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Opinion 'Rape culture does exist... I've witnessed it myself in Cork'

Journalist Jennifer Hough encountered two disturbing incidents on the city’s streets within weeks of each other.

LAST SATURDAY NIGHT, Cork city was heaving to the sound of jazz and blues emanating from its every pore.

The drink was flowing and everyone was in great form. Walking home, the carnage seemed a bit more intense than usual – but it was the Jazz weekend, a bank holiday, what else would you expect?

Still, I was surprised – walking down a certain side street in Cork – to see a young woman running hell-for-leather barefoot down the street.

She was clearly upset; I could hear her crying loudly and I pointed her out to my other half saying, ‘What is it with this laneway?’

Because it was on the same street a few weeks previously that we had encountered another disturbing situation involving a young woman in a vulnerable state.

Again, we were walking home at about 2am along said side street, not a dark street and one that is well populated at that hour with the clubs and pubs spilling out onto it.

As we passed a couple kissing on the other side of the road, I heard the woman saying repeatedly to the guy, ‘Stop, get off me.’

As we got closer, I could see she was trying to push the guy, who wasn’t listening to her, away.

People were walking by, but no one was doing anything. I stopped and shouted over to her: “Are you OK?”

She clearly wasn’t and so we went over to her, and helped entangle her from the guy who was aggressively trying to pin her against the wall.

The woman, probably in her early-to-mid 20s, asked if she could walk with us. As it happened, she was staying in a hotel right beside our apartment. As we walked, she told us that she had met the guy in a club and they had started kissing. She thought it was just a bit of fun. He was clearly expecting more from their encounter, hence what we witnessed on the street.

This woman not very drunk but she was quite shaken. When we finally got to her hotel, she hugged me tightly and thanked us profusely for stepping in.

Fast forward to last Saturday night and the barefoot girl we witnessed running down the street.

As we neared home, I saw two guys pulling a girl down from the wall that separates the footpath from the River Lee. I recognised her as the barefoot girl. Her stilettos and a tiny handbag were thrown on the street, and she was trying to throw herself into the river.

Long story short, despite her best efforts to jump that wall, we made it clear it wasn’t going to happen.

The two young guys left and like the previous encounter, my other half and I said we’d walk the girl home. Again she was in her early 20s.

She was extremely upset, crying, cursing, lashing out, saying repeatedly, ‘No one believes me, no one believes me.’ I told her I believed her, to which her response was, ‘You don’t even know me, how could you believe me?’

I won’t go into her story too much, but in short, she said she’d been raped a few months previously. Not a clear-cut situation by any stretch but it was how she felt afterwards.

That night, she’d told someone important to her, but that person did not believe her.

She explained a situation that some people might view as rape, while others might not.

Like so many cases these days, hers is not one that can ever be proved one way or the other.

And therein lies the difficulty for young women trying to verbalise and understand something they don’t even really understand themselves.

The problem is that rape today does not fit what we normally think of when we think about a sexual assault. It’s not a stranger pulling a girl down an alleyway, it’s not someone sneaking into a room at night. Instead it’s often young guys acting aggressively to get what they think is coming to them. When a girl says no, it doesn’t fit with the expectation that society has created for them.

This generation of young people are used to getting what they want when they want. And sex is no different. Guys can access porn in an instant. Everyone can access a hook up through the flick of a wrist on a mobile app.

Young girls are out putting themselves out there like never before. Looking as good as your idols and living up to cultural expectations means wearing fake tan, fake lashes, fake eyebrows. It means taking selfies and belfies and putting yourself out there on social media in provocative ways.

Add drink and young horny guys into this mix and you’ve got a recipe for modern day rape - situations where saying no does not register, and where feeling violated after a drunken encounter is now a normal part of life.

These might not be considered classic rape cases, but they are classic rape culture cases and the line between yes and no is increasingly blurred not just alcohol, but by immense societal pressure.

Young people today are coming of age in a hyper-sexualised culture that normalises extreme behaviour, makes everyone look sexy and offers instant gratification. How can a girl cry ‘rape’ or ‘stop’ when she’s grown up to be a part of that liberal exhibitionism herself? If she does cry rape, how will anyone believe her when they see her sexy social media profile pictures, and hear that she shared nude pictures with guys?

Not being believed, as I witnessed last weekend, is final insult in situations like this. Of course neither is this generation unique.

Rape and consent are not new issues. Women in Ireland and all around the world have been raped and assaulted behind closed doors since time began.

The difference today is that it’s right front of us. It’s on our streets, it’s on our computer screens, in our hands. It’s visible and it’s pervasive – I’d wager that there are many girls like the two I encountered out and about on our streets on any given night.

This means it’s incumbent on us all to help stamp it out. Whether that’s intervening if you see a dubious situation on the street at night, whether it’s teaching your kids – male and female – about consent and respect, or whether it’s just telling someone you believe them, we all have a part to play.

So, to that girl on Saturday night, I might not know you, but I heard your story, I saw your distress and I believe you.

Jennifer Hough is a Cork-based journalist with a special interest in social affairs. You can find her on Twitter @JenniferHRos

More: ‘We need to teach women in Ireland how to say yes to sex’

Read: ‘Having sex is a fabulous thing, but in the right environment, with the right person’ 

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