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'Displaying the victims underwear in court is evidence alright - of rape culture'

What I was wearing the night I was brutally raped does not justify the attack – but I knew some people would say that it did, writes Morgan Barbour.

I WAS 14 years old when I bought my first thong.

It was a hideous neon pink number sporting a plastic-y Hello Kitty on the front and a string of fairy floss for a back that would instantly be uncomfortably engulfed by my bum.

I bought this out of sight of my cautious mother in a desperate attempt to embrace the new chapter of life that puberty was forcing upon me: womanhood.

So I slipped into what I would later learn was a pair of pants two sizes too small for my frame and wore them to my Judo class under my gear, where I sparred with boys who were none the wiser.

I owned my first thong before I had received my first kiss and years before I would lose my virginity. It was a child’s comical attempt at making sense of what it was to be a woman.
Had a man taken it upon himself to rape me at that time it may very well have been served up on a misogynistic, barbaric silver platter as evidence that I was asking for it.

Recently in Co Cork a 27-year-old man was found unanimously not guilty of raping a 17-year-old girl in a laneway.

During the trial the barrister asked that the jury to take into account the victim’s underwear, a lace front thong, citing that this choice of underpants may be offered up as proof as this victim’s interest in sex.

A rally in protest of this world-class example of rape culture is being organised in Cork today. 

When I first went public about my assault in earlier this year I received such an outpouring of support that I was able to find the strength to finally report it.

I don’t remember what underwear I was wearing the night of my assault, but I knew the moment I made contact with the Gardaí that I may very well be asked just that.

The clothing I was wearing the night I was brutally raped, was a very small and silly barmaid uniform, assigned by the company I worked for, hosting pub crawls in Temple Bar.

That uniform and my burgeoning career as a model, both contributed to the two-year pause between my assault and my official report.

It did not matter how many times my therapist or loved ones reminded me that what I chose to wear on my body or do for a career did not justify my rape.
All it took was the knowledge that men and women – like this barrister – existed out there, for me to lower my head and try to live out the rest of my life bearing that pain in silence.

Rape culture is a malignancy in our society, oftentimes getting its roots in deep to impressionable young minds before they learn that the stork does not in fact deliver babes to doorsteps in the night.

When I think about the protests against this particular case and countless others like it worldwide I am torn between hope and despair. Hope, for there are members of the public out there brave enough and angry enough to raise their voices when the voiceless feel they will never speak again.Despair, because this case and this mind-set is not unique and continues to thrive on a global scale.

But I, as a woman almost a decade this girl’s senior, sit back and read about this case I think about how I’ve the privilege of having inhabited this Earth for nine years longer than she. 

I have spent those years of womanhood learning to shroud my skin in Kevlar to survive the raining bullets of assertions, by men I do not know, that my body must be the temple of a vestal virgin, lest my undergarments lead them to sin.

My voice was briefly lost thanks in part to a man who valued his own pleasure above my consent, but also by the knowledge and fear of men and women like this barrister and the internalised misogyny that runs rampant in purity culture.

This spring I was able to find my voice again, and now I will scream until my throat runs bloody in hopes that I can help drown out such bubbling and archaic cognitive dissonance.

My first thong, long-lost to some forgotten box in the attic of my childhood home, was at the time an uncomfortable yet welcome breath of fresh air, a change in pace from the world of hand-me-down Disney shirts and too-short charity shop trousers.

It was also procured and worn by a child trying to find her way, who loved Digimon more than boys and would not find the confidence or interest in sex until her early twenties.

As a grown woman now I will at times wear lacy thongs or goofy cartoon pants or sometimes none at all.

The style and cut and fabrics of the undergarments I choose to sequester myself in are absolutely no one’s business, but we regrettably have built societies full of acrid individuals who feel that a person’s underclothes can bypass consent.

Morgan Barbour is a London-based activist, circus artist, movement director, and writer.

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