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#ThisIsNotConsent: Protests In Ireland After Thong Underwear Cited In Rape Trial

Protesters gathered Wednesday in Dublin to denounce the Irish legal system's treatment of women who said they had been sexually assaulted.
Niall Carson
PA Images via Getty Images
Protesters gathered Wednesday in Dublin to denounce the Irish legal system's treatment of women who said they had been sexually assaulted.

Protesters across Ireland took to the streets this week chanting and carrying thongs, after a 27-year-old man was acquitted of rape during a trial in which his lawyer cited the lacy underwear worn by his 17-year-old accuser.

"You have to look at the way she was dressed," defense attorney Elizabeth O'Connell said, according to the Irish Examiner. "She was wearing a thong with a lace front."

After deliberating for 90 minutes, the jurors – eight men and four women — unanimously found the man not guilty on Saturday.

The verdict incited outrage.

On Tuesday, Irish lawmaker Ruth Coppinger pulled a lacy undergarment out of her sleeve as she spoke to peers in parliament. "We've seen recently clothes, fake tan, even contraception, being used to discredit women who have the bravery to go to court," she said.

"It might seem embarrassing to show a pair of thongs here in this incongruous setting of the Dail," Coppinger added. "But the reason I'm doing it, how do you think a rape victim or a woman feels at the incongruous setting of her underwear being shown in a court? When is this Dail going to take serious action on the issue of sexual violence?"

Ireland's prime minister, Leo Varadkar, responded, "Nobody asks to be raped. And it's never the victim's fault. It doesn't matter what you wear, it doesn't matter where you went, who you went with, or what you took — whether it was drugs or alcohol."

He went on to call such defenses "absolutely reprehensible."

Protests were held in several cities across Ireland. In Cork, where the rape trial took place, demonstrators spread underwear on the steps of the courthouse and held signs reading "End Victim Blaming" and "Why does the Irish court have their knickers in a twist over ours?"

Coppinger invited people to protest with her at the Spire of Dublin monument.

On social media, people used #ThisIsNotConsent to post photos of thongs strung between lampposts near the Spire. Protesters could be seen in videos chanting, " Clothes are not consent" and " Yes means yes and no means no."

Another protest was planned for Friday night at the Irish Embassy in London.

The protests echo angry demonstrations earlier this year after the " Belfast rugby rape trial" of two national rugby players in which a woman's underwear was scrutinized by jurors. Both men were found not guilty. Two other men also were acquitted of lesser charges.

After Saturday's verdict, Irish Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan told the broadcaster Newstalk that he was "very concerned at the practice and procedure surrounding rape trials."

He added, "I don't like to comment on individual cases but it was a woman barrister that posed the question [about what the woman was wearing] in that particular case which I found somewhat surprising."

As Joe Zefran reported for NPR in Dublin, a government review of rape trial procedures is underway.

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Sasha Ingber is a reporter on NPR's breaking news desk, where she covers national and international affairs of the day.