Victims of rape will be dissuaded from reporting the crime against them after witnessing the way the Ulster rape trial was conducted, it has been claimed.

In the wake of the verdict, Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) tweeted: “This case has been deeply troubling in particular for survivors witnessing the conduct of the case — many survivors are telling us they will now never report.”

In a statement, RCNI said all four defendants were acquitted on all charges “after a relatively short period of reflection by the jury”.

“The verdict notwithstanding we want to acknowledge and respond to the impact on everyone who has followed this trial in the media but particularly for survivors,” it said. “This has been a protracted sexual crime case with considerable public attention stretching almost daily over almost two months.

“We want to say today to survivors of sexual crime that when you need us or are ready to talk about what happened to you we in Rape Crisis will be there for you, we believe you, and we will support you.”

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) also said it was concerned that the reporting on the case would further deter those who might otherwise report rape. “Those who report in cases where the defence claims the sex was consensual will be afraid of the treatment they may receive in court,” it said. “And yet, if complainants don’t report, rapists will not be brought to justice. If rapists are not brought to justice, those who are harmed are not vindicated and our whole society is less safe. If people are innocent of the rape, the courts should be the best place to vindicate the rights of the innocent person.”

DRCC said the case had opened up a wider debate on the meaning of rape and the meaning of consent.

“The case highlighted what is rape: sex without consent. It also highlighted the need for all those engaged in sexual activity to ensure that their partner is consenting... submission is not consent. A person does not have to yell or call out for help. A person may be frozen. All of these are normal and real responses. They are not consent. Consent involves active agreement. Anything less is unacceptable.”

It also said it was concerned about the way trials for sexual violence are conducted. “All parties were subjected to questioning on the most intimate and private aspects of their lives in a way that was inefficient and cruel,” said DRCC. “In this case where there were four defendants, the woman in question spent six days being cross-examined by four legal teams, one for each defendant. She was unrepresented. Each of the legal teams was headed by a skilled and experienced Queens Counsel familiar with the courts and criminal processes.

“In order to achieve the law’s legitimate aim of trying to rock her evidence, she was put into a grilling, relentless legal process, unrepresented, for six days.”

DRCC also highlighted differences between the court systems north and south of the border, in that the public is excluded from rape trials in this jurisdiction. It said that would have prevented the extra pressure caused by the packed public gallery in the Belfast trial.

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