THE ongoing fall-out from last week’s rape trial verdict which acquitted the two rugby players and two co-defendants of lesser charges will be felt across Tyrone as in every corner of the country, a local support worker has said.
Orla Conway, who is the team leader of Omagh Women’s Aid, said the trial of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding was “not untypical”, other than it involved two high-profile defendants.
Orla also fears the nine-week process will act as a major deterrent for women to come forward and report sexual assaults in the future.
As part of her day to day work, Orla helps many local victims of domestic abuse as well as the victims of sexual assault.
She says there is already a large percentage of women who do not come forward to report attacks.
“I think any person looking at what went on in this trial will understand why victims of sex attacks will not want to stand up and face that, and have their lives laid bare,” said Orla.
“This trial was not untypical at all, apart from that it was in the full glare of the media spotlight.
“What we see quite often in these cases is that the alleged victim is put on trial as well as the defendants and that can just be too much for many women to face.”
Orla said her door will always be open to those who have suffered a sexual assault, but she cannot offer any reassurances over prosecutions.
“It has always been very difficult to give assurances for those taking forward rape and sexual assault complaints to police.
“We cannot give any assurances to those women and the events of the last week will only have underlined the problem.
“These four men have been cleared of the charges but what this trial has thrown up is the attitude that still exists towards women.”
While she firmly believes in the transparency of justice, Orla accepts that anonymity for defendants in sexual assault trials may be necessary to protect the integrity of the justice system.
“There is no doubt that the profile of the two rugby players made this a much bigger case and it seemed everyone was talking about it.
Then there were comments on social media which added to the whole situation.
“We have dealt with women who were the victims of sexual assault by their long-time partners and they do not want to report it – to protect their children and their families from the details.”
Orla added, “It is a very difficult situation to deal with and another major issue which has emerged is what is the meaning of ‘consensual.’
“I would say to every woman out there that they always have the right to say NO and to not accept situations they are not comfortable with.”