A figure sits shivering in the drafty courthouse. She is only twenty two, alone except for the counsellor from the Rape Crisis Clinic. She waits for the judge to enter and sentence the man who sexually assaulted her. She must give her victim impact statement, and maybe then, she can concentrate on healing and taking care of herself. The courtroom door opens to reveal a line of men and women. Danny Foley, in the defence chair, receives condolences, handshakes and some tears while she, the state witness, the young woman who was found drugged and half naked by the police, gets dirty looks.
The prosecution of a sexual crime tends, in the public sphere, to compare the characters and lifestyles of the perpetrator and victim. Danny Foley’s defence exploited this paradigm and made it a key element. The defence used classism and sexism to attack the character of the woman. The fact that she lived in a council house was brought up. The fact that she had been drinking was brought up. Foley denied leading the victim away and stripping her and continued to do so until proven false by CCTV. He referred to the victim as “yer wan”, both dehumanising her and dismissing her in equal parts.
The woman knew the man who attacked her. She was there to celebrate his 34th birthday.
“I knew Danny for nine years. To me, he was the person that everyone thought he was. I trusted him, I felt comfortable with him. For him to go and do that, I don’t think I will every feel comfortable or trust a man again. [source]
Now, the people in her home town whisper as she passes and her local shop will not serve her.
People are staring at me, throwing dirty looks at me. I was refused service at a local shop. [source]
The victim has been convicted by the court of public opinion.
What makes this story unusual is that fifty men and women, including a priest, formed a line in the court room to sympathise with convicted sex offender, Danny Foley. Each waited their turn to shake his hand and to provide support to him. Their actions told the women of Listowel not to accuse a man of sexual assault if they wish to continue living normal lives. Given the difficulty in pursuing a conviction and high number of rapes and sexual assaults in Ireland, those fifty people stated through their actions that they do not care. They might as well have yelled from the rooftops that the victim was a dirty slut who would be punished.
Outside the provincial parochialism of north Kerry, a national scandal unfolded. Radio stations were buzzing with expressions of outrage and messages of support for the woman.
“What type of society are we living in?” … There were calls for the town to be boycotted, and for people to avoid attending the races there next year. “That’ll teach them an economic lesson,” one caller proposed. “Never again will I set foot in Listowel,” another declared. [source]
Within a day and a half, the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre received more than 400 phone calls and 300 e-mails expressing outrage at the treatment of the young woman. On a normal day, they receive about 20 calls.
Residents of Listowel who know neither party seem to care only for the town’s reputation.
The issue has continued to be debated in Listowel, where there is growing resentment at comments made on national media regarding the town, which is more accustomed to accolades from well-known literary and liberal figures who visit for Writers Week… It’s very unfair on Listowel. Unfortunately in the society we are living in, this horrific activity is taking place all over the country. Why target the good name of Listowel?… It’s a shame and disgrace that a tragic case can overrule the good name of a town…We are sick to death of it… There is total resentment at all this discussion. [source]
The defensiveness in the statements reveals an irritation rather than outrage. The people of Listowel are upset at the loss of their good name. They could condemn Danny Foley. They could condemn the fifty rape apologists. They could even have a march of solidarity for the victim, and show that they are not actually a town full of rape apologists in the process. Instead, the people of Listowel display mealy-mouthedness, distain and selfishness – hardly the best image for any town to project. Of course, the local politicians waited three days before commenting on the events, in what was probably a cynical exercise to curry favour with voters.
The emphasis on the “decent”, “respectable” and “normal” is a maintenance of the status quo. It implies that the unpleasantness is best swept under the carpet. Perhaps that is why so many citizens were abused by the Catholic church and the state – the decent, respectable and normal people did not want to know.
It is heartening to know, though, that such actions can still provoke outrage in the rest of Ireland, and that is the unkindest cut of all.