Not Guilty. But Not Guiltless…

Oh how the Belfast rape trial has thrown up feelings of dejavu of the Ched Evans trial.

Of course, all of the men I’m referring to in this blog are ‘not guilty’ of rape and I accept this based on the verdict reached. Obviously I wasn’t there the night the woman alleged she was raped and nor was I in court for the trial.

Ok, so they may not be convicted rapists, but these ‘men’ who ‘spitroasted’ a 19 year old woman, who caused bruising and internal injury to her, who left her bleeding through her clothes and crying inconsolably in the taxi home are most definitely entitled, misogynistic predators with a questionable understanding of consent.

What this latest trial of ‘promising and talented sportsmen’ has done is launch a resurgence of the terrifying culture of victim blaming that cases of this nature have thrown under the spotlight over the last few years. I mean, victim blaming in general. Regardless of the innocence or guilt in this specific case, having read and heard some of the beliefs that people hold about consent and the contempt that’s held against women is as bleak as it gets.

The usual hate campaign by supporters of the accused that we see in high profile rape trials has been active all over social media. And, as usual the vitriol spouted isn’t confined to the woman in question but is extended to women in general. It’s a disturbing demonstration of the blatant disrespect towards women; of the sense of entitlement these men have towards women; of the internalised misogyny of women against other women, and of the belief that false rape claims are a common response by women who just regret having sex with someone.

Even though the not guilty verdict doesn’t actually mean that the accusation is false or that the rape didn’t happen.  Even though reporting rape is a horrible, drawn out process that involves going over what happened again and again, undergoing humiliating examinations and having photographs taken of your genitals. Even though reporting rape means taking a gamble and starting at a disadvantage because unless the rape took place in a dark alleyway by a stranger with a knife, the default response to an allegation is disbelief. And all this is long before any trial.

We all know that rape cases are notoriously difficult because, often there are no witnesses which means it’s one person’s word against another. Therefore, those defending the accused in rape cases tend to look at any way in which they can discredit the complainant, especially if she’s working class and not a virgin. And, oh my days, if the circumstances of the rape also include alcohol, high profile alleged perpetrators and a situation where a woman voluntarily goes to a party / hotel / home with the alleged perpetrators, then it’s game on!

In this particular trial the woman’s blood stained underwear was passed around the court. The photographs of the injury to her vagina and of the inside of her vagina full of blood was on the verge of being shown to the jury when, thankfully, the medical examiners came to a conclusion amongst themselves, sparing her that humiliation.

The woman was cross examined by the defence for 8 days. Each of the accused took the stand only for either half a day or a day, which begs the question who exactly was on trial here?

The evidence included whats app messages between the men in a group chat describing the night of the alleged rape which was full of vile, misogynistic language.

Here are some examples:

“Pumped a girl with Jacko on Monday. Roasted her. Then another on Tuesday night”  

“She was very very loose.”

“Any sluts get fucked?”

“We’re all top shaggers”

“There was a bit of spit roasting going on last night fellas.”

“There was a lot of spit roast last night.”

“It was like a merry go round at the carnival.”

“Boys, did you pass spit roast brasses? Why are we all such legends?”

“Aye, just threw her home then went back to mine.”

Oh, but the misogyny didn’t stop there, it wasn’t the sole territory of the accused. Those defending these men in court demonstrated that they, too, are disgusting chauvinistic creatures. Like the defence barrister who said that the messages were “banter and immature boasting” and called the vile messages “a titillating sideshow” with no evidential value.

And then there were the questions that a defence barrister thought the police should have asked the woman, but didn’t – “Why did she not say no? Why did she open her mouth? Why didn’t she scream? A lot of very middle-class girls were downstairs; they were not going to tolerate a rape or anything like that. Why didn’t she scream the house down?” (I don’t even know where to begin with that one!)

This woman believed that she had been raped. She did not consent to what happened on the night in question. She was left bleeding and inconsolable. She was not going to report it because she didn’t want to ‘take on the Ulster rugby team’ but eventually made the decision to go to the police about  what had happened.

The fact that the case was taken to trial in the first place suggests that there was sufficient evidence to support her complaint. The evidentiary bar for rape cases is very high and often there are rape cases that don’t meet this which means they don’t get taken to trial, but which doesn’t mean the crimes didn’t happen.

The fact that the accused were not convicted is not, in itself, proof of innocence. It simply means that the jury did not believe beyond reasonable doubt that the men raped the woman.  And this is the way our justice system works, to minimise the risk of miscarriages of justice which is the way it should be, of course. But equally, it means that people are acquitted who probably committed the offences they’re accused of because ‘probably’ isn’t enough to convict. Again – this is the way it should be, but it does not always mean the alleged offences did not happen.

Some of the responses to the verdict from the supporters of the defendants are almost unbelievable. Many of them focused on a perceived ‘epidemic’ of false allegations, even though the vast majority of rapes go unreported to the police. And, even though there is no evidence to suggest that false rape allegations happen any more than false allegations of any other offences.

The way that these ‘men’ spoke about the woman in question, and the reaction to the verdict by their supporters are filled with threats of violence. Some high profile sportsmen have called for her to be killed. And this is all just the tip of the iceberg, beneath which lies male power, privilege & entitlement; misogyny; sexual violence in pornography; victim blaming; rape jokes and lads ‘banter’; domestic abuse; rape culture; the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls…

…and a deafening silence from the people whose voices deserve to be heard.

One thought on “Not Guilty. But Not Guiltless…

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