In recent weeks, the issue of sexual abuse and rape has become a huge talking point in Ireland, mainly due to the high-profile rape trial in Belfast which concerned Rugby players; Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding and, of course, a victim who chose to remain nameless during the trial. The case garnered a lot of attention both here and aboard due to the treatment of the victim and the overall result. It also opened up a conversation about consent and the global rape culture that exists in our society, that seems to favour the attacker rather than the victim. This project will look at statistics in Ireland to examine the trends over the last few years while also trying to get to the bottom of why there such as culture in Ireland and what having this kind of culture is harmful to the victims that we should be protecting.
In Ireland, there has been a steady increase in the number of recorded rapes in the country over the last seven years. 2017 is the year in which there were the most recorded crimes and 2013 being the least recorded, which is shown in this graph with data from the CSO concerning the number of registered crimes in Ireland over the last number of years. Although on paper it looks like this is a good thing, there is still is an issue with rape victims wanting to come forward so that their attacker can be prosecuted. As interesting as it would be to look at the statistics for the number of convictions in rape trials in Ireland, there do not seem to be available for the public which is quite harrowing in itself.
Although on paper, the increase in recorded rapes looks like this is a good thing, and don’t get me wrong it is, there is still is an issue with rape convictions in Ireland and the willingness to tell authorities about the crime. According to statistics from the Rape Crisis Network in 2013, only a minority of victims went to either the Gardaí or a Medical Professional.
It is a shocking statistic, but given the fact that a minimal number of victims report their assault, this statistic doesn’t seem so unusual. However, the reasoning for the low statistic can be blamed by the toxic rape culture both in Ireland and around the world. This was examined in many forms of media, in particular, Cork author Louise O’Neill’s bestselling novel ‘Asking For It’, which details the story of a teenage girl who is subjected to rape in her hometown. In the book, the primary character/victim Emma O’Donovan says this about her case;
“They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until proven honest.”
It is one of the most striking lines in the novel as it shows the way the Irish Justice system works, often leaning towards the alleged attacker rather than the alleged victim. In many of the most recent trials, the victim is often-blamed which is why many do not want to report their attack to the Gardaí. In statistics from the Rape Crisis Centre Ireland, where 64% of cases get reported to the authorities. As we have seen in previous graphs, the number of victims not reporting their crimes is low, but we have also seen, this leads to a knock-on effect due to Rape Culture in Ireland where we do not believe the victim until they are proved right. This adds to another negative aspect of the current rape culture which is Slut Shaming, which automatically blames the victim, saying that they merely asked for it and thus wanted the assault to happen. But this is not just a national problem, but an international one with the increase of awareness of sexual harassment in various workplaces. For example, the recent #TimesUp movement brought to light the inequality in the film industry which also brought to the forefront the fact that this is a universal issue.
This kind of association is profoundly toxic and proves that rape culture exists in our society which brings me back to where I started which was at the Belfast Rape Trial which leads onto the final visualisation of my project. As many are aware, there has been a considerable debate ongoing about the sports industry and their lack of empathy or interest in changing the rape culture. We have heard the term ‘locker-room banter’ used over the past few months in various instances, recently, after two members of a rugby team in Ulster celebrated their win by ‘spit-roasting’ the trophy while they each had Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding’s names stuck to their jersey. A picture of the pair was shared on Twitter much to the shock and horror of many people, including myself. Once again this proves that there needs to be a more significant conversation about the Rape Culture in Ireland and more focus put on the victim.
Due to the Belfast trial being such as high-profile one, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the case was reported and what were some of the most used words in a selection of articles. By creating this visualisation using Voyant Tools, you can see some of the most used phrases when talking about the trial, from four articles from different websites with different target audiences. Regardless of your opinions on these websites, the results were clear; the most used phrases are not what you would expect but are names of the alleged rapists and the location of the trial. Keywords referring to the prosecution, e.g. messages, social, sexual are mentioned but are not at the forefront of the piece. There is also barely any mention of the victim herself; however you could argue that this is due to her exercising her right to anonymity for the case, but there is barely a mention of a victim in the main words at all which does little to help the situation of fairness in the media coverage.
In looking at these datasets and by being aware of current affairs at the minute; it is easy to see that we do have a problem with Rape Culture. In Ireland itself, victims are more likely to tell family members about the incident rather than make a formal statement to the Guards or even get checked out by a Medical Professional. We also have an issue with rape convictions which I would have spoken more about, but I was unable to find datasets for this information, I could not write more on it, which is a shame. What is interesting is how the media that I looked at perceived the trial, in a similar way to what the stats highlighted, which showed that the emphasis was on the alleged rapist, not the victim. This shows a distrust in the victim’s story from the beginning which as we know, is not what is meant to happen in our society. We are expected to believe the victim, but in these situations, who is the victim? Is it the person who claims to have been the victim of rape, the person or people who are named as the attacker or is it us, the spectators? Who never know the full story of the situation and so we put our trust in the media who covers the trial and who automatically favours the alleged attackers? It is because of this confusion that we need to open the conversation up to everyone and learn how to be more accepting and open to the victim’s point of view. If we don’t, our rape culture will stay the same, and no one wants that.