Here’s the latest yet never-grows-old kind of reason for rape: thongs.
Victim blaming and shaming is an age-old practice but surprisingly enough, people are still cooking up the weirdest kind of excuses that inevitably point the finger at the woman.
While in our very own nation a politician sparked the hashtag #AintNoCinderella with his comment that women should be home by midnight to avoid being sexually harassed, Ireland got its own backward aunty in the form of Elizabeth O’Connell.
Elizabeth O’Connell presided as the senior counsel for a 27-year-old man who was accused of raping a 17-year-old girl in Cork, Ireland. She managed to outrage the entire nation and more during her closing remarks to the jury, where she asked them to consider the underwear the complainant wore, on the night of the alleged rape – a thong with a lace front. A short while later, the man wept as he was acquitted of the rape charges.
While we may not be right in judging the verdict of the jury, which consisted of eight men and only four women, what we must question is what can and cannot be done at a trial, what can and cannot be produced as evidence. The defendant, in this case, may have been innocent but the impact of a comment such as O’Connel’s could have been drastic. It may have even swung the final decision.
I Believe Her – Ireland, an online space for rape victims to voice themselves, was the first to ask their followers to post a picture of a thong along with the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent. Soon after, thousands of women followed suit to express their solidarity by posting images of thongs as well as by marching to the courthouse in Cork where the trial took place and laying underwear on the steps of the establishment.
Victim shaming and blaming is an international phenomenon. Be it a thong or a burqa, women are raped regardless of their attire, and forced to remember that it is always their fault. And the fact that a very similar incident led to a suicide just a few years ago in Scotland, only proves that change is a tortuously slow, if not an illusion. In 2001, during the court proceedings of her own rape case, 16-year-old Lindsay Armstrong was asked to hold up her underwear in court and even forced to read out the print on the front that read “Little Devil”. This was, again, to serve as evidence for the acquittal of the accused. Two weeks after her rapist was convicted, forced to relive the torture, Lindsay took her own life.
While we can all spew our hatred at O’Connell, she was really just doing her job, albeit in the most disgusting way. What we need to realise here is that when she said what she did, she was really just echoing the voice of society, which has constantly blamed the victim. So let’s not give the world another Lindsay. If this hashtag has taught us anything, it’s that we really need some rape myth busting. And if posting images of thongs is what helps, then that is what we must unitedly do!