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Image / Editorial

‘Causing trouble for the lads’: The rape trial language that revealed a rotten underbelly


by Ellie Balfe
29th Mar 2018

Photograph: Twitter @HilaryLennon

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Yesterday, as we all know, the four defendants in the Ulster Rape Case were acquitted. And the nation’s women rose up in a swell of solidarity for all victims of sexual attack.
The trial has taken an enormous emotional toll on all involved, but also, the weight of the damage for all women-kind was starkly revealed. The misogyny exposed throughout the trial has hurt us all.

Let’s go back a few weeks to the fifth week of the Belfast rape trial; when we heard the text and WhatsApp messages that were sent between the defendants and some other of their friends on the day after the night in question. On hearing them all read together, I instantly felt ill. What has been revealed is the attitude of those men towards the women in their company that night.

Our collective knowledge that this attitude is not unique to this particular group of men needs to be spoken about. There is a thread running through this. There are shared experiences that must be spoken about. There is far too much experience of arrogant behaviour, supposed superiority – both societally and sexually – and a demeaning attitude towards women.

In their texts, the rugby players and friends spoke of her as a piece of meat, literally.

“There was a lot of spit roast last night.”

Their terms to describe women were the most base they could be.

“any sluts get f*cked?”

“who are they? Brassers?”

How did it get like this? Personally, I know men who grew up in the big rugby schools and they are great men – considerate, emotionally evolved and tuned in. But I have spent a number of nights in rugby clubs where I have heard some men speak of women in degrading ways.

Growing up, I experienced first-hand, the ‘rugby-schoolboy’ sense of entitlement and their discrimination of women. It’s hard to find the words to explain it at the time, as it’s often concealed (barely), behind their learned chivalry. But it’s evident in the bedroom, it’s evident in early sexual experiences when it sure as Hell ain’t about you, it’s evident when you overhear a group of them talking about a friend of yours, but you feel too shy, or too unsure of yourself to speak up and defend her.

You are young, they seem powerful, it’s intimidating – it’s all wrong.

A friend of mine was at a rugby club dinner only a couple of weeks ago, and the after-dinner speaker was so demeaning to women in his opening address, that she, and other women stood up and left rather than stay to listen to it all. They then wrote to the club asking for an apology. The apology has yet to be delivered.

Lots of you reading this know what I’m talking about. There is something gravely wrong with men being raised to think they can speak about women as these young men in this rape case did.

“Pumped a girl with Jacko on Monday. Roasted her. Then another on Tuesday night.”

“Boys, did you pass spit roast brassers”, then, “why are we all such legends?”

What is wrong is that the complainant in the case initially text her friend saying she wouldn’t go to the police…

“I’m not going to the police, I’m not going up against Ulster Rugby. Yea, because that’ll work”

“I’d report it if I knew they’d get done but they won’t”

Take a moment to reflect on those two attitudes. The male version reads of achievement and power. The female version of oppression.

The text that really got me, though, was this one. From the guy who supposedly comforted the complainant and brought her home,

“she’s just a silly girl who has done something then regretted it, she’s causing so much trouble for the lads”,

‘Trouble for the lads’? Really boys? This must end.

Rugby must have it’s #MeToo moment. Sex and consent must be spoken of very frequently. Young boys must grow up knowing not to objectify women – at the very least. Behaviour and language must change, or what hope is there?

Photograph by @HilaryLennon (twitter)

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