*Update* As of 28 March 2018, all four of the co-accused have been acquitted of all charges.
In an ongoing rape trial in Ireland, two Ulster rugby players, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, stand accused of the rape of a woman at an after-party following a night on the town. A third, Blane McIlroy, is accused of indecent exposure whilst the fourth accused, Rory Harrison, is charged with perverting the course of justice. All four deny the charges.
I have been watching as the trial unfolds, namely to gauge Ireland’s reaction to sexual assault and rape trials. Historically, Ireland has fallen in to the trap of victim blaming or ‘boys will be boys’-ing and I was interested in tracking whether perceptions have changed, especially in light of recent developments and campaigns such as #metoo.
What has shocked me more than the details of the alleged rape itself are the WhatsApp conversations which took place after the alleged rape and which have been entered in to evidence.
In one group chat, Olding said “We are all top shaggers” to which Jackson replied “There was a lot of spitroast going on last night lads”, Olding then goes on to liken it to “a merry-go-round at a carnival.”
In a separate WhatsApp conversation, just hours after the incident where the woman had fled the house in tears, another friend asked Olding “How was she?” to which he replies “she was very loose.”
Their co-excused, McIlroy, in a WhatsApp group called The Juicers posted a photo of himself with three girls who had attended the after-party with the caption “Love Belfast Sluts.” He had also sent a message saying “Pumped a bird with Jacko (referring to Jackson) on Monday. Roasted her.” He then went on to describe the night as “hilarious.”
This is all in the space of a couple of hours.
These messages are illuminating and reveal deeply rooted misogynistic tendencies that reduce women to mere sexual objects. When questioned about their conversation, they all dismissed them as just messing around – the ‘boys will be boys’ excuse in a different guise. Such messages are indicative of a pervasive lad culture that takes sadistic pleasure in denigrating, undermining and objectifying women. If this is the calibre of conversation that these men are engaging in private WhatsApp groups, then it is no surprise that this has permeated their minds and informed their thinking to such an extent that it has shaped their actions. Surely, it is not a stretch that continued micro-aggressions of this kind against women may result in a situation whereby a person thinks it is okay to disregard consent or to use a woman’s body for his own sexual gratification, to assert his status as a “top shagger.”
The alleged rape, when viewed against this backdrop, is indeed a bi-product of this mentality.
We cannot continue to dismiss this as harmless locker-room banter. This is one of the most insidious and dangerous forms of violence that exists against women.
It is also no surprise that the men deleted these messages before going to the police station. The messages were later recovered and when asked why he deleted them, McIlroy said that he was worried “they may be read the wrong way.”
We need to understand that our words have power. Our words reflect and propagate our thoughts. Our thoughts become our actions. We must be more careful and sensitive with our language.
For anyone reading this post, I ask you to take a look at your WhatsApp groups and ask yourself – are you proud of what you are saying? Can you stand by the comments that you have made? Are you active or complicit in language that seeks to debase, demean and objectify others?
And if so, then what is your WhatsApp really saying about you?