Rape victim urges mass protest on Global Women’s Day

Leona O’Callaghan, survivor of sexual violence, is leading the call. Picture: RollingNews.ie

A Limerick woman who was raped when she was 13 is leading the call for people to take to the streets of Dublin to mark International Women’s Day.

Leona O’Callaghan, who has been critical of the way the judicial system deals with victims of rape and sexual assault, backed the worldwide demonstration. Her attacker was sentenced to 18 and a half years after pleading guilty to charges of sexual assault and rape.

Events will be held across the globe to mark International Women’s Day on March 8. Demonstrators will raise issues surrounding gender pay gap, gender-based violence, working conditions, abortion rights, and sexual violence.

Ms O’Callaghan said “bias, blame, and unfairness” was at the heart of her judicial experience.

“Only a few months ago, I stood in an Irish court where my abuser’s defence were permitted to indicate that I, as a child, had given a sign of consent because I did not physically fight back on those rapes,” said Ms O’Callaghan.

“The judge was asked to take this as a mitigating factor.

A child cannot consent. We do not have sufficient legislation to adequately deal with the issues of consent. We remain participants in a victim-blaming Ireland where the perpetrator has the right to legal representation but victims and survivors do not. We remain in a country where there is inadequate education in our Church-led schools that fail us by not providing the knowledge and the guidance needed to put an end to victim-blaming, and to highlight what consent is, and to teach men not to rape. The lack of moral compass in the legal, school, government and judicial systems does not represent the morality of our country.

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger called on unions, community groups, young people and women to join the 3pm walkouts and protests.

“In recent years, a global revolt of women has emerged, demanding freedom from violence, exploitation, and, in the case of Ireland, for abortion rights,” she said. “On all these issues, it is movements on the ground that have forced change.”

Neil Moor, Unite organiser, said the gender pay gap is in both the private sector and public sector.

“Women in the hospitality industry are far more likely to be in part-time precarious contracts, while women in other private sectors tend to have worse-off contracts,” he said. “We have seen from the Repeal movement and the McDonald’s strike around sexual harassment that enough is enough and we are calling time on these issues.

“We want to see real equality, which means real zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies where bosses no longer hang the threat of losing your hours, the threat of not getting shared tips, over women that speak out against sexual harassment.”

Aisling Cusack, vice president for equality and citizenship at Union of Students in Ireland (USI), said that women who are at most risk of serious sexual violence are aged between 18 to 29.

“This is a core age group in our campuses,” she said. “Sexual violence and harassment is something deeply embedded in our culture and despite survivors bravely coming forward we have done little to change.

“We need to stop the victim blaming attitudes, we need to stop saying they were asking for it, we need an end to slut shaming.

“We all need to to be participants in challenging a culture of sexual violence and this includes sexist jokes and calling out sexist behaviours of friends.”

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