The trial has brought to the fore the prevalence of sexist and misogynistic attitudes that exist in the legal system and society in general. In Northern Ireland, over 94% of all rape trials have resulted in no conviction for the accused. The conviction rates for sexual violence are far lower than for any other crime. In the South only 19% result in convictions and 7% when the case is contested. As Suzanne Breen, one of the few journalists who have covered this trial in a fair manner, put it: “This was a case where it wasn’t always clear who exactly was on trial. Each defendant is rightly allowed their own legal representation. But a 21-year-old woman being cross-examined by four defence barristers over eight days pulls at your heart-strings…The young woman failed to secure the verdict she desired. She did not win, yet she has certainly not lost.”
The sexist attitudes that have dominated this trial show there is a need for special measures in order to ensure that victims of sexual violence receive justice. The example of specialised courts should be considered, as in South Africa and other countries, which provide judge and juries with training and have achieved a higher level of conviction and a less traumatic experience in court for victims of sexual violence.
This year marks the centenary of the first women in Britain and Ireland winning the right to vote in parliamentary elections. The political establishment and right-wing propaganda have been celebrating the introduction of the 1918 Representation of the People Act. But it cannot be forgotten that this Act was a deeply classist compromise, and aimed only to enfranchise a small number of property-owning women from the privileged elite in society, whilst simultaneously ignoring millions of ordinary working-class women.
When the twenty first century dawned young women in the US and much of Europe were being told that equality was within their grasp. They didn’t need feminism because capitalism was offering a glittering future based on growing prosperity and gender equality. Today that illusion lies in ruins.
During the trial in which Ulster and Ireland rugby players are accused of raping a young woman at a party, there has been fury at many of the comments made by the defence in court. When the young woman told the court she had consented to a kiss from Paddy Jackson but had not given consent to anything else, the defence barrister accused her of “teasing” Jackson, and asked her, “if you didn’t like him, why were you kissing him in his bedroom?”