I believe timing played a major role in the publics reaction to the Belfast rape trial. The world has changed a lot in the last six months and for many, the trial represented the straw that broke the camels back.
Shift in Thinking
Rape cases happen every day but because of how this trial was reported on, and the treatment of both the victim and the accused men, this case caused a palpable shift in thinking about casual sex and how consent is given and understood. For many women both north and south of the border it was time to stand up and say enough is enough.
It is also reasonable to say that we only heard about this case because the accused were celebrities in the rugby world. Although the accused were found not guilty of rape, the public’s reaction following the verdict was understandable and, in my opinion, warranted.
Even though they were found not guilty of rape, they were most definitely guilty of treating a young girl as an object for their own sexual gratification. They demonstrated no understanding of the condition they left the young girl in and showed a complete lack of consideration for her wellbeing. They paid no regard to the fact that the girl they had intimate relations with left their home bloodied, bruised and in tears. In my opinion this is a disgusting way to behave towards anyone. The inappropriate texts that emerged during the trial added to how enraged the public felt towards these men.
It is rare that people react so strongly to a rape case, but the Belfast trial provoked an enormous response as it clearly highlighted the plight of the victim. It must have resonated or affected people personally in order to trigger this level of response.
In my opinion both our drinking culture and our not too distant relationship with the church and its deliberate misrepresentation of what sex and sexuality meant in our lives allowed both men and women to relate to the victim and accused. There probably is no one, male or female who hasn’t woke up at some time in their past, hung over and not remembering where they were or how they got home.
I find It commendable that people got behind the victim in the Belfast rape trial as she demonstrated such courage while being treated appallingly by the courts. However, it would be even better if everyone could respond to the entire issue of rape and sexual violence in the same way and recognise how personally our lives are impacted by these crimes. We are in danger of becoming de-sensitised to this crime through the regularity of media reports. We need to see this crime for the epidemic that it is?
Living in Denial
Knowing that the available statistics around rape and sexual violence is not reflective of the actual numbers of victims living with the impacts of this crime, makes it inconceivable that Northern Ireland was left with no rape crisis centre due to lack of funding. It speaks volumes about the levels of denial that currently exists around the need for providing resources for these crimes.
We need to understand how victims of sexual crimes are affected if we are ever to realise how these crimes ultimately impact and shape our communities. When will we see that through not providing adequate supports to both the victims and perpetrators in these cases, we all pay the price?
Some examples of how the effects on victims spill over into all our lives:
- Some victims looking for pain relief from their emotional and psychological suffering turn to drink or drugs. These individuals that we often refer to as “druggies” are merely trying to stop the pain they feel. If anything, we should feel compassion for the levels of pain they are trying to avoid.
- Some victims get in deeper and deeper and have to turn to crime to support the habit that began because of an inability to cope with their suffering. They don’t’ feel they are worth anything. The drugs they take to avoid their pain is also preventing them from any positive feelings or hope for a better future.
- Violence is often the trade mark of male victims of sexual abuse in an attempt to take back their power and their masculinity. These victims often end up in prison for committing violent crimes and are likely to be there because they don’t know how to express emotions in a healthy manner as they were neither given the permission or the tools necessary to speak out.
- We found during our research for ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ that men and women that have experienced abuse and don’t receive treatment for trauma are more likely to develop mental health issues, addictions, eating disorders and have suicidal tendencies.
- Marital issues around sex, spills over into discontentment and unhappy marriages. This leads to poor parenting which contributes to the next generation of dysfunctional adults.
These are just some of the ways rape and sexual violence impacts all of us. Although this might seem like an extreme generalisation, it is not even touching the sides of the scale of this problem.
Yet another way we pay for this crime is through our taxes. We pay for this crime through the health sector, judicial system, child and family services, addictions services, and probation services.
Wake Up Call
We need to collectively wake up to the scale of the problem and start taking it seriously. An obvious starting point would be providing the much-needed funding for the current experienced service providers both north and south of the border like the Rape Crisis Centres-One in Four-CARI and Nexus. We need to recognise the vital role these services play in providing advice and support to victims and their families.
The waiting lists for these services are outrageous with Nexus NI currently holding a waiting list of 800 people. I wonder what it will take before the government understand just how short sighted it is not to supply the funding on this end of the problem, knowing that if these individuals cannot access the help they need they will end up costing the state more through the fall out. The state needs to step up to the plate and start fulfilling their responsibilities. Victims are tired of being let down with nowhere to turn and trying navigate their pain and suffering while this country constantly demonstrates no consideration or compassion through lack of provision for them.
It is also important that we all understand that we can play a role in calling for change. We have a right to feel outraged and see the current situation as unacceptable. Protesting does have an impact on how we move forward. Everyone needs to do whatever they can, public voices do count.
In relation to the men at the centre of the Belfast trial I offer the following advice. Give back, find a relatable cause (such as the new development of a rape crisis centre in Belfast) and fund raise or give talks if that’s what is needed to redeem yourselves.
Rightly or wrongly you find yourselves in a very negative position. A position that represents an era of misogyny and male domination that we are rightly moving away from. Your actions now could make a huge positive contribution to that movement.
June- 19th April 2018