There’s not much about that night that’s not contested.
A 17-year-old woman from Ireland says she was raped by a 27-year-old man she met out at a club. She said he dragged her through the mud and then had sex with her even after she asked him to stop. A witness said he saw the pair on the ground, and that the man had his hand on the victim’s throat. After the incident, the woman said, she told the man, “you just raped me.”
“No,” the defendant said he replied. “We just has sex.”
He painted a much different picture of the evening, saying that the pair had kissed and then gone outside to lie down in a muddy area nearby, at which point they had consensual sex. (No witnesses confirmed that the pair had kissed.)
The woman pressed charges, and the case went to trial. Both sides framed it as a question of consent.
“You have heard her say she did not consent. You have heard him say she did consent,” Tom Creed, a lawyer for the plaintiff, told the jury. " If you are satisfied she did not consent and that he knew she did not consent, then you convict. She is quite clear she did not consent. She said she never had sexual intercourse before."
But the defendant’s lawyer took a different approach, suggesting that the teenager was lying. As evidence, she pointed to how the plaintiff dressed.
During the trial, defense attorney Elizabeth O’Connell highlighted the fact that the 17-year-old was wearing thong underwear the night she alleged she was assaulted.
"Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed,” O’Connell said. “She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
A jury of eight men and four women later found the defendant not guilty.
The lawyer’s comment drew immediate condemnation from women’s rights advocates. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre suggested that lawyers should be banned from remarking on victims' dress in the future.
"These kind of mythologies and stereotypes around rape come up again and again in court cases, because the defense to rape is that the sex was consensual,” Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Noeline Blackwell told the Irish Independent. “So anything the defendant can do to suggest there was consent will be used.”
Now, women are tweeting pictures of their underwear, along with supportive messages and the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent. Hundreds have shared supportive images. The founder of the campaign, Susan Dillon, said she was surprised by the feedback.
“We wanted something impactful that would draw attention to the issue, hence the use of underwear,” she told BuzzFeed. “We knew people would be supportive and would want to support survivors of sexual violence but we have been overwhelmed by the response.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that lawyer Elizabeth O’Connell held up a pair of underwear similar to what the plaintiff was wearing the night she was allegedly assaulted.