Dr Susan Leahy (School of Law, University of Limerick) and Dr Catherine O’Sullivan (UCC) have called for “legal and social reform” following protests over a Cork rape trial in which the 17-year-old complainant’s lacy underwear was referenced in the defence barrister’s speech to the jury.
Dr Leahy, who recently co-authored Sexual Offending in Ireland: Laws, Procedures and Punishment, told Irish Legal News that raising issues such as “a complainant’s mode of dress” in a criminal defence is “a form of victim-blaming that has no place in a rape trial”.
“We now have a statutory definition of consent which clearly states that consent means free agreement – the exercise of genuine sexual choice. What a victim was wearing, or other evidence which relates to myths about ‘real rape’ or ‘real victims’, has no place in a jury’s determination of this issue.
“I think the protests are important and should cause not just actors in the criminal justice system, but society more generally, to question our attitudes towards consent and sexual activity. Further action in this area is needed – both legal and social reform.
“I think further work on training all those involved in the trial process is necessary to ensure that complainants are always treated fairly and irrelevant evidence is not used to confuse juries.
“However, it is also important to raise awareness of all the supports that are available to complainants to ensure that they continue to come forward and are not discouraged from seeking justice as a result of stories like this recent one.”