Though the #MeToo and "I believer her" movements have changed the landscape what remains is the difficulty when it comes to he said she said rape trials.
Faced with certain defeat, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday canceled the vital vote in the House of Commons on the EU withdrawal agreement just a day before it was due to be held. To survive as prime minister she really had no other choice since the looming massive defeat in Parliament would have robbed her of any remaining authority.
What happens now is anyone's guess. May is hoping she can go back to the EU, point out that Parliament won't accept the withdrawal agreement and look for changes in the section that is causing her the most difficulty -- the Irish backstop, the guarantee that there can be no return of a hard border in Ireland. Ireland and the rest of the EU are saying this cannot happen and the agreement cannot be renegotiated.
Whether that remains the case in the coming days and weeks is doubtful, and there is already talk in the EU of offering May some "clarification" on the backstop, including expressions of intent that it would be short-lived. Clearly, this spells danger for Ireland -- but how dangerous it would be is impossible to assess at this stage.
Rather than trying to see into the future, we will park the Brexit issue until this time next week when things should be clearer. But before we do, it's worth pointing out that there is no way out of this mess, either by "clarifying" or finessing or even renegotiating bits of the Agreement, without diminishing the strength of the absolute guarantee of no border.
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At best, a watered down version of a soft border might be the outcome if the withdrawal agreement is to be saved. For Ireland, it's a choice between the frying pan and the fire.
If there is no agreement and Britain crashes out of the EU a very hard border in Ireland is a certainty. One way or the other, in spite of the robotic assurances being given by both the Irish government and the EU, a border of some kind in Ireland seems inevitable. The simple fact is that unless Britain leaves the customs union there can be no real Brexit, and doing that has to mean a border in Ireland.
But let's leave all that until next week when the dust will have settled a little. In the meantime, we can look at one of several stories that were squeezed out of this column by the necessary concentration on Brexit in recent weeks.
This one made headlines here for days on end and provoked a storm of comment. It was the rape trial in Cork a few weeks ago in which the underwear -- a thong with a lace front -- worn by the young woman involved was raised by the (female) defense lawyer in the case. The accused, a 30-year-old married man with a violent history, was found not guilty by the jury of raping the then 17-year-old student in 2015.
We don't know whether the reference to the thong had any influence on the jury in reaching its decision (unlike in the U.S., jurors here cannot be interviewed after a trial). But the outrage it provoked was extraordinary, with numerous protest meetings and an exchange in the Dail (which went viral and was seen around the world) in which Deputy Ruth Coppinger raised the matter and held up a thong while she was doing so.
The point being made was that women have the right to wear what they like, whenever they like, and it can never be an excuse for rape. Just as a woman has the right to say no to sex at any time, even after sex has begun. And just as a woman who is out of it on alcohol or drugs and therefore unable to properly consent should not be raped.
At this stage in all civilized countries, these rules of behavior by men are accepted, as they should be. The problem is that in many rape cases -- particularly in the so-called he said/she said cases in which there are no witnesses of the entire event -- it is not always clear exactly what happened.
It is possible that in some cases the man (who claims the sex was consensual) and the woman (who says she was raped) genuinely interpreted things differently at the time. And this can be doubly true when there is alcohol or drugs involved.
Which makes the job of the jury in these cases incredibly difficult. Apart from different perceptions of what was happening and whether there was consent or not, there are cases in which a woman who consented subsequently changes her mind due to embarrassment or shame or for other reasons and then claims she was raped.
Such cases may be rare, but they do exist and there has to be a presumption of innocence for the accused until the jury is convinced otherwise. The #MeToo mantra "I Believe Her" may be admirable in many ways, but it's just not enough when it comes to a court hearing in which a jury has to decide what happened and who is telling the truth.
We have seen this already in the rugby rape trial in Belfast earlier this year which was surrounded by protests and in which the accused were also found not guilty despite all the salacious details that were revealed.
The fact is that it can extremely difficult for a jury to decide in these cases whether sex was consensual or not, or whether the man genuinely believed it to be consensual even if the woman believed she was indicating that it was not.
What is reasonable to believe? The jury has to be certain "beyond a reasonable doubt" before it can convict the accused. And that's the way it has to be, even if emotions run high in the aftermath of such trials.
As far as the thong in the Cork case is concerned, the defense lawyer did not suggest that it was proof that the young woman wanted sex or would have consented to sex with the accused. What she did suggest to the jury was that it could be seen as an indication that the young woman was open to the idea of having sex on that evening.
To most people that is nonsense. Women can wear any underwear -- or no underwear -- and their choice can never be seen as an excuse for rape. The outcry that followed the "thong case" was completely justified.
But extrapolating from that and suggesting that in all these cases a woman who makes an accusation of rape must always be believed is a dangerous tendency.
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