I literally wear this style of underwear everyday. When I’m going to work. When I’m unwell. When I’m on my period. When I’m feeling as unsexy as ever. When I’m going out. When I’m drunk. Does that mean – wherever I am – whatever the circumstance – if I’m raped, it’s my fault? Was I “asking for it” for routinely putting on a certain style of underwear? Or if I happened to pick these over another style on that day. Would it be a different story if I’d but on my Bridget Jones’s? If yes, I was feeling sexy, up for it, but not with him, not there, not right then, not when I said no, is it still my fault?
It’s terrifying that blame culture endures so far that a 17 year olds choice of underwear is deemed relevant in a rape trial, as a crucial point of ‘evidence.’ In scrutinising her underwear in this way, more agency is given to the inanimate object than to the victim herself, she is shamed for her choice, ridiculed, humiliated and ignored. In this courtroom, a slither of lace does all the talking for her, despite her protestations.
Is it surprising that sexual assault, and rape in particular, is so under reported? In Northern Ireland the conviction rate is less than 2% with any tactics being employed in the courtroom to ensure that the rapist is acquitted. In a number of cases this includes scrutiny of the victims clothing. Was her dress short? Was her top low cut? What underwear was she wearing? What is her sexual history? Has she had one-night stands before? Anything to demonstrate, that yes she was up for it, she was asking for it, she’s a slut and a liar; anything to deny that men use sex as a weapon of power against women.
The objectification of women that has prevailed previously, and the patriarchal ideology that propagated the idea that women exist for men, has been replaced with a theory which continues to reify the superiority of men. Women who have been raped are painted as promiscuous, slutty and attention-seeking. Why didn’t she shout? Why didn’t she scream? Why didn’t she resist? She must’ve liked it. She must have wanted it. Because the idea that a man is undesirable is unfathomable. The concept that she rebutted a man’s advances and told him no is impossible. Who could reject a man?
This thinly veiled consideration of ‘consent’ is nothing of the sort. In such cases, anything is employed to distract from the actual exchange of consent, you know, when she actually tells this rapist to fuck off, that no, she is not interested, she does not want to have sex with him. But no, we deliberate on her thong, her skirt, her top, her sexual history and ignore the most important facts of the case – she said no.