the day after the incident. Olding’s lawyer succeeded in withholding the fact that samples of his client’s semen had been found on the crotch of the young woman’s jeans from jurors, claiming it might create an “unfair suspicion.”

When it was announced Jackson and Olding were found not guilty, far too many men reacted as though their “boys” had scored another hard-fought victory against the opposing team. It just hadn’t happened on the rugby field this time… The gallery was packed with the defendants’ family and team members, as well as members of the public — many of whom cheered after verdict was announced. At a pub quiz night, team names included, “The Paddy Jackson Five” and “We’re All Top Shaggers.” At a rugby ball, an award was said to have been given to the man “most likely to pull a Paddy Jackson.” Malone Rugby Football Club is now conducting an internal investigation after a photo was shared online depicting two men with a trophy sandwiched between their legs, wearing name tags reading “Paddy Jackson” and “Stuart Olding” on their chests.

On Twitter, comments linked to the hashtag #IBelieveHim included such gems as: “Tip: Don’t eat shite or be a feminist kids.” “This false accuser remains unknown… how is that fair?” “Sorry if the outcome doesn’t fit your feminazi agenda, but these boys & their families deserve better.” “Turns out Paddy Jackson got off twice.” “I know far more deceitful, hatefilled [sic], down right cruel, manipulative women than I do men.”

A group of rugby fans has already managed to collect 6,640 signatures on their petition to reinstate Paddy Kackson and Stuart Olding in Ulster Rugby.

On Wednesday, the men’s supporters took out a full page ad in a local newspaper, (ironically) decrying the “reprehensible… extent of the social media backlash aimed at incriminating men unanimously acquitted of any crime,” adding, “We are fed up with the cyber persecution.”

Backlash against women demanding the rights of full citizenship tends to be dramatic and overblown, and usually includes some element of sexual violence. Think of MRAs’ call for mass spamming of an anonymous sexual assault reporting form, and the so-called “manosphere” calling for the “corrective rape” of feminists.

“Incels” (“involuntary celibates”) celebrated Elliot Rodger’s massacre as “…punishment for evil violence of feminists and liberals,” with one blogger writing:

“Any of you supporting attrocities [sic] like women’s suffrage, immodest clothing, child support/alimony, no ban on adultery, ban on prostitution, and a lack of female premarital chastity, all the things that drove this young man to be unable to find a girlfriend, are disgusting, horrible people and you created a culture where this is possible.”

Make an example of a woman; put all women in their place. Keep women scared; keep them in servitude.

But the women of Ireland aren’t cowed. Last Thursday, thousands protested in Belfast, Dublin, Cork, and Galway. They have been sharing pictures on social media under the hashtags #IBelieveHer, #WeStandWithHer, and #SueMePaddy — a reference to a threat Jackson’s lawyer made to sue Irish Senator Aodhan O’Riordain for questioning the outcome of the court case. A rally is scheduled to take place outside Ulster Rugby’s grounds in Belfast to coincide with the team’s next home match, on April 13th. A petition is circulating to combat the 21 per cent lower conviction rates for rape than any other crime in UK courts, demanding jurors in rape trials be given compulsory rape myth training. In a speech at the Dublin rally, fearless sex trade survivor and author, Rachel Moran, said:

“We are here because a young woman was treated like dirt, put on trial and torn apart in Belfast courts. Treated like she herself was in the dock, and she was; we all saw it. Nine straight weeks of allegations. Told she was delusional, accused of being a liar. Her bloodied underwear and clothes paraded in court, as if this were an indictment of her person, rather than of the persons who bloodied them. She was delivered shame, devastation, and life-long humiliation beyond words or measure.”

“No, I don’t want to get the police involved,” the victim said, “You know how that will turn out.” This woman — like so many others —  knew what she was up against. But the thousands who marched in solidarity with her, applauding her courage, demonstrate that it wasn’t in vain. It seems the “boys” have awoken the sisterhood.

Agnes Robakiewicz is a sex industry survivor and journalism student in Detroit, Michigan, USA. She has a motorcycle, which is awesome.

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