The phrase “rape culture” is new enough in public discourse here. What might rape culture look like in Ireland? asks Donal O’Keeffe.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines rape culture as “A society… whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault and abuse”. Wikipedia adds: “Behaviours commonly associated… include victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivialising rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by some forms of sexual violence, or some combination of these.”
“I just wanted to support him, just let him know he was not alone,” said Father Sean Sheehy, then-parish priest of Castlegregory, Co Kerry, after he joined a group of up to fifty people as they queued in Tralee Circuit Criminal Court to shake hands with Danny Foley.
Foley (35) had just been convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman a year earlier. Foley – then employed as a bouncer – had met his victim (then 22) at a Listowel nightclub and bought her a drink. After drinking it, she became incapacitated. (Later, she remembered trying to stop Foley from removing her clothing.)
Gardai found her in an alleyway, beside a skip, naked from the waist down, semi-conscious and covered in cuts and bruises. Foley was crouching over her. Foley told the Guards, “I came around here for a slash and I saw yer wan lying on the ground.”
CCTV footage showed Foley carrying her to the alleyway, so he changed his story, saying that she took off her trousers and asked for sex.
The jury convicted him. In his sentencing remarks, Judge Donagh McDonagh said Foley’s allegations about mutual sexual acts were designed “to add insult to injury” and “to demean and denigrate her further in the eyes of the jury and the public”.
Foley got a seven year sentence with the last two years suspended. (This being Ireland, he was out in three and a half years.)
Father Sheehy said “it seemed to me an extremely harsh sentence”. He went on national radio to extol Danny Foley’s decency.
Of Foley’s victim, Father Sheehy said: “I don’t want to make any judgment on her at all, but obviously the whole situation must have been embarrassing, for the police to happen upon them and what-not. She’s the mother of a young child as well and, you know, that in itself doesn’t look great.”
Handing down a sentence of six years to Dublin millionaire Anthony Lyons (51), Mr Justice Desmond Hogan suspended five and a half years of that sentence and ordered Lyons to pay his victim €75,000 in compensation. Lyons’ victim was appalled by this, saying she didn’t want money but rather wanted her assailant jailed.
She had been, two years earlier, a 27 year old woman, walking home late at night along Dublin’s Griffith Avenue, when she was rugby-tackled from behind by Anthony Lyons. She was physically and sexually assaulted and Lyons only broke off his attack when a passer-by raised the alarm.
Lyons ran and was almost at his home when the Gardai caught him. He would deny all charges until the trial, where he eventually claimed he had been overcome by “an irresistible urge” brought on by cholesterol medicine, cough syrup and alcohol.
Judge Hogan’s effective sentence for ruining a woman’s life was six months.
Upon appeal, Lyons served a further eighteen months in jail.
“In truth, the case comes here today out of his own mouth,” said Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, handing down a seven-year sentence to self-confessed rapist Magnus Meyer Hustveit, before suspending the sentence in its entirety.
Hustveit had written to his ex-partner and told her he had, over the course of a year, regularly raped and sexually assaulted her while she was asleep and incapable of giving consent. As a result, she suffered PTSD, eating disorders, depression and she attempted suicide.
On appeal, and only after Hustveit’s victim was forced to waive her anonymity so his name could be published, Hustveit was resentenced to fifteen months in jail.
Two years ago, in the wake of the Lyons case and others, retired High Court Judge Mr Justice Barry White told RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke “I don’t believe that judges need training in relation to sentencing, in cases of a sexual nature”.
Rape culture in Ireland
Last month, my colleague Mia Doering wrote a column for TheJournal.ie entitled “I’ve been groped, felt up and harassed. Rape culture exists and we need men to step up.” Mia spoke about her experiences as a rape survivor and a victim of sexual abuse and suggested that all men need to start feeling uncomfortable about the society in which we live.
Predictably – and this is no knock on TheJournal.ie – the comments section immediately proved Mia right. Presented with the testimony of a rape survivor, the immediate reaction of some men was not concern for the victim or anger that any man would rape, but rather to screech #NotAllMen and – while they were at it – to insult, blame and demean her. If #NotAllMen, you’d certainly wonder about some.
The recent announcement of compulsory consent workshops in Dublin universities was met with derision from some quarters, but with one in four female TCD students reporting they have experienced sexual assault, consent workshops seem a minimum first step.
As it stands, the law is very clear that rape is sex without consent but has no legal definition of consent. You’d think this might be of greater concern to our legislators. But then, ambivalence about consent is hardly surprising, given that, until 1990, a woman could not refuse to have sex with her husband, as rape within marriage was not legally recognised.
The Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (2002) is now fourteen years old and it remains a deeply disturbing work. Among its findings: 27% of Irish women and men experience sexual violence in their childhood. Roughly one third of Irish women and men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
Only one in ten victims of sexual crime in Ireland reports that crime. Those who do report then face a torturous journey to the point where the DPP thinks it worth prosecuting the case. Ireland has the lowest conviction rate for rape cases – following allegation – in Europe, standing at 1 – 2%. The EU average is 8 – 10%.
If you want an understanding of rape culture, I would recommend Louise O’Neill’s novel “Asking For It”. It’s a stunning work, one which will get into your head and leave you at times gasping for breath.
In a fictional West Cork town, Emma O’Donovan is 18-years-old, beautiful and the star of every show. One night, Emma drinks (and drugs) herself to oblivion and awakens the next day in pain and confusion. When the photographs appear online, it becomes clear that Emma was gang-raped by the local GAA team. As the victim-blaming and denial begins, as social media does what social media does worst and as the local community turns against Emma, fiction reads unbearably like documentary.
In an Ireland where the parish – and the parish priest – can turn out to shake the hand of a convicted sex attacker, Emma’s ordeal seems not just believable but inevitable.
In real life, every day in Ireland, sexual assault and abuse are trivialised, denied and normalised. Rape is the second-most serious crime on our statutes. We need to get serious about that. We need to teach children – from an early age – about bodily autonomy and consent. While we’re at it, we need to change the narrative from “Don’t get raped” to “Don’t rape”.
One third of Irish citizens will experience sexual violence. Of that, one in ten reports it. From there, we have a 1-2% conviction rate.
If you don’t think Ireland has a rape culture, you either haven’t been paying attention or else you don’t care.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s 24 Hour National Helpline is 1800 778 888