Will Anything Change After the Belfast Trial?

 
 

Clara Brannigan examines the aftermath of the Paddy Jackson trial and finds that distrust in the justice system is causing a surge against toxic and archaic cultures of abuse. 

An important message that swept across Ireland this month is that the words “not guilty’’ do not mean innocent. Women living in Ireland have seen “not guilty” verdict after “not guilty” verdict, they have been called liars and they have been blamed. Why are the voices of these women continually ignored as they repeatedly tell their stories, as demanded by skeptical courts, when they are only asking to be believed? That is what makes the Paddy Jackson trial in Belfast so ground-breaking. The #IBelieveHer hashtag which sprung up in solidarity with the survivor is just the beginning of the fight to break down the culture of how survivors of rape are treated in Ireland.

Women have been taught how to avoid getting raped instead of boys being told that it is vital to seek consent, and this is not acceptable

This has been a problem building for generations with women’s sexuality being seen as a threatening force that must be controlled. Ireland has never trusted women to have control over their own bodies as they cross the border on planes and boats, or are placed in the Magdalene laundries. Irish women have been raised to feel ashamed, to feel like the ‘asking for it’ culture is the truth and that their subjugation is just the way things are and is not to be questioned. Irish women have been raised believing that they should check themselves and make sure that they do not get too drunk and that they should not walk home alone.

Text messages from the complainant the morning after the incident said: “I would report it if I knew they would get done, but they won’t. It will be a case of my word against theirs.” That is exactly how it turned out to be, her words turning out to be prescient not from an innate psychic ability but from the heavy knowledge of how the system works. The vile texts of the accused were brushed aside as “locker room talk,” her weeping and distressed state in the back of a taxi overlooked.

It has been a difficult few months for the complainant and a difficult month for anyone else who has been a survivor of sexual assault. The aftermath of this trial has left fundamental questions hanging in the air such as how will this toxic lad culture be tackled? Even before that, how do we make people see that it is indeed toxic lad culture that is the problem? This behaviour needs to stop being shrugged off as ‘boys will be boys.’ Women have been taught how to avoid getting raped instead of boys being told that it is vital to seek consent, and this is not acceptable.

The “not guilty” verdict, however depressing, has given many others the courage to attempt to break the silence and stigma around sexual assault by sharing their own stories. Just when Jackson and Olding felt they were in the clear after being acquitted, an outcry of grief and rage from rape survivors swarmed social media. The hashtag ‘#IBelieveHer’ was used by thousands across the country. Almost instantly a rally was planned for the following day to show people’s solidarity with the woman involved. Over 4,000 protestors gathered outside of City Hall in Dublin and marched to the Department of Justice. In Belfast, several hundred people protested outside City Hall, with socialist feminist organisation ROSA, to voice their anger at the mistreatment of this woman and other survivors of sexual assault.

The “not guilty” verdict, however depressing, has given many others the courage to attempt to break the silence and stigma around sexual assault by sharing their own stories

Jackson attempted to backtrack on his first statement, this time attempting a “heartfelt” apology, a very different approach to his first statement in which he asserted himself as the victim and was furious at being mistreated by the “malicious” and “misinformed” commentary on social media. His latest apology was a dramatic change as he shared his feelings of “regret” and “self-immolation” in relation to the events of that night, admitting that his WhatsApp messages were degrading, betraying his family values. This was a very different approach from a man who threatened to sue every person for defamation if they mentioned his name in a negative light. The hashtag #SueMePaddy followed, taking on great significance as people refused to take this bully tactics seriously. These tactics stem from a sense of male entitlement long past its sell-by-date.

Now that Jackson’s career is at stake he appears to have had a change of heart about the events of that night, a see-through attempt to win back his reputation with no remorse for his actions. The damage is done, to the woman who was victim of this savage trial and to the trust people may have had in the handling of rape cases in Ireland. This apology comes nine days too late and may as well begin with ‘After employing a new PR person, I have reconsidered.’ With public anger showing no signs of ebbing away, his apology rings hollow. Women have always fought, but it is time now for men as both perpetrators and survivors to stop staying silent and work collectively to end toxic rape culture, and this begins by believing survivors, even if they do not, like the accused, have promising sporting careers and a group of apologists surrounding them.

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