I Believe Her: A ‘not guilty’ verdict does not equate innocence

“I don’t want to get the police involved, you know how it goes, they won’t get charged and I’ll have to go through police interviews,” she tapped into WhatsApp. And she was right. She never stood a chance.

Today two rugby stars and two of their friends at the centre of one of the most high profile court cases of the decade have been acquitted following the alleged sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in 2016.

Paddy Jackson was found not guilty of rape and sexual assault.
Stuart Olding was found not guilty of rape.
Blane McIlroy was found not guilty of exposure.
Rory Harrison was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

To give a little bit of background to the case, here’s what the complainant says occurred: After partying at Ollie’s Nightclub, she attended an after party at Jackson’s home in Belfast. She consensually kissed Jackson in his bedroom, before returning downstairs. She later went back upstairs to retrieve her belongings as she wanted to go home. She alleges that this is when Jackson forced himself on her, raping her. She says that Olding also raped her. McIlroy then allegedly entered the room naked, holding his penis. At this point, she managed to escape. Harrison took her home afterwards and texted her the following day.

The complainant texted Harrison the following day saying that what occurred in the bedroom was not consensual. Harrison replied saying he didn’t know what to say. Less than an hour later, Harrison texted McIlroy saying “mate the scenes last night were hilarious.”

The trial was subject to a ravenous media circus, their names the subject of top news stories for nine weeks straight.

Paralysis

Rape often goes unreported; the victims’ silence perpetuating the attacker’s twisted sense of power.

Rape relies on silence. And after this trial, I fear that other victims may feel paralysed. They may not want to speak out.

Before the complainant in this case filed a report with the PSNI, she believed such an investigation would prove fruitless. I wish, for all victims of sexual assault, that she could have been proven wrong. “I’m not going to the police. I’m not going up against Ulster Rugby,” she said to a friend over WhatsApp the day after the assault.

In court it emerged that she had suffered a 1cm laceration on her vaginal wall. Her blood was found on Jackson’s duvet. Her trousers were soiled in blood, which the taxi driver who took her home that night noted.

Her bloody underwear was passed around the room during the trial. She was humiliated. When cross-examined by McIlroy’s barrister Arthur Harvey QC, he callously remarked that if she had called out, the three girls that were downstairs at the party would have heard her.

But there’s no “correct” way to act during a sexual assault. Some fight. Some cry out. Some give up. Some detach from what’s happening. Rape Crisis Midwest says that often, submission is a survival instinct.

The Rape Crisis Statistics and Annual Report 2015 estimates that fewer than 32% of survivors report the crime to Gardaí. But we’ll never know the true figures. For every one person that bravely comes forward, at least two others continue harbouring the horror of what happened to them.

And the victim, in this case, followed “proper procedure”. She attended the Rowan Sexual Assualt Referral Centre. She filed a report with the PSNI. She gave evidence on the stand for eight long days (in contrast, the accused only stood for either half a day or one day). What else could she have done?

A piece published today in Independent.co.uk asked the question of “who was really on trial in the Ireland and Ulster rugby rape case?” It was, of course, the complainant. The burden of proof was placed on her. The trial wasn’t so much an investigation into whether or not these men raped her, but if she was telling fibs or not.

 

“Any sluts get fucked?”

The transcripts of the rugby players’ WhatsApp conversations are enough to turn even the strongest of stomachs.

Olding typed: “We are all top shaggers… there was a bit of spit roasting going on last night fellas… It was like a merry go round at the carnival.”

This is the type of discourse we’re dealing with.

At best, the transcripts show a total lack of respect for women and serve as evidence of the toxic masculinity so deeply embedded in lad culture.

At worse, the transcripts show the sickening sense of entitlement; knowing you’re untouchable.

When police began investigating and Jackson and Olding were called to the Police Station, Harrison remarked that “she’s causing so much trouble for the lads”, and she’s merely a “silly girl who’s done something then regretted it.”

After the ruling, a Laois GAA footballer tweeted this, before later deleting it:

Regardless of what the outcome was going to be, there was never going to be any winners in this case.

A not guilty verdict does not equate innocence. It just means that there was just not enough evidence to lead to a conviction. Real life isn’t black and white.

However, she stood up in the face of one of the biggest sporting teams in Ireland even though she knew they wouldn’t be convicted. She recognised that what happened to her wasn’t right. And it wasn’t her fault. And I believe her.

 

Please, if you have been a victim of sexual assault – speak out.

Make the first step. Break the silence.

In a statement made today, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland have said: “We want to say today to survivors of sexual crime that when you need us or are ready to talk about what happened to you we in Rape Crisis will be there for you, we believe you, and we will support you.

“We have a range of supports available for both survivors and their supporters. This includes a free accompaniment service for survivors who wish to report or even have a conversation with a Garda about reporting and if the case does proceed to every court date. Please contact your local rape crisis centre to ask about this service.”

You can find all the information you need on www.rapecrisishelp.ie

To find the contact details of your local Garda station, follow this link: https://www.garda.ie/en/Contact-Us/Station-Directory/

You can find me on the following platforms:
Facebook: Logicat
Twitter: @elainesiobhan
Instagram: @elainesiobhan

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