Content Warning: Sexual Assault
Wednesday afternoon, after finally submitting my essays last minute, I checked my phone and the first thing I saw, was a notification from Irish Times. It said: “Four cleared of all charges in Belfast rape trial.” I had been following the case, but not too closely. For some reason, I always believed the verdict would be in favour of the victim. This couldn’t have happened in Ireland surely?
Flashback to 2012, I’m in school and it’s like any other day when the news breaks out: “Shock and outrage over India Delhi bus gang rape.” A wave of terror and anger spread across the city. In school, we were confused. How could something so horrific even happen? In the middle of the city? On the way back home, my friend’s 10 year old sister asks, “what is gang rape?” We didn’t know what to say.
In a country where sex is rarely even mentioned, rape became a central topic of discussion. Specifically, the gang rape of “India’s Daughter”. This 23 year old had been flown to Singapore by the government to be treated. She did not survive.
The atmosphere is Delhi before this was of disgust and disbelief. After her death, the anger took over and everywhere, protests began. Throughout the city, and the country, people took to the streets demanding a country where women could be safe.
When a girl is born, they say “Lakshmi has arrived” – Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Women are seen as goddesses. However, on the streets, in offices and homes, we are harassed, mocked, and underestimated. Even on the streets, while driving, men want to assert their dominance. Marital rape is legal. When I go back during winter or summer, I realise the extent of my freedom in Dublin. Often, I complain to my friends in Trinity, “I feel so restricted here”.
Every time I go out, I have to let my parents know my whereabouts, I can’t stay out too late, I must inform my friends when I get back home. In taxis, I constantly check Google Maps to be sure I’m being driven in the right direction. In the metro I make sure to be in the one compartment reserved for women.
On the streets I ignore the stares and avoid lonely alleys. If somebody catcalls – ignore them and walk away. These things are a part of life, no matter how much it frustrates me, or how much I feel like arguing, or even fighting back.
My parents sent me to study in Ireland for many reasons. One major one was so I could have a life in college that does not restrict me in any way. That lets me grow without fear and inhibition. They often say that they feel more at peace and safe, sending me to Ireland, than if I was studying in Delhi. It’s what I tell people considering Ireland for higher education. It’s safe.
Six years later, in third year in Trinity, déjà vu strikes. A gang rape but the verdict clears the accused. They’re high profile rugby players. In the Delhi gang rape, the four men were migrant workers from a highly patriarchal state in northern India.
Reading about the court case in Belfast makes it clear how justice has not been served. When justice should not just be delivered, it should be seen to be delivered. If such “celebrities” can get away with something like this, anyone can; that is dangerous.
In spite of the evidence, they got away. The victim is immensely courageous to stand up against these men at a huge personal cost. Enduring the process of the trial can sometimes be even as traumatic as the crime itself. I ask you to step into her shoes and imagine yourself doing that. It’s not easy. I am no law student to understand the technicality or question the verdict.
But an unjust verdict will discourage so many more women, who have possibly been in a similar situation, from coming forward to report. The damage such a verdict can cause is irreparable for people who have gone through sexual harassment of any kind. If indeed the accused were innocent, it should have been seen as crystal clear, not as a benefit of doubt. If at all, the benefit of the doubt should go to the victim and not the accused.
Today I see my friends and people around me in Ireland angry. It’s time to let your anger and frustration be seen – rally behind the victim who must be feeling isolated and make your voices heard. For the women and men you love and the ones you’ve lost, for “India’s daughter,” and for the country you hope Ireland becomes.
I am disappointed and angry but I do believe the least we can do is stand in support of the victim. We must fight for justice and not allow the freedom of women sink to the period of medieval anarchy.
If you have been affected by the issues raised of this article, support is available from the following services:
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 77 8888
Women’s Aid: 1800 341 900
Samaritans: 116 123
TCDSU Welfare Officer: [email protected]