The case of the Ulster rugby players already concerned me even before I read the text messages sent the morning after the night before. The messages sent between the men, accused and ultimately cleared of rape, made me feel physically sick. I won’t repeat them here, I suggest, reader, that you take some time out of your day to witness the horror of misogyny at its most repulsive. The messages sent from the woman to her friends broke my heart. Women are constantly accused of being emotional in situations that require cold rationalism, but I don’t think anyone should be capable of reading a message that says ‘I was crying and saying at least use a condom’ and not feel anything.
I wrote an article earlier this year arguing that the legal system makes it almost impossible for women to successfully pursue cases of rape and how this is symptomatic of our patriarchal society. This woman followed the process to a T. She had evidence, she went to the doctor in the required time, she chose anonymity (but people have still managed to accuse her of trying to profit from the case.) In cases like this, the jury’s decision needs to be unanimous, and I don’t know enough about legal theory to decide whether this is morally watertight or not. Nonetheless, in a legal system where the cards are stacked against women, this decision hums with injustice.
Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the woman was wrong and the justice system did its job perfectly. Even if that is the case, it still demonstrates how harmful our perceptions of sex and consent are. If the sex was initially consensual, which given the nature of the case seems unlikely, the question of on-going consent remains just as poignant. On-going consent, for any readers who are confused (and that isn’t meant to be patronising, consent education in this country remains at around nil) is basically the idea that just because someone consents to one sexual act, it doesn’t mean that they consent to all kinds of sex, in all kinds of situations, all the time. For example, consensually speaking, just because we have vanilla sex on a Tuesday, it doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to tie me up on Wednesday.
The issue of on-going consent is relevant here because of the messages she sent her friends the day after. I can’t believe, as a sexually active woman, that the amount of pain she was clearly in would have gone unnoticed. Even if she consented to sex initially, the men in question seem to have disregarded any discomfort, emotional or physical, that she was in. I’ve never been raped. I have been in sexual situations that have made me deeply uncomfortable. In those moments, it has felt like my soul, the part of me that is me, curls up into a ball somewhere behind my ribs and I’ve just become a body to be used and discarded. And maybe that’s why women have reacted to this case in such an emotional, visceral way, because we can imagine how it feels to be used in such a way.
You could easily (and I have) write articles analysing the individual factors that contribute to decisions like this. Toxic masculinity, warped perceptions of sensuality and lack of education about consent. In a year notable for its concentration on gender issues, this decision illustrates how much work we all still have to do. Can women and men really be considered equal in a world where the justice system fails women to such a great extent? Can women and men even be equal in a world where men speak about women in such a stomach churning way? I wonder if this is how men speak about me behind closed doors, in the safety of the testosterone filled locker room. These men are asphyxiating themselves with their own toxic masculinity, and I don’t want us to be taken down with them. Our society needs to be revamped from the ground up and sexual education and the legal system seems like a pretty vital place to start.