TD shows thong in Dáil to highlight concerns over treatment of rape victims

A Dáil deputy held up a thong in the chamber to highlight the maltreatment of rape victims during adversarial trials.

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger brought the dark blue thong into the Dáil and held it aloft during Leaders' Questions, as she raised concerns over "rape myths" women face after taking an alleged rapist to court.

During her contribution, she displayed the thong which was hidden in her sleeve.

“It might seem incongruous or embarrassing to show a thong in the Dáil but I do so to highlight how a rape victim feels at her underwear being shown in the incongruous setting of a courtroom. When will the Dáil take serious action on the issue of sexual violence?” she said.

There was a sharp rebuke from Leas Ceann Comhairle, Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher, as the displaying of matters during debates is normally not permitted.

“Women in this country are getting a little weary of routine victim-blaming in Irish courts and the failure of lawmakers in this House to do anything about it,” Ms Coppinger said.

Either the Judiciary believes these rape myths, in which case they should be forced to undergo education, or lawyers are using them to introduce sexist stereotypes which they know resonate with some in society and on juries. I suspect the latter is the case.

"Clothes, fake tan and even contraception have recently been used to discredit women who had the bravery to go to court."

Ms Coppinger attacked the Government's cuts to funding to rape crisis services and called on any cuts to be reversed.

She said she was raising the issue in the wake of the Belfast rape trial earlier this year and a similar case in Cork where outrage was sparked after a teenage girl's underwear was used as evidence against her in a rape case.

The 17-year-old's "thong with a lace front" was presented as part of the defence's closing address in Cork Central Criminal Court this month.

“This week, another young woman suffered humiliation during a rape trial in Cork. We cannot comment on the verdict in the case but we need to focus on the lessons from it. Why has nothing been done to stop the routine use of rape myths in trials?” she said.

How concerned is the Government about the chilling effect this is having on victims coming forward?

"A barrister told the jury to look at the way the complainant was dressed and implied that she was open to meeting someone because she was wearing a thong with a lace front. A 17-year-old was 'put in the dock' over her choice of underwear. The implication was that she was 'asking for it',” Ms Coppinger said before raising the thong as she concluded her remarks.

As cameras were not focused on her, Ms Coppinger tweeted a short time later: “I hear cameras cut away from me when I displayed this underwear in #Dáil. In courts victims can have their underwear passed around as evidence and it's within the rules, hence need to display in Dáil. Join protests tomorrow. In Dublin it's at Spire, 1pm.”

Responding, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “Let there be no doubt that nobody asks to be raped and it is never the fault of the victim".

The Government has committed significant energies to progress the equality agenda, he said.

Mr Varadkar concurred that some agencies have seen a cut in their funding but many others have seen increases in their backing from the State.

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