Yesterday afternoon the news broke that Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, and two others were acquitted of all charges in the rape trial that surely everyone in Ireland is aware of at this stage. Since then #IBelieveHer became the number one trending hashtag on Irish Twitter and number two in the UK. The hashtag mainly consisted of peoples, in particular women’s, disappointed and frustrated outcries over the result of the trial. I think there are a number of important issues that the result of this trial reveals and I will outline my views below:
1. Being acquitted is not necessarily a statement of innocence.
A lot of people out there seemed to automatically assume that after being found not guilty that it’s a statement of innocence. In the eyes of the law it may be, but you have to take the nature of the case into account. In a rape case it’s often the victim accusing the defendant of wrong doing. This means that the victim has to provide sufficient evidence of their assault. If there is not enough to warrant a guilty verdict, then the defendant is acquitted of the charges. It’s not a statement of innocence, nor is it a statement of potential guilt it must also be said.
2. Innocent until proven guilty is right for justice.
I have seen some backlash to the result of the case in the form of criticising the Irish (and the very similar UK) justice systems. But the question must be asked that if we were to change the system, then what with? The general Western legal system has been around a long time. I think that at the end of the day, most people agree ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is the fairest and most just method of determining guilt. I’ve seen criticism laid at the fact that the jury consisted of eight men and only three women. I agree that it should have been a fifty fifty split, but both legal parties have to agree to the composition of the jury, with the judge being female in this case. I think we definitely need to be better at keeping the anonymity of the parties involved. The victim shouldn’t have to deal with the immense pain of mass media coverage on their already traumatic event.
3. Can Police do better in the initial handling of cases of rape?
I’m unsure what the standard procedure for dealing with victims of rape is for Gardaí (or in this instance PSNI) or if there even is one? There was a lot of talk from the lawyers of the Ulster boys in regards to the Police’s handling of the situation. I don’t understand this at all considering that although there was some evidence, there obviously wasn’t enough for conviction. My question would be did the Police do enough? It’s not difficult to understand why women are so upset by the result of this case. It’s another high profile example of the very poor conviction rates on reported cases of rape. The reason why this conviction rate is so poor is mainly because it usually boils down to one word against another. So can Police forces do more? Do they need better training, better procedures put in place, better methods of gathering evidence?
4. Gender wars solve nothing.
By scrolling through the hashtag of #IBelieveHer and in the past #Metoo I find perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of today’s world. Once an important issue of male/female equality is raised it almost always quickly descends into a gender war. In this scenario it was the case of some scumbag men gloating in the result of the case and having no idea what constitutes masculinity. This was followed by misinformed women claiming that men are happy with the result and that they should be ashamed by the Twitter reaction. For a start, most of these men seemed to be hiding behind unidentifiable twitter handles and pictures, they cannot be taken as a quality sample of the men of Ireland. If you want that view, ask the men in your office, classroom, house etc what they really think. Secondly, Twitter is a jungle of extreme opposing views and not an accurate reflection of the common view. This stands for both genders. In the real world I think most men and women adore each other, are happy to share the world together, and fight for equality together. Twitter is bollox.
5. Let your voice be heard.
Understandably the result of this case has left a lot of women questioning whether they should or shouldn’t report a case of rape if it ever happened to them. But to not report it at all will only bury the problem further and increase it’s acceptance. Even if the person who did it gets off free, every reported case, every media article, every radio and TV discussion highlights the problem and keeps it in the public eye. This is the only way to change anything. There will also be marches taking place today around the country. Participating in these will do more than any Twitter argument ever will. Be seen. Be heard.