The recent verdict of the Belfast rape case has been met with a slew of online protest and impromptu rallies that have seemed to pervade all aspects of life in Ireland. The four men accused — Rory Harrison, Blane McIlroy and high-profile rugby players, Stuart Olding, and Paddy Jackson — were all acquitted in a matter of hours for what amounted to be a nine-week long trail. The quick and unanimous ruling raises serious questions about “lad” culture and the national attitude surrounding taboo subjects such as rape and consent. Before we begin to explore the social ramifications following the case, let’s take a closer look at the details of the complex and murky circumstances surrounding the crime.
On June 27, 2016, a 19-year-old woman had finished her college exams and decided to celebrate with a couple of drinks.
Accompanied by a group of friends, the woman visited Ollie’s nightclub in Belfast, Ireland. Also there were highly famous rugby players: Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson. The woman decided to attend an after-party where she met Jackson. They subsequently visited Jackson’s bedroom and kissed consensually. Jackson attempted to instigate more but she wasn’t interested and they returned to the party.
Deciding to leave, she realized she had left her purse in Jackson’s room and so she returned to retrieve it. Paddy Jackson followed her to his room where he forced her down on the bed and proceeded to rape her. Stuart Olding walked in during the middle of this and forces the women to give him oral sex while Jackson simultaneously has sex with her from behind. Blane McIlroy entered the room next and the young woman alleged that he intended to rape her as well but she quickly got up and left the room.
After leaving the room, Rory Harrison escorts her to a taxi outside. The following morning, the young woman texts Harrison and states that the events that transpired the day before were not consensual. Although initially hesitant to disclose to the authorities, she decides to prosecute the men involved thus opening up an investigation.
Any trail that tackles the issue of rape is expected to encounter social roadblocks and the Belfast rape case was no exception. Unfortunately, the lack of evidence that was collected to prove rape and the stigmas still surrounding consent were defining hallmark of the defense’s case. The young woman accusing the four defendants suffered a vaginal tear, which most doctors would agree is consistent with injuries sustained during sexual assault. Yet, the bleeding that resulted, as indicated in a subsequent examination, couldn’t be fully accredited to rape. The lack of conclusive evidence was detrimental to the prosecution’s case.
In addition to the dubious evidence, the prosecution had to fight against the seeping prevalence of lad culture relating to sexual intercourse. The four defendants traded a series of texts, describing the act of “roasting” and “pumping” the young woman. In most cases, a rape case is a classic battle of “he said, she said,” and what the four defendants so carelessly said speaks volume to the lack of respect the four young man possess for the opposite sex.
At times, it even felt as if it was the young woman on trail, not the four defendants. The young woman had to endure eight days of ruthless, invasive, and prejudicial questioning that sought to undermine her and her credibility. She was accused of formulating a grand scheme because of her eloquence and articulation by the four defenders of the four men accused. It’s important to note that this young woman decided to remain anonymous during the entirety of the trail yet even this decision was tirelessly contested by the defense. To many jurors, the trail was ridiculously lopsided — in evidence, cross examination and stigmas — and the results were shockingly unexpected.
The trail, which lasted 41 days, was mentally strenuous on all parties involved, including jury members. At one point, one juror fell ill and had to be permanently replaced. All those avidly following the case expected the jury to deliberate for days, if not weeks, and consider all evidence and witness statements introduced during the trail. But, after only three hours, the verdict was in. The four males accused on a variety of different counts, from rape to indecent exposure, were decisively acquitted by the jury.
The media coverage following the trail highlighted the ubiquitous, virtual support for the 19-year-old woman. Hashtags like #IBelieveHer started trending on Twitter. The acquittal undeniably incited anger— and action— across the country. Indeed, instead of scaring women from ever coming forward, the verdict did the exact opposite. The trial and verdict have served as catalysts and inspired women to come forward with their own experiences of sexual assault inside Ireland. Over a hundred women even filed reports, many for the first time, following the non-guilty verdict. One woman may have not gotten the justice she deserved but hopefully other women won’t have to say the same.