Underwear Is Not a Sign of Consent

A 27-year-old man at the centre of a rape trial has been acquitted in Northern Ireland. The defence argued that because the 17-year-old girl he was accused of raping was wearing a lacy thong, she consented. Defence barrister, Elizabeth O’Connell SC said “You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.” Arguing for the prosecution, Tom Creed SC told the jury: “She is quite clear she did not consent. She said she never had sexual intercourse before.” The jury of eight men and four women reached their unanimous verdict after an hour and a half of deliberation, which doesn’t suggest much disagreement with regards to the final decision.

A lot of that night was contested. The 17-year-old said she was raped by the 27-year-old man she met at a club. She said he dragged her through mud and had sex with her as she asked him to stop. A witness said he saw the man with his hand around the victim’s throat as they were on the ground. After the incident, the woman said she told the man “you just raped me.”

The defendant replied, “No. We just had sex.” He said the pair had kissed and then went to lie down in a muddy area nearby where, according to him, they had consensual sex. No witnesses confirmed the two had kissed. The woman took it to trial where the case was argued over the idea of consent, but this concept was also abused by her attacker.

Underwear is not, and is never, a sign of consent. I will sometimes wear lacy underwear to play tennis because they are the comfiest in sportswear: that does not show consent. Wearing Spanx with a dress because it helps make it fit better does not show consent. Wearing a lacy thong, as this girl did, does not show consent. It is spine-chilling that, more often than not, rape cases come down to he said/she said. Often, a lack of physical evidence facilitates this. As cruel as this is, it comes down to who the jury places most faith in, the understanding of consent and the attack of the character of those involved. This eventuality is also backed up by Northern Irish law, where an exception is made for men who genuinely believe they are not raping a woman. This is as ridiculous as it sounds and basically means that under Northern Irish law if a man thinks he has received consent from a woman, he is not raping her.

As a result, rape trials can play out in an absurd number of ways, similar to the one in Cork. This raises the question over whether consent is a useful means for prosecution as it is so difficult to prove whether or not it was ever given or taken away. It is clear from this trial which argument wins rape cases. The defence used the lace thong as justification for consent because they knew that an element of sexiness or naughtiness to the victim can overcome the predatory, creepy nature of the defendant. As Solicitor Charlie Flanagan has said, “Clothes don’t rape women. Rapists rape women.” It seems society would rather believe in the existence of “slutty” women rather than the horrifying reality of rapists.

Tali Fraser

Image Credit: Conall Kearney/Rex/Shutterstock