Sussex Cheer Squad stands in solidarity with rape victim whose own underwear was used against her in court, holding a protest and charity event at Pryzm for Rape Crisis England & Wales.
The Sussex Swallows, the University’s cheerleading team, protested at Pryzm on November 28. They wore underwear over clothes to protest an Irish court’s decision to consider the teenager’s choice of underwear in the trial. The court’s eventual verdict found the 27-year-old man not guilty of her rape.
The team had the words ‘this is not consent’ written over their clothes as they hosted a stall in the club to raise money for the charity Rape Crisis England & Wales.
In an Instagram post the following day, the team wrote: “Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who took part in our charity event and protest last night. We were, and are still, absolutely overwhelmed with the support we received
“We managed to raise £81.44 for @rapecrisisew in Pryzm las night alone, an amazing turnout. We will continue to try to make a difference and we thank you again for all your efforts”, they added.
There has been national outrage since the rape trial on November 5 in Ireland in which the man was acquitted of raping the teenager after the defence lawyer Elizabeth O’Connell asked the jury to take into account the underwear she was wearing on the night she was raped.
“You have to look at the way she was dressed…She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”, O’Connell said, according to a report in the Irish Examiner newspaper.
The 17-year-old victim took her own life after the trauma of the case which caused her to feel like she “had been raped all over again”.
Regarding the case, Sami McKenna, co-captain of the Swallows, said on behalf of the team: “We were outraged at this story, as countless others were as well. The idea that we have to be careful what underwear we put on in case we get raped and it gets used against us is terrifying.
“There’s still a massive rape culture in our society riddled with victim blaming and male entitlement. Also, as a society it was very personal to us as we have had very scary experiences on socials of assault (although to a much less serious degree than in this case)”, she added.
Since the trial, thousands of people have turned out in protest in cities across Ireland, including one on November 14 where approximately 200 protestors marched through Cork, and after reaching the court where the trial was held, lay items of underwear on the steps to symbolise solidarity with the victim.
People have also taken to Twitter to post pictures of their own underwear and to share the hashtags #thisisnotconsent, and #endvictimblaming.
The hashtag was created by a closed Facbook group called Mna na hEireann, meaning Women of Ireland.
The outrage sparked by this event led the Sussex cheerleading squad to conduct their protest. In The Badger’s interview with Sami, she also said: “I’d really like to stress that we all organised this campaign together and it was a massive joint effort. The original idea of doing something to protest against it came from a girl called Becca Lowe who’s on our squad
We really just wanted to educate people on consent and remind people that underwear never has been and never will be indicative of consent. We reached out to as many societies as possible to try and raise as much awareness as we could.
“We were really happy to see men as well as women taking part [at Pryzm] as consent is something that everyone needs to be educated on. For the most part it was really well received. We had people coming up to us asking what we were doing which allowed us to start a conversation about rape culture and consent.
“Hopefully it will get people talking and thinking about rape culture, victim blaming, and consent. Although there’s still a way to go about tackling these issues for us it was a start.”, Sami added.
The mother of teenager Lindsay Armstrong, who was raped in 2001 and had her underwear held up in court has spoken out about this 2018 case.
According to The Independent , Linda Armstrong said: “I am shocked this kind of thing is still being used as evidence. I learned about the case when a friend sent the story to me. It brought all the bad memories back.”
Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, made a statement in which he said that it is “never the victim’s fault”, regardless of the situational factors such as clothing.
In 2010, before Varadkar’s leadership, he was quoted saying that allowing rape victims to terminate their pregnancies could lead to “abortion on demand”.
He further stated: “I wouldn’t be in favour of it in that case, and, you know, first of all, it isn’t the child’s fault that they’re the child of rape.” according to the Irish Examiner.
Rape Crisis England and Wales, the charity the Swallows raised money for, offers online support, information and self-help guides for victims.
It also offers advice for those supporting a victim of any sort of sexual abuse.
The organisation is a self-described “feminist organisation that supports the work of Rape Crisis Centres across England and Wales…[and looks to] raise awareness and understanding of sexual violence’.
According to a report from the Office for National Statistics, the amount of police recorded rape offences has increased year-on-year since 2008, from 12,673 in 2007/08 to 53,977 in 2017/18.
A Crime Survey of England and Wales from February this year found that one in five women have experience some sort of sexual assault since the age of 16.
It also found that women are five times more likely than men to have experienced some type of assault in the past year. The analysis further found that 80% of victims did not report their experiences to the police.
Despite the fact that women are encouraged to have faith in the police and justice system, they believe in the majority of cases there is no point reporting them as they may not get justice. The latest case in Ireland only serves to demonstrate this.
This article originally appeared in our December 10 print edition on page 6.