ThisIsNotConsent No means no

“Maybe” does not mean “yes”. “I’m not sure if I want to” does not mean “yes.” “No” does not mean “yes.” No means no. #ThisIsNotConsent

The acquittal of a 27-year old man accused of raping a 17-year old girl in Cork has sparked outrage all over Ireland, and now internationally as news of the story has become more widespread.

According to The Irish Times, in his closing argument of the case, the accused’s defence lawyer asked the jury, “Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.” A shocking and inaccurate statement to say the least.

Later that week, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger stood in the Dáil and called on the Government to take action against the lax attitude towards sexual assault cases in Ireland and to put a stop to “routine victim-blaming” occurring in courts.

Significantly, Coppinger pulled out a thong from the sleeve of her jacket and presented it to the Dáil and asked politicians to imagine the embarrassment the defendant must have felt when asked to present her underwear as evidence in the court to prove that what she was wearing was suggestive and inviting of sexual contact.

Amid media attention, protests broke out throughout Ireland, with the public marching the streets to protest against victim-blaming and to call for stricter legislation against sexual offenders. An estimated 200 marchers gathered at the courthouse where the trial took place in Cork and lay underwear on its steps.

The case has spread like wildfire on social media too, with people tweeting under the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent, posting images of their underwear to emphasise that a woman’s choice of clothing is not indicative of consent to any level of sexual activity whatsoever.

Research conducted by the Criminal Justice Inspection on the way in which rape and other serious sexual crimes are dealt with in Northern Ireland concluded that the system “frequently does not provide a satisfactory outcome for victims on any level”.

The report also highlighted that of the 3,150 sexual violence and abuse offences recorded by the police in 2016-17, 823 of which were convictions of rape, only 15 defendants were convicted in court – a conviction rate of 1.8%.

Unfortunately, sexual offences strike closer to home than expected, with thousands of university students admitting to being subject to sexual harassment.

Harrowing statistics from a report from Revolt Sexual Assault and The Student Room show that of the 4,500 students from 153 different UK institutions who responded to the study, 62% admitted they had experienced sexual violence as per the definition used by Rape Crisis:

“Sexual violence is any unwanted sexual act or activity. There are many different kinds of sexual violence, including but not restricted to: rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape within marriage/relationships, forced marriage, so-called honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and ritual abuse.”

Perhaps what is even more shocking is that only 6% of respondents said they had reported their experiences to their university, perhaps this is more of a case of universities needing to set up better support networks to enable people to. But when the issue is so serious, why do so few victims actually report their abuse? There are many reasons, according to Psychology Today, why victims delay or do not disclose their trauma. Reasons include, but are not limited to, shame, denial/minimisation, fear of the consequences, helplessness and the fear of not being believed.

University should be an exciting time for all students, to meet new people, make more friends and embark on adventures that the comforts of home cannot provide. We don’t want our time at uni to be remembered for bullying, peer-pressure and sexual harassment. But, with such statistics being so high, we cannot help but worry about the problems we might face.

As students, what we should take away from the proceedings and aftermath of the court case in Cork is we cannot, and must not, allow such outdated mentality to permeate our society and that of generations to come. We must discredit the assumption that what we choose to wear is an invitation to sexual activity. We must also understand that there is a clear distinction between something that is #ThisIsNotConsent.

If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, please do not suffer in silence. Here are just some of the many charities you can contact to seek professional advice:

• https://www.safeline.org.uk/

• https://www.nightline.ac.uk/want-to-talk/

• https://rapecrisis.org.uk/

Remember, the victim is never at fault.

No always means no. ThisIsNotConsent

Image: The Independent

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