Earlier this month, a court in Ireland found a 27 year old man not guilty of raping a 17 year old girl, after the defence lawyer told the jury that they had ‘to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing at thong with a lace front’.
“it brings further discussion of the victim-blaming culture endemic to law and society when it comes to cases of sexual assault”
The story then received further public attention after the mother of Lindsay Armstrong, a 17 year old Scottish girl who committed suicide in 2002 after being forced to repeatedly hold up her underwear in court as part of the defence’s argument that her attack was consensual, brought her daughter’s story to Irish court. With it brings further discussion of the victim-blaming culture endemic to law and society when it comes to cases of sexual assault.
That clothing can be equated with consent, or used as justification for a crime, represents a deeply disturbing societal problem in which victims are persecuted for factors that do not matter.
“With 69,000 women and 9000 men being raped each year in the UK alone, it’s certain that this is an issue that cannot be ignored”
Rape and other forms of sexual assault are crimes that cannot be excused or justified—there is no other motive involved other than to degrade the victim. And yet there is still a crisis occurring all over the world, which affects each and every one of us. With 69,000 women and 9000 men being raped each year in the UK alone, it’s certain that this is an issue that cannot be ignored.
The humiliation felt by Armstrong drove her to suicide, despite her attacker being found guilty. The recent case in Ireland shows that nothing has changed in the sixteen years since, at least in the courts. However, there have been calls for change. The hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent has gained traction to highlight how the clothing a person wears cannot be used against them, with protests highlighting that a victim is never to blame.
A change is needed, both in the law and in society, which will protect victims and effectively prosecute attackers. In the 21st century, the bravery of a victim to speak up should never be used against them.
In any trial, it is important that the jury have access to all relevant and admissible evidence, subject to some time constraints and limited resources of course. Underwear can and is often used as evidence in rape trials, and rightly so, because if, for instance, the perpetrator claims he’s had nothing to do with the victim and never even met her, traces of his DNA in her underwear can serve as strong evidence to discredit his statement.
“It might be reasonable to place some blame on the defendant’s lawyer, but it should be kept in mind that he was bound by duty of zealous advocacy”
However, this case took it to an extreme and used evidence in a way that is not only irrelevant, but also capable of building prejudice in jury’s minds. It might be reasonable to place some blame on the defendant’s lawyer, but it should be kept in mind that he was bound by duty of zealous advocacy – having to do his absolute best to ensure his client does not get convicted.
Moreover, prejudice cannot be built in a mind that is not predisposed to it. One could suggest that a reasonable human being in the position of a jury would not regard the kind of underwear the victim wore at the time of the rape as any kind of conclusive evidence, but clearly, not in this case.
“it is better that ten guilty men walk free than one innocent man be incarcerated, but victims of rape should not pay the price for that maxim’s application in real life”
Therefore, since the minds of the jury are not free from such prejudice, the law should correct their mistakes. The clothes a victim of a murder wore cannot be used as evidence that sets the perpetrator free, and it shouldn’t be the case in rape trials either. If the jury are not capable of drawing such a parallel, there should be a law that prohibits them from taking such evidence into account or that prohibits the very admission of such evidence to trial. It is true that it is better that ten guilty men walk free than one innocent man be incarcerated, but victims of rape should not pay the price for that maxim’s application in real life.