Irish lawyers have their knickers in a twist over Pantygate. Maybe they should have dressed for safety?
Barrister Elizabeth O’Connell — and other Irish lawyers — are completely stupefied that she should have been dragged through the Twitterverse and subjected to an all-around global roasting for the following closing argument, in which she defended a 27-year-old man charged with raping teenager in an alley, by implying that wearing a thong constitutes sexual consent.
Ms O’Connell made post “MeToo” legal history — and a laughing stock out of the Irish Legal System — with the immortalized line:
“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
What seems to have scunnered these learned officers of the court is that Ms O’Connell’s closing arguments caused such a degree of consternation that there were protests — offline and on. Among other things, they’re now demanding the law be changed to control new media reporting on public trials.
Mass outrage, and not a hint of introspection from the Irish legal profession. They seek to shield themselves rather than reform. Colour me not surprised.
Ms O’Connell’s likeness was published along with what the times of Ireland deems “personal information.” The picture is the standard laywer headshot that appears in legal journals, the Chambers web page, and so on. Public domain, folks, and published widely in the mainstream press. As for personal information, the Times of Ireland seems a wee bit light on specifics on the alleged doxxing. We do know that barristers are registered to chambers, to their legal offices, and it’s fairly easy to picket a public place of business. But yunno, O’Connell is the real victim here.
What Ms O’Connell is butthurt about is that she’s a complete social pariah, and that must irk. Professionally she might do well out of it as the go-to brief for every rapey scumbag in Dublin, but damn. In this day and age, the panties thing must have caused a rash of dinner cancellations and all-round social atrophy.
But really Elizabeth, did you not telegraph that when making an outrageous closing argument in which you undo years of jurisprudence, legal and social education in one fell swoop, you did not want to be attacked online? Did you specifically preface your argument with “I’m about to act like an entitled eejit in a public place, in which my words will have real impact and consequences for thousands of Irish women, and I specifically do not give my consent for my offensive, stupid words to be put on Twitter?” Can we not infer from the way in which you dressed your arguments, that you were attracted to the likely possibility of infamy and public ridicule? Instead, you’re playing the victim card.
Where’s your sense of ‘personal responsibility?’ We have to consider that waving a teenager’s knickers-metaphorically or literally- around a courtroom in a sensationalized piece of legal theater designed to get your client off the hook sends a certain signal, that you’re clearly up for it. And you didn’t say no to a public roasting, dearie, and in your book, the absence of a “no” is clearly a “yes,” right?
I understand you feel entitled to being treated with dignity and respect. Too bad. Well, welcome to the actual real world. And in this case, your karma’s broken down at the law and civics intersection. So don’t come crying to us with “I’m just a professional doing my job!” There was nothing professional about what you did. And just as the law protects your freedom of speech, allowing you (presumably) to bring the Irish legal system and the courts into disrepute in the course of your win-at-all-costs-and-damn-the-ethics strategy, the law cannot shield you from the social consequences of your actions.
A professional does not have to engage in theatrics or perpetuate harmful sexist myths to do their job. We know there are good, ethical defense lawyers who defend the indefensible every day and do just that — their job. In an adversarial system, there are still rules, conventions, and expectations. You can’t swear in court, for example. You’re not allowed to actively mislead the court or the jury. Ditto, perpetuating manifestly untrue myths that the way someone dresses telegraphs consent to sexual activity.
Clothing=consent is a lie, a harmful piece of misogyny that should have gone the way of phrenology and scientific racism years ago. If you wouldn’t advance an argument in court that Jewish or African brains are smaller than white peoples, then you shouldn’t have referenced the way the witness was dressed and invited the jury to read that as sexual consent. This is 2018, not 1932.
But you went and did it, and now you want the System to protect you from the social consequences of unprofessionalism.
So now you and your learned friends only want “bona fide” journalists and lawyers reporting on cases? What, you think your panties argument wouldn’t have made the press anyway? That there would have been no #thisisnotconsent campaign on twitter from outraged women across the world? You think feminist groups would have stayed stum as you made an eejit of yourself? Don’t be daft. Your closing argument made the front pages for a reason. Your words were wrong, they were outrageous, they were offensive, they were lies.
Don’t be an analog brief in a digital world, dear. You completely asked for it, and are now using your privilege — privilege, incidentally, that was won for you by better women — to try and shield yourself from the social consequences of what you said. You didn’t dress for safety, did you? You asked for it. And unlike the witness you tore apart on the stand, you’re unlikely to suffer as she did because of it.
I’m sure the dinner invitations will pick right back up once the furor has died down.