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Northern Ireland: calls for major changes

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Ulster rugby, players' behaviour, rape trail, Belfast Feminist Network, 5 demands, 13 April gathering‘The misogyny in our society will not go away unchallenged’.

At their Belfast rally against rape trials failing victims last Thursday, Belfast Feminist Network announced that now was the start of a movement to change how Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system deals with sexual assault crimes.

Following this, as the next step in this movement, Belfast Feminist Network – and any who care to come – will gather outside the Kingspan stadium on 13 April where Ulster Rugby has their next game.

The gathering is to put pressure on Ulster Rugby to address the reprehensible behaviour of the accused in the recently concluded Belfast rape trial, and to stamp out the culture of sexism and misogyny these players have expressed.

Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson, 26, and Stuart Olding, 25, were acquitted of raping the same woman at a house party at Jackson’s south Belfast home in June 2016. Jackson was also cleared of sexual assault.

But during the trial the court heard about a series of WhatsApp messages in which Olding said “we are all top shaggers” and “there was a bit of spit roasting going on last night fellas” and Jackson wrote: “There was a lot of spit roasting last night.”

They were talking about their behaviour towards an at the time 19 year-old woman.

As well as drawing attention to this type of vile attitude to women, Belfast Feminist Network will be reiterating these 5 demands – and asks for your support in spreading them far and wide:

1 –  Our criminal justice system is not fit for purpose when it comes to dealing with sexual crimes. Victims are re-traumatised and are treated like they are on trial. The system is designed to defend the rights of the accused with little regard for the victim.

2 – The media reporting of rape trials is intrusive, salacious and biased towards undermining the victim’s testimony. It serves to increase the distress of victims and survivors of sexual abuse and rape. Cases should not be reported on until after the jury has given its verdict.

3 – The criminal justice system’s treatment of the victim and media reporting of this trial will deter victims from coming forward and reporting in the future. The rampant culture of victim blaming and shaming needs addressed.

4 – We urgently need to have a compulsory comprehensive relationship and sexuality education programme in all schools which includes consent and toxic masculinity.

5 – We need adequately resourced support services for victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse.

Emma Gallen, writing in The Debrief last week, said: ‘Following this trial the Irish government have launched reviews into how rape trials treat victims and into the quality of sex education taught in schools. In Northern Ireland we are at a stasis, where we don’t have direct rule for Westminster to make changes, but we don’t have a functioning Assembly to make changes either.

‘The UN have said that there is a ‘state neglect’ with regards to sex education in the latest report from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). When this report came out at the end of February, it highlighted that Westminster still has jurisdiction in Northern Ireland and can’t brush off criticisms of its lack of action on devolution.’

‘There are a raft of changes to rape trials that could be implemented immediately if we had a justice minister, which we do not,’ South Belfast MLA Bailey told The Debrief. ‘In the absence of a government we need to look to Westminster.’

And the chief executives of Women’s Aid Federation NI, Nexus NI and Mens Advisory Project have announced that they will now be providing a regional Rape Crisis Service, and are calling on the government to support their work.

Adequately resourced rape crisis support services for victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse are urgently needed, as is clear information about where victims can get the help they need.

The Belfast trial highlighted that more needs to be done to ensure that the victims know where to go and what to expect when they get to places set up to help them.

There is one state-of-the-art resource in the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre, but more face-to-face support is needed.

Nexus currently has a waiting list of 800 survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse, and Women’s Aid has faced cuts to services and has been forced to turn women and children away.

Jan Melia, CEO of Women’s Aid, said that in the light of the Belfast rape trial, “we and our partners are keen to let victims and survivors know that we are here to support them.”

“We have been working on this for the past year and are all too aware of the huge gap in crisis support for all victims of rape in Northern Ireland.

“We are in the process of recruiting volunteers and finalising venues which we will be publicising widely.

“We will be working in partnership with Nexus, the Men’s Advisory Project, local Women’s Aid groups and other partners to ensure rape victims have all the support that they need when they need it.”

The current situation – clearly – lets victims down.

Northern Ireland must have adequately resourced services; rape victims can no longer wait for a government response, they need help now.

And the people of Northern Ireland need to call on their MLA to support this service to ensure no victim of rape is ever failed.

If you have been affected by the trial or it has triggered feelings and memories relating to rape, the 24-Hour Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline is open to all women and men affected by rape or sexual violence, as well as to friends and family of victims and survivors: call 0808 802 1414. Or email 24hrsupport@dvhelpline.org

  1. Paul Artherton says:

    There is a campaign to say that rugby football is no worse than other male dominated sports when it comes to sexist attitudes etc. Anybody who thinks this should look at one of the ‘great’ institutions of rugby — rugby songs — and they would not think rugby is the same as the rest.

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