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Irish women launch #ThisIsNotConsent underwear campaign to protest victim-blaming

One week after a lawyer urged a court to focus on the type of underwear a teen girl was wearing the night she alleges a man sexually assaulted her, Irish women are taking to the streets to protest.

“You have to look at the way she was dressed,” Elizabeth O’Connell, the attorney for the 27-year-old male defendant reportedly told the jury in the contentious trial. “She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

The jury ultimately found the man not guilty, prompting widespread criticism from women in Ireland — including, on Tuesday, an Irish member of Parliament named Ruth Coppinger.

Coppinger brandished a lace thong during Parliament, pulling it from the sleeve of her blazer. Afterward, she posted a picture of it on Twitter, suggesting that victim blaming in sexual assault trials needs to end. “I hear cameras cut away from me when I displayed this,” wrote Coppinger. “In courts, victims can have their underwear passed around as evidence and it’s within the rules.”

In the days before and after Coppinger’s post, women in Ireland have taken up a protest of their own — both on the streets of Dublin and through a hashtag on Twitter titled #ThisIsNotConsent.

Although sexual assault seems to permeate the news these days, the rate of prosecution for this crime remains disturbingly low. According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), 994 out of 1,000 people suspected of rape will walk free in America. Out of the 1,000, just 310 will be reported to police, 57 of those reports will lead to an arrest, 11 will get referred to prosecutors, seven will receive a felony conviction, and only six overall will get prison time.

While there is little data on how many sexual assault cases in Ireland make it to trial, there have been recent studies showing the ubiquity of victim-blaming in courtrooms. In a 2009 study from Ireland’s Rape Crisis Centre, according to the Irish Times, researchers found a “high frequency with which judges granted defense applications to introduce evidence about complainants’ sexual history — often on the basis of a defense lawyer’s claim that a complainant was promiscuous.”

It’s this culture that the women of Ireland are no longer willing to tolerate. Or, as MP Coppinger captured in a tweet Wednesday afternoon: “Clothes are not consent.”

People gather on Nov. 14 for a protest in support of victims of sexual violence in Dublin. (Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire).

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