We can’t just march to the Department of Justice and stop there. Sure, that’s only an ol’ stroll!
Those who showed up for rallies and marches across Ireland last week know that ‘I Believe Her’ and ‘We Stand with Her’ aren’t one off statements, but sentiments that echo true for more than just one verdict, more than just one case.
It’s not only that you believe her, you believe yourself, you believe your friends and you’ve declared you deserve better. You deserved better from the perpetrator of your own experience, and likely deserved better from the people you reported it to.
That’s if you were one of the brave few who reported their crime within a system that all too often seems to be working against you, when it should be working for you.
In order to keep marching all the way into a better future we’ve put together a list of three areas we think it’s really important to see change in. And a simple action for each that you can carry out to help increase the chances of that happening.
Key Areas for Change
- The Justice System
- Education & Conversations on Consent
- Good People to Call Out Sexism & Misogyny
- Other Ways to Help
1. Changes to the Justice System in Ireland
Encouragingly, this is now already in motion but will still need you to help keep it a priority.
Speaking to the Irish Times, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has announced he will review, “all aspects of how ‘such deeply sensitive trials are conducted’.”
One major change would be for victims to have their own representation in court, and this is something Flanagan specifically mentioned.
At present, both in Ireland and the UK, a victim of rape is technically a witness for the State, with the State working to prosecute the accused. This was the case in the Belfast trial. While the accused had their own lawyers, the complainant was there as a witness for the State.
Minister Flanagan also noted he would review how cases of this nature could be dealt with quicker and would look into better training on it for Gardai.
You can also read more about Irish legislation on consent here. Irish laws on consent are actually quite thorough in that they include that if a person is under the effects of alcohol or other drugs, they don’t have the ability to consent, and that an omission of consent or lack of resistance does not constitute consent.
Action: What you can do to help ensure this happens?
Talk to Charlie! While Minister Flanagan has said he will review all this, it’s important that the pressure is kept on and that it’s brought to the attention of other politicians too.
Let him know you’re in support of the review and will be waiting for the outcome. Are there other aspects you think need to be considered or included? Tell him. The government works for you.
- Email Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: email@example.com
- Charlie Flanagan Constituency Phone Number: +353 57 8620232
You can also contact your local TDs. They work on your behalf, and they want your votes. It’s in their interest to highlight and work for issues that matter to their constituents. More emails on one topic potentially means more votes for them, use this to your advantage. Ask them to raise the issue in the Dail.
- Find out who your local TD is and get their contact details on this excellent site.
2. Education & Conversations on Consent
It’s clear there needs to be more conversations about what consent is, how it is shown or not shown, and education on the importance of respecting it.
Many parents have begun teaching their kids about this in ways that are appropriate to their age. For example, by letting their sons and daughters know that if Aunt Vera says ‘Give me a hug’ or tries to grab you for a cuddle, you can say no. You can tell her to let go, and Aunt Vera is going to respect that.
It’s a very small and simple change to family life, but could be an important step in people growing up to understand both sides. It’s really fine to say no, or that you’re uncomfortable, and it’s really important to respect that. It’s not going to offend someone, and if it does, that is their issue to deal with, not your responsibility to satisfy, soothe or bear.
We would also benefit from it being added to primary, secondary and third level education. In primary and secondary schools, this could mean adding it to sex education curriculums, in third level it might be something taken on by the institution itself, Students Union and/or societies.
Action: What you can do to to improve understanding and appreciation of consent?
- Contact the Minister for Education Richard Bruton and let him know what you think needs to be included in the curriculum, why, and for whom. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contact your local TDs and ask them to raise it in the Dail. Find out who your local TD is and get their contact details on this excellent site.
- If you’re in third level, contact the president of your institution and contact your welfare officer and ask them to raise it with the Students Union of Ireland. Talk to your own students union about running something on it. Or reach out to organisations with knowledge of the area and run an event on it yourself.
3. Calling Out Sexism & Misogyny
People of any gender can say and do misogynistic and sexist things, so this is for everyone to understand but I think the worst of it will be said by men in the company of only men, and the worst of it carried out with no witness, only a victim. So the action for this section is predominantly directed at men for that reason.
It’s also directed at good men because the no-good men who hold misogynistic beliefs or feelings about women and the world around them, reward women who help uphold and support that belief and even sometimes even seek to punish those who do not. (Don’t believe us? Join Twitter!)
If it’s our boss, our partner, our father, our housemate, not only are they not going to listen to us lesser beings, they categorically do not care what we think or say. They don’t seek or need our respect, and it can make our lives worse not better for calling it out ourselves. If we challenge their belief that we are inferior, however unconsciously they may hold that thought, we need/deserve (in their eyes) to be punished and/or put in our place – however subtly, for trying to make the world operate differently than they believe it should.
How To Spot Misogyny in Order to Challenge it
How it will usually manifest itself is a comment, message, picture, video, action or behaviour, about or towards a woman that in some way serves to put her/all women in the category of a sexual object, or existing for the sole purpose of having children, looking after a home, being a caregiver. The statements or behaviour would lack any indication that she/women have any other purpose/thoughts/feelings. Misogynistic things can be said and done by men who otherwise are great people. That isn’t a reason to not call it out, that’s a reason to have hope that if you do, it might mean something to them. It might make a difference.
It may also manifest itself in visible, but possibly subtle punishment if a woman calls out the sexist behaviour or comments herself.
For example, a woman interrupted by her manager at work says, ‘I’m sorry, I wasn’t finished speaking’, and later in the meeting/day/week, she’s assigned the worst part of a project, or asked to do something demeaning or beneath her job title, or not granted leave for a day she asks to have off and given some odd or obtuse reason. Or will receive unwarranted negative comments related or unrelated to the instance.
Being accepted, liked and respected by other men however, may be of huge importance to these men. This is where you good men come in.
Your silence can infer anything from acceptance to agreement to respect. When men begin to call out misogyny as unacceptable in all its forms, misogynists may need to adapt to earn your respect. It might not seem like it’s going to have any massive impact on cases of rape and sexual assault, but it’s contributing to rape culture.
In an essay by Sandra Newman on treating rapists like any other criminal, she writes,
“But a man who is capable of rape generally commits the crime only if he believes it will be excused by his peers, and that punishment can be evaded.”
Action: What you can do to make misogyny and sexism unacceptable?
This isn’t going to be easy, none of us think it is. Most people don’t enjoy challenging the status quo. It is uncomfortable. But.
You know who the good men around you are, be they work colleagues or friends or family. Have a conversation with the good guys from your different groups about how you can do it together. Make a deal that if one of you calls it out, others among you will back you up and agree.
If you’ve never seen any men around you say or do sexist or misogynistic things, ask the women around you if they have seen it, if you can help in any way. Say you’d like to call it out on their behalf next time if that would help and if they would like you to. (Consent is important here because in the most vulnerable and unbalanced variety of these situations, you may need to know if she feels it will make it worse.)
If she or they say that would be great, you could even invent a secret signal for them to easily point it out to you in a meeting, family gathering or a party. You are helping us take down the bad guys together, and we literally cannot do it without you. We’re not against you, you’re not against us. We just all need a game plan to win this as the team we already we know we are.
4. Other Ways to Help
There are a number of other more general ways to help. These are just a few.
- When protests or events are happening that seek to improve Ireland’s treatment of women, and victims of sexual violence, show up. Even if it’s just to learn.
- Read and ask questions. If one of the areas above is something you’re not sure you believe or agree with, do some research on other sites, look into studies published by legitimate organisations or groups. Seek out experts and ask them questions.
- Rape Crisis Centres all over Ireland offer support to victims through staff and trained volunteers. In 2002 they were defunded. Donate to them.