At the heart of a case in Ireland, in which a 17-year-old woman says she was raped by a 27-year-old man she met at a club, is a debate about consent. But it has been getting international attention since the defendant’s attorney used an odd tactic: During the trial, defense attorney Elizabeth O’Connell held up a pair of thong underwear similar to what the 17-year-old was wearing the night she alleges she was assaulted.
“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,” O’Connell said. “She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
The 17-year-old said the man had dragged her through the mud and then had sex with her even after she asked him to stop. A witness said he saw the pair on the ground, and that the man had his hand on the victim’s throat. After the incident, the woman said, she told the man, “you just raped me.”
“No,” the defendant said he replied. “We just has sex.”
He painted a much different picture of the evening, saying that the pair had kissed and then gone outside to lie down in a muddy area nearby, at which point they had consensual sex. (No witnesses confirmed that the pair had kissed.)
The woman pressed charges, and the case went to trial.
“You have heard her say she did not consent. You have heard him say she did consent,” Tom Creed, a lawyer for the plaintiff, told the jury. “If you are satisfied she did not consent and that he knew she did not consent, then you convict. She is quite clear she did not consent. She said she never had sexual intercourse before.”
A jury of eight men and four women later found the defendant not guilty.
It was the lawyer’s comment and use of underwear, though that drew immediate condemnation from women’s rights advocates. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre suggested that lawyers should be banned from remarking on victims’ dress in the future.
"These kind of mythologies and stereotypes around rape come up again and again in court cases, because the defense to rape is that the sex was consensual,” Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Noeline Blackwell told the Irish Independent. “So anything the defendant can do to suggest there was consent will be used.”
Now, women are tweeting pictures of their underwear, along with supportive messages and the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent. Hundreds have shared supportive images. The founder of the campaign, Susan Dillon, said she was surprised by the feedback.