I Believe Her

credit: @hvixx on twitter

This week, two Ireland and Ulster Rugby players, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, were found not guilty of raping a woman in 2016. The shock verdict resulted in rallies across Ireland in support of the victim and in protest of the legal system, leading to a movement named #IBelieveHer.

The victim did everything that we are told to do after a sexual assault; she told friends what had happened, reported the rape to police, and had forensic tests done the next day. But it was not enough. Even messages between the victim and her friend, as well as messages between the alleged perpetrators, seeming to imply that the rape took place, were not enough to warrant a conviction.

Unfortunately, this result will have dire consequences for victims of sexual assault; how many more women will now be too afraid to report rape and sexual assault, due to fear of being ignored, called a liar, or even slut shamed in a court of law? Already, only a minority of sexual assault cases are reported to the police. Victims of sexual assault do not have faith in the legal system, and it is not surprising to see why not.

Also, quite worryingly, this case recalls that of Brock Turner’s, a convicted rapist who served just three months of a measly six month sentence. During the trial and after the verdict, Turner was commended for being a star athlete and was let off lightly due to his potential. Would Jackson and Olding still have been found guilty were they not white, middle class rugby players? I’m not so sure. Though Turner escaped the jail time usually prescribed to rapists, he has still received a life sentence; thanks to the internet, he will forever be known as a rapist.

Social media has enabled and accelerated movements such as #MeToo and #MarchForOurLives, and is doing the same for #IBelieveHer. However, Jackson’s solicitor Joe McVeigh blames social media for corrupting the trial, ‘vile commentary expressed on social media going well beyond fair comment has polluted the sphere of public discourse and raised real concerns about the integrity of the trial process.’

While it is true that social media has the potential to harm legal cases, especially regarding sensitive subjects such as sexual assault, it is not the case with #IBelieveHer. The victim went through all proper legal proceedings to report this case; it was not a trial by social media. However, apparently, Paddy Jackson is attempting to sue people who tweet in support of his victim, leading to the hashtag #SueMePaddy.

What McVeigh fails to realize, and unfortunately for Jackson and Olding, social media will continue to speak for the silenced victim, and all victims of sexual assault. The hashtags and rallies are sign that times are changing; no longer are we accepting out dated rules and legal systems that publicly blame victims. Attitudes have to change before the legal system does, and #IBelieveHer is only the beginning. Sexual assault is revolting, but so are we.


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