A 27-year-old man had been accused of raping a 17-year-old girl, and during his trial, his defence lawyer told the jury: ‘You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.’
Shortly afterwards, the defendant, who, under Irish law, cannot be named (in the UK, anonymity is only provided to the complainant, in order to encourage them to come forward in the face of stigma), was acquitted.
The clear message from defence lawyer Elizabeth O’Connell, who also asked jurors ‘Does the evidence outrule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone?’, is that knickers are consent. This feeds into the notion that what a woman wears dictates what her body wants. As if consent is something women are too thick or too slow to actually spell out, and have to outsource it to their pants. As if wearing certain clothes renders a woman up for it, a walking invitation to whatever sex with whomever, whenever, wherever. It’s victim-blaming and it’s terrible.
Hundreds of Irish women protesters, reports The Irish Independent__, chanting 'Whatever we wear and wherever go, yes means yes and no means no' as they walked through the streets of Dublin, Cork and Limerick, holding aloft signs reading ‘This is not consent’ and ‘End victim blaming in courts’. The protest outside Cork Courthouse saw knickers draped on the steps of the building.
They have been joined by women across the world in solidarity, posting photos of their knickers (not while wearing them) to social media along with the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent. And and Ruth Coppinger, an Irish MP who joined the Dublin protest, also brought lacy blue underwear to the Dáil on Tuesday.
‘It might seem embarrassing to show a pair of thongs here…’ - indeed, she had to smuggle the pair into the chamber hidden in her sleeve - ‘How do you think a rape victim or a woman feels at the incongruous setting of her underwear being shown in a court?’ she added.
And would you believe, it’s been reported that cameras cut away from the blue knickers when Coppinger produced them. As if knickers are more embarrassing than the fact that women’s clothes are being held up, in court cases relating to their safety, as supposed proof of their willingness to have sex.