I am not going to discuss the verdict of the Belfast rugby rape trial. A legal decision has been reached in favour of the four accused. However, this article will discuss what we can learn from the trial regarding issues present within our society today. Amongst the name-calling, anger and distrust, we can at least attempt to learn from the trial that rocked our little country to its core.

It is hard to escape discussion of the Belfast trial, whether face-to face or online. From hashtags, tweets and statuses to heated debates at the kitchen table. Each and every person seemed to have an opinion, an emotional one at that. It must be asked, why this case? Why did this case rouse the Irish people the way it did? You could speculate it was the media’s doing, perhaps the hysteria was a direct result of their relentless reporting. Or maybe it was the high-profile nature of the rugby players on trial, some of whom we have seen represent our country internationally, wearing the green jersey of our proud nation. In my opinion, these were all contributing factors, but not the most pivotal one.

The case stood for something more than a trial. We all recognise those parties, those feelings about sex, those well-known ‘untouchable’ figures, those individuals who love a chat with a sports star. For many people, they could recognise some of the behaviours reported in the court. It made many people uncomfortable, looking back at their own behaviour and their own sexual past. The convoluted relationship between power and sex.

‘Was that consensual?’ ‘Was that why I felt weird at home the next morning?’ ‘Did I force them into that?’

Every one of us can also recognise the entitlement discussed within the trial. A position of power where the rules differ slightly. ‘We are all top shaggers,’ Olding messaged. ‘There was a lot of spit roast last night,’ Jackson messaged. ‘A merry-go-round at the carnival,’ Olding said. McIlroy captioned a photograph, ‘Love Belfast Sluts.’ He also messaged a friend saying, ‘Pumped a bird with Jacko on Monday. Roasted her.’ Whatever the result of the trial, this way of speaking about women is difficult to digest. It cannot be argued that this shows respect for women, I also refuse to accept this as ‘lad banter’. If this is lad banter, it needs to disappear. As a woman, I began to look at my male friends wondering if this was how they spoke about women in their private conversations. However, I quickly corrected myself. The men within my life are just as infuriated and exhausted as the women. This is not a male- female issue. Nor should it be made one. This is an issue of toxicity relating to sex and consent that has been brewing within our society for quite some time.

Sure, don’t we all know what consent is? Apparently, we don’t. Paddy Jackson himself when asked, stated that he ‘presumed consent’. As much as we wish it wasn’t, consent can be a grey area. In particular when alcohol is involved. So how do we combat this? Attempting to introduce workshops at third-level universities did not have the desired effect, many people at this age have already become sexually active and some believed it to be no longer necessary. Although I feel college students are not exempt from requiring consent education, I feel earlier discussions are essential with our families, our schooling and our society at large.

I cannot speak for everyone’s teenage years, but my own sexual education was limited to say the least. No one was talking about sex properly. Conversations that did take place occurred in whispers and giggles amongst my girlfriends. Much of what I learned about sexual experiences was through my peers, online or from televisions and films. Sex scenes in movies where the couple would blissfully fall into each other’s arms, both just knowing it was right and consensual. Sure, isn’t this how all sexual experiences occurred? The boys would jest with each other about their frequent porn habits, not recognising both the fantasies and aggression portrayed within it. This was all considered so normal. What wasn’t considered normal, was an open and serious discussion about the realities of having sex. We are underestimating our teenagers, depriving them of appropriate sexual education resulting in them informing themselves in alternative ways. Ways that on their own, may not result in healthy attitudes towards sexual experiences.

This is not an issue that is going to go away on its own. It is time to step up to the mark. To use this controversial case as an incentive to push ahead with real, open discussions about sex. The issues within this case are not something new for many of us, this is all the more reason to finally make a lasting change. Movement in the right direction is taking place within government but it is important to not to let this momentum extinguish. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it’s costly. But yes, this must happen.

If you have been affected by anything in this article then please contact:

Fiona Keaveney – Features Writer