They said there were no winners in the rugby rape trial case, but it could yet be the catalyst for an overhaul of the legal process where currently the burden of proof is on the victim and not the accused.
A seed of hope was sown on the steps of Cork’s City Hall yesterday as organisers of a protest outlined how they plan to go about persuading the Government to set up a joint Oireachtas committee to conduct a root-and-branch review of the sexual abuse complaints process.
One woman, whose own case is currently with the DPP and who did not wish to be identified other than being a Sinn Féin activist, said the hope is that an Oireachtas committee would look at how to put in place better protections for abuse survivors who come forward with complaints “so that they don’t feel victimised”, or “in a position where society is naming and shaming them”.
“We want to call for jurors to have special training and we want specially trained gardaí to deal with victims when they are making a statement,” she said.
The hope was that the proposal for an Oireachtas committee would have cross-party support. The proposal will be launched by way of an open meeting, followed by a campaign, leading up to a Dáil motion that the committee be established.
“Unless we get the political impetus behind this, nothing is going to change,” she said.
“Today is the start of something. Something has to come of this. We can’t just stop this and have nothing come of it,” she said.
Green Party member Lorna Bogue said she backed the proposal for an Oireachtas Committee tasked specifically with examining the manner in which sex abuse cases are handled. She said she was also calling for funding for a new Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report, as the last one was published in 2002.
Solidarity TD Mick Barry, who attended the protest, said he had “come to show my support for victims of rape”.
“I came to show that I was appalled that the [rugby rape trial] court case turned into a trial of the woman and to say that I believe her,” he said.
Earlier this week Ireland rugby internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of rape at Belfast Crown Court, while Blane McIlroy was acquitted of exposure and Rory Harrison was found not guilty of perverting the cause of justice and of withholding information.
Gwen Boyle, aged 30, from Ballydehob, Co Cork, said the fallout from the courtroom in Laganside was “not just about this individual case, it’s about rape victims and the way victims are treated in general”.
“I just hope it won’t dissuade anyone from looking for help, whether it is going to the police or the rape crisis centre, or just talking to someone,” she said,
“The problem with seeing something like this dragged through the media and dragged through the courts, is that people put themselves in that situation and say ‘I wouldn’t want to have to go through that’.”
Tjitske de Vries, originally from the Netherlands, but living in Cork, spoke to the crowd outside City Hall about her experience of rape.
“I want people to feel empowered to get justice because what we are doing now is showing the world, showing our women and men, that there is only a small chance that your case will go to court,” she said. “And in the meantime you will have to tell your story time upon time, only for someone to point out the discrepancies. It has to stop.”
Ms Bogue said she had “never seen anything quite so emotional” as yesterday’s protest.
“There were a lot of people crying and you don’t often see that,” she said.
As the rally drew to a close and the protesters were asked if anyone else wanted to contribute, a lone voice cried out “I believe her”. The chant was taken up by everyone present as people queued to place their flowers on historic steps that have seen their fair share of protest.
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