A Thousand People Turn Out in Belfast to Protest Rape Acquittal of Rugby Players

Paddy Jackson arrives at Belfast Laganside courts with family members on January 29, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Ireland and Ulster rugby player is accused of raping a woman in June 2016 at a property in south Belfast along with fellow Ulster and Ireland international Stuart Olding.
Image: Getty

Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in cities across Ireland and Northern Ireland to protest the unanimous acquittal of two international rugby stars accused of raping a 19-year-old girl in 2016.

The Guardian reports that 1,000 protesters showed up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a nine-week trial cleared Ireland and Ulster players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding of rape charges, cleared their friend Blane McIlroy of indecent exposure, and cleared Rory Harrison of withholding information from police. The protest, organized by anti-sexual violence group Reclaim the Night, sought to empower survivors of abuse and pressure Northern Ireland to pass legislation acknowledging domestic violence. Dublin and several cities in Ireland also hosted protests in support of the now 21-year-old alleged victim and other victims of sexual violence.


On social media, people shared videos and photos of protests with #IBelieveHer. The verdict is a reminder that even in the era of #MeToo, sports culture, the criminal justice system, and the media are quick to uphold the purity of athletes over the voices of alleged sexual assault victims.


The Irish Times, which has been covering the case, reported that in January 2016, the alleged victim went out with some friends and wound up at an after-party with Jackson and his teammates at his home. When she was preparing to leave, she searched for her purse, which was in Jackson’s bedroom. She alleged:

Jackson followed, she said, and grabbed her trousers, pulling them down to her knees. She said she froze as Jackson pushed her down on the bed and with her tight trousers caught at her knees, she couldn’t move. “I was face down on the bed and he was having sex with me.”

Jackson knew she did not want it to happen “but he kept going”, she said.

Then the door opened and Olding walked in. “My heart just sank. I knew what was going to happen. I looked Patrick Jackson straight in the eyes and said ‘please no, not him as well’.”

By this stage, the woman was struggling to hold back tears in the witness box. She said the next thing she knew her trousers were off and Jackson was having sex with her from behind while Olding was forcing her to give him oral sex.


The horrific account doesn’t end there. At this point, a woman, witness Dara Florence, walked into the room and Jackson allegedly asked if she’d like to join. The account continues:

Jackson then tried to force his entire hand into the woman, she said, adding that by this stage she was bleeding heavily from her vagina.

Then McIlroy entered the room completely naked and holding his penis as if he were masturbating, she told counsel. “I thought this is not happening again,” she said.

She immediately got off the bed and grabbed her clothes. She put her trousers on and her underpants in her pocket. She said McIlroy said to her: “You f***ed the other guys, why won’t you f**k me?”

She told McIlroy: “How many times does it take for a girl to say no for it to sink in?”


In the following days, the alleged victim texted Harrison, who was initially charged with misleading police during the investigation, that the incident “was not consensual.”

According to the BBC, the men insisted the oral sex was consensual, but denied having intercourse with her. Meanwhile, the defense attempted to discredit the woman with several sexist tactics, including alleging that she targeted Jackson for his fame. And now Jackson’s lawyer, Joe McVeigh, is asking for legal protections that would maintain anonymity of accused rapists like Jackson unless proven guilty.

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Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.

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