The Belfast Rape Trial outcome has provided much for the Sunday papers to mull over. If Paddy and the top shaggers thought the verdict brought the curtain down on the last two years of discomfort, they have been reminded that they are still very much on stage and that for many the 'facts' on the ground remain irreconcilable with the verdict of the jury.' They have taken to the streets to vent their dissent.
Yet it is hard to see how the jury could have reached any other verdict given the evidence placed before it. We are left with a legal fait accompli underwritten by the court determination that no rape took place in the bedroom of Paddy Jackson. The corollary of this is that there are no rapists and no rape victim.
For those of us who simultaneously and without contradiction are implacably opposed to both rape and trial without jury, the verdict of the jury is what must be stood with. Having long opposed both Diplock In Belfast and the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, it would be counterintuitive to abandon fidelity to jury trials in all circumstances outside of the accused electing to be tried by the judiciary.
In the Belfast rape trial there is nothing to show that evidence was withheld or suppressed. What evidence was available was placed before a jury who considered it for eight full weeks before reaching a swift verdict, the speed of which must again question both the probity and the prudence of the PSNI and PPS. With a woeful absence of prescience they failed to glimpse what was so strikingly salient to a jury. So obvious that deliberation and delivery took such a short period of time.
In a highly charged atmosphere where consent is the buzzword the question must be asked who in the PSNI and PPS give their consent to this trial ever going ahead? In the prolonged quest for women’s rights they have given the advantage to the rapist by amplifying a reluctance-cum-fear to testify.
Many women have been enraged by, if not the trial, then the backdrop to it. Yet the rage has produced more heat than light when it comes to addressing Lenin’s core strategic question: What Is To Be Done? Those taking to the streets to “stand with her” are not hitting the target. Protesting that the law is not fit for purpose blurs the focus. Making it even more unfit to the point that the accused is wholly at the mercy of the accuser, flies in the face of justice and equality before the law.
A raised awareness about consent would hardly have helped in the court case although it might have ensured there was never a case to be brought before the courts. Once in court it becomes the word of the accuser against the word of the accused. Calls for change in the law should be tempered with a uncompromising refusal to shift the onus of proof onto the accused: that they must prove their innocence rather than have their guilt proven. There can be no equivalent of Sharia Law in reverse where the word of the woman in such cases should weigh more than the word of the man. The anti-Sharia law campaign in the UK demanding one law for all can be instructive here.
Arguably, what needs changed is not the law but the societal matrix in which the law is enmeshed which gives rise to a broad assumption that a woman’s body is not her own. It does not suffice to maintain that this is a result of lad culture. The refusal to recognise autonomy over their own bodies is also to be found in the abortion debate with many still opposed to women making decisions; that somebody else can make choices for them regarding their bodies. Fruit for the monkey at the rapist's table where the sense of entitlement can only be enhanced by a culture that seeks to limit the application of consent: Hey sure, the law holds that her body is not really her own so I can have a piece of it too for a while.
Whatever we stand for or whoever we stand with, we should not be sitting down in the face of any sense of entitlement to make choices for women.
Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.