Lyra McKee – Murder Weapon Found

At long last, investigators have located the gun that assholes from the so-called New IRA used to murder the journalist Lyra McKee over a year ago in Derry.

Police reform is an urgent issue in the United States right now, and I hope that reformers might look to the PSNI for an example of how it can be done successfully. This police force is far from perfect. But, it has continued the investigation into the tragic murder of Lyra McKee for over a year, dealing with a community that historically does not trust the police.

The fact that the PSNI has uncovered this gun, and that people are willing to talk to the police from the Catholic community in Derry says a lot about the success of turning the sectarian RUC into the (mostly) non-sectarian PSNI.

Domestic Abuse in Lockdown

Domestic violence is a euphemism for assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and/or murder or one’s intimate partner.

In Ireland, as around the world, cases of “domestic violence” have increased dramatically as the coronavirus pandemic forced people into lockdown. Today’s Irish Times is reporting that the gardaí are committed to protecting victims of domestic assault. Women and children have been trapped with their abusers for months now, and calls to helplines have increased by 60 percent! 

This is an unacceptable state of affairs. The gardaí can and must do better to lock up the abusers. But the problem doesn’t start or end with punishment. Society must do more to teach abusers–most of whom are men–that their wives, girlfriends, and children are not their property. Men do not have the right to assault their partners and kids with impunity, yet it seems that when some men are threatened with impotence (in this case as the result of the pandemic) they try to repair their fragile sense of masculinity by abusing the people they allegedly love.

Ireland can do better. So can the world.

Let’s march against domestic violence.

Rape Conviction & an Appalling Headline

The Irish Times should be hanging its head in shame today after this disgusting headline: “Two Men Jailed for Raping ‘Blind Drunk’ student in Co Donegal.”

Two men were convicted of raping a young woman, who is now in her 20s. The men, Boakye Osei (30), of Tooban, Burnfoot, and Kelvin Opoku (33), of Cill Graine, Letterkenny, were sentenced to nine years in prison for their crime. The latter of the two men continues to blither about how he is innocent, and that the victim/survivor set him up by rubbing his DNA on a condom. 

Wait, SAY WHAT NOW?

The victim/survivor stated that on a scale of 1-10 of drunkenness, she was a 10 and about to pass out. Does that sound like someone who had the mental capacity to somehow rub a man’s DNA on a condom in order to set him up for rape? Not to mention the fact that the rapist is relying on an outdated, disgusting trope that sets up women as manipulative bitches who falsely accuse men of raping them.

The perpetrators in this case are foul humans. They deserve to every day of that nine years in jail.

And the foulness of these rapists makes the Irish Times headline even more repulsive. These men offered a lift to an obviously intoxicated woman and then raped her. The headline that she was “blind drunk” suggests that the victim/survivor had fault in this scenario.

Disgusting.

Shameful Paddy’s Day Celebration on Staten Island

The New York Times reported today that the morons in charge of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Staten Island are continuing to ban LGBTQ+ groups from marching in the parade and celebrating their identity as queer and Irish-American (or just Irish). Or queer and Catholic.

According to the Times, Larry Cummings, the bigoted president of the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day parade committee, stated, “Our parade is for Irish heritage and culture. It is not a political or sexual identification parade.” He later said, “Here’s the deal, it’s a nonsexual identification parade and that’s that. No, they are not marching. Don’t try to keep asking a million friggin’ questions, OK?”

Cummings’s statements are total bullshit, though, because by banning displays of LGBTQ+ identity, he IS politicizing the event, and he IS making it a sexual display–heterosexual only. His remarks are naive at best, and pathetically disingenuous at worst. Fuck this guy.

Some Catholic officials have distanced themselves from the event, claiming that the the parade doesn’t represent the Catholic church. Good for them for not being overt bigots. But the official policy of the Catholic church continues to be to refuse to perform or recognize same-sex marriages. So, therefore, zero points given to Pope Francis for his “Who am I to judge?” remark. In fact, no points will be given until Pope Francis stands up in public–I’d prefer it to happen on Easter Sunday–and declare that God loves gays (why else would He keep making them?).

To imply, as the organizers of this parade are doing, that it is celebrating Irish culture WHILE refusing to recognize LGBTQ+ individuals AS SUCH shows a disgusting disregard for the heritage these idiots claim to be celebrating. Ireland in 2020 is not the Ireland of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and Éamon de Valera. To the contrary, Ireland legalized same-sex marriage through a referendum in 2015. It’s out-going taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is an openly gay Irish man. As a whole, Ireland welcomes the queer community–policies of the dumbass Catholic church aside.

This kind of attitude, as perpetuated by Larry Cummings, is the same attitude that keeps religious animosity endemic in certain elements of Irish and Irish-American society. “Irish” and “Catholic” are not synonymous. There are Irish Protestants and Irish Jews and Irish Muslims. You can be queer and be Irish; you can be hetero and be Irish. In my considerable experience living in Belfast and Dublin, as well as earning a PhD in Irish history, I can testify that Ireland has changed a lot–it is a society that values liberal individualism, and it is open to all kinds of people.

This representation of “Irish” heritage that we will see on Staten Island is an archaic manifestation of de Valera’s “comely maidens” bullshit. In fact, I would argue that de Valera’s narrow-minded idealistic view of Ireland never did exist. Statistics on sexual activity and pregnancy outside of marriage bear this out, among many other trends.

Staten Island’s Paddy’s Day parade, and Larry Cummings in particular, need to cop the fuck on. Let the LGBTQ+ community represent their Irish heritage AND their queerness in the parade.

Rape in Kentucky

Sometimes I research things other than Ireland. Here are some thoughts on a new law in Kentucky that legalizes rape by a foreign object. –or, rather, institutionalizes rape by a foreign object.

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By declining to review a Kentucky law mandating that pregnant women undergo vaginal ultrasounds before they can have an abortion, the Supreme Court has allowed this statute to take effect. This procedure is designed to humiliate vulnerable women, and it also constitutes rape by a foreign object. Kentucky should immediately repeal this misogynistic legislation.

I wrote my doctoral dissertation on sexual assault, and I have read hundreds of historic and current laws that address the actions that constitute rape. And I can say with authority that Kentucky’s vaginal-ultrasound requirement definitely falls under the sexual-assault umbrella in many parts of the world, including the United States.

In a bygone era, rape laws were written narrowly to include only forcible penetration of the vagina by the penis; force was myopically defined to require the use of physical violence. Other types of nonconsensual penetration were included in a different, and lesser, class of crime. Plus, in many places around the world and in many states in the US, sexual activity other than “traditional” penis-in-vagina sex was already illegal in the form of “anti-sodomy” laws. In some places, a rape survivor’s father or husband was compensated for the loss of value of his “property.”

But, in the second half of the twentieth century, states began to give more protections to women, who claimed sexual agency of their own. Sexual assault became a major issue in the 1970s, highlighted by the landmark publication of Susan Brownmiller’s revolutionary book “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape” in 1975. Rape within marriage is now illegal in all 50 states (though this crime remains under-prosecuted and difficult to prove in court). Men are now seen as “legitimate” victims of rape. Oral and anal rape are criminal acts. Nonconsensual penetration by an object is also illegal.

We have come a long way in naming the lived experiences of survivors of sexual assaults and in criminalizing the variety of ways in which people use sex as a weapon. Indeed, calling them rape is an important step in itself.

But we cannot be complacent in our belief that lawmakers want to criminalize all forms of forced sexual contact. Indeed, the Kentucky statute legalizes rape.

In Kentucky, women seeking abortions must submit to a vaginal ultrasound. It is not a voluntary procedure, and therefore the ultrasound probe inserted into the vagina constitutes forcible penetration without any type of meaningful consent. Acquiescence to the procedure in this context constitutes a constrained choice. In economics, a constrained choice occurs when a rational actor assesses the best choice in a situation in which her options are “constrained” by a limiting factor. In Kentucky, the woman must choose between having the ultrasound and thus being allowed to have the abortion; or, not having the ultrasound and thus being forced to carry the pregnancy (or resorting to an illegal and unsafe abortion). Thus, the “choice” is not really a choice at all; it is not meaningful or affirmative consent. You don’t have to be Captain Olivia Benson to identify the coercion in this situation.

Moreover, the Kentucky abortion law, by the state’s own legal code, constitutes third-degree sexual abuse, defined as: “Subjecting another person to sexual contact without the victim’s consent,” a class-B misdemeanor. It could also be first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, if the person seeking the abortion is a minor, since the doctor in this situation is an authority figure.

The requirement that the doctor describe the fetus to the woman, and that, if possible, the doctor force the woman to hear the fetal heartbeat, is a disgusting version of paternalism. This requirement assumes that women do not understand the meaning of an abortion, and so the law—written largely by men—steps in to explain (or “man-splain”) to the woman what she is really asking for. This implication is insulting, degrading, and infantilizing.

So, I want to urge Kentucky to prove that this law is not a form of legalized misogyny: the state should pass a new law that requires men seeking erectile dysfunction medications to submit to a formal medical measurement and description of their penises.

Or, Kentucky could do the right thing and repeal the mandatory ultrasound statute.

Fingal By-Election

The Fingal by-election is happening this Friday, 29 November. Even though this is only one small slice of Ireland, this election is important because it has consequences that could be significant for the Alt-Shite movement. If the constituency elects another Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green Party, or Sinn Féin TD, we’ll be fine. I honestly have no skin in that game since, as you know, I live in New York City.

I, and every right-thinking person, does have skin in the game in terms of the potential election of conspiracy theorist Gemma O’Doherty. I don’t expect her to win a seat in the Dáil, but that’s hardly the point; rather, if she receives any significant number of votes, she will be buoyed to continue her campaign of insanity.

Gemma O’Doherty is more dangerous than many people think. While I know that it’s tempting to laugh at her for the many ridiculous stunts that she pulls, I urge Irish people not to write her off as a wacko. Don’t get me wrong–she is definitely a wacko. But she is a hateful, spiteful, and fucking smart as shit wacko with the potential to disrupt Irish politics.

Gemma knows what she is doing. She understands that a large group of people who care about the world, but who are under-educated and/or under-informed, are vulnerable to her peddling of conspiracies. She capitalizes on weakness and prejudice. It’s easy to believe some of the crap she says if one doesn’t have an alternative base of knowledge. For example, you can see that she believes that 5G Internet causes cancer:

It sounds plausible, doesn’t it? Ireland does have the third-highest cancer rate in the world, according to the World Cancer Research Fund. If you think 5G is “radiation” and you know that “radiation” causes cancer, you can make this leap. After all, some forms of radiation do indeed cause cancer, especially in high concentrations. Ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, gamma rays, and other high-energy radiation can disrupt the DNA-replication process and result in malignant tumors. That’s 100% true. HOWEVER, 5G and low-energy radiation from cellular phones is not the kind of radiation that causes cancer. She takes advantage of people’s ignorance in order to portray herself as the lone truth-teller in a sea of corrupt politicians from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green, Sinn Féin, etc.

She also conflates related concepts in order to portray politicians and individuals as perverse. On Facebook, she equated masturbation with paedophilia:

She promotes this notion as a criticism of the new sex-education curriculum, which will allow young people to be agents in their own sexual development–and agency will prevent actual paedophilia and actual sexual assaults. Plus, people who have knowledge will have healthier sex lives as teenagers and adults, and they will know how to prevent unwanted pregnancies, thus resulting in fewer unwanted children and fewer abortions. Masturbation is a healthy and safe way to explore one’s own sexual desires. With access to the Internet, kids can learn about sexuality in very unhealthy ways that will teach them incorrect notions about what a healthy sexual relationship looks like. Or, they can be given knowledge by educators in a safe environment, and they can use that knowledge to empower themselves. Sex is an important part of being human, and to deny that is to deny our own humanity. After all, very few other species engage in sex for fun. It’s part of what makes humankind unique.

The Bible is the only justification for such a point of view–and Ireland is no longer a state dominated by the Catholic hierarchy. Gemma wants to return to the bad-old-days in which John Charles McQuaid was “ruler of Catholic Ireland,” and the government took its orders from the church.

Gemma also condemns “globalism” on a near quotidian basis. Here’s a representative statement that she posted to Facebook today:

Lots of “scary” words here, right? Ooooh, the boogeyman is coming with “Big Pharma” and “Satanic worship” and vaccines! HIDE YOUR CHILDREN!!!

No, really: abortion is a medical procedure. LGBTQ+ people are, well, people who live their lives peacefully. Vaccines save billions of lives. Fluoride improves dental health. Climate change isn’t a hoax. I guess we can all get behind the idea that “degeneracy” is bad, but I think Gemma would define it differently than most sane, right-thinking people. Fast food…well, I’m not going to defend that one, but I condemn it on the grounds of animal cruelty, abuse of workers, and promotion of obesity (I’m honestly not sure why Gemma hates fast food).

Glyphosate and “Big Pharma” deserve a bit of time, though. Gemma’s attack on glyphosate is one reason why she is so smart and so dangerous. Glyphosate is an herbicide, which kills plants; because plants have different cellular structures than humans, pure glyphosate is actually rather harmless to people. But, glyphosate is usually combined with other chemicals, and those chemicals make glyphosate more toxic to humans. Gemma isn’t wrong about this one; she doesn’t lie about everything. Less savvy consumers of media might then be inclined to think that she is telling the truth about other things, too. But just because one idea isn’t a lie doesn’t imply that her other notions have truth. Be careful.

As for “Big Pharma”….she thinks that pharmaceutical companies have an agenda to promote “unsafe” vaccines. Do companies make some money off of vaccines? Yeah, they do, but vaccines actually aren’t the major source of income for these companies. New drugs, that retain their patent, are the most expensive products and the biggest cash cows for pharmaceutical companies. This is a big part of why companies continue to research and produce new, and more effective, prescription drugs. People can live with HIV because of pharmaceutical companies. I don’t love how expensive drugs are, especially in the United States if you lack health insurance. But, this is where capitalism is a force for good: most life-saving medications are developed in the United States, where they are most profitable. I don’t like that people have become uber-rich by gauging people for medications that will save their lives; it’s somewhat unethical because we all know that most people will shell out any amount of money to save their own life or the life of someone they love. Still, profit is a powerful motivator. Gemma is misguided here, but major companies are also an easy mark, and attacking corporations is a line that cuts across class divisions and political allegiances. Again: she’s smart. Don’t fall for this nonsense. Vaccines save lives.

Also, Gemma harasses peaceful, private citizens, such as the owners and employees of a small halal meat shop. Look, I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 25 years. I truly hate meat. I hate the meat industry. I have no love for pork producers (I do, however, have love for pigs. They’re cute and very smart). But it’s way out of line to walk into a butcher shop with a camera and ask for pork, and when she is told they don’t have pork, Gemma asks “why not?” using as justification for her stupid question the fact that she is in Ireland, and “Irish people” allegedly love pork. There are plenty of Irish vegetarians and vegans and Jews and Muslims who don’t love pork, but that’s not really the point at all. (Although she wouldn’t consider Jews and Muslims to be Irish, regardless of their birth or parentage.) You can view this video here:

So, don’t fall into the trap of thinking Gemma O’Doherty is crazy but ultimately harmless. She is savvy; she knows how to fool vulnerable people into supporting her. She capitalizes on people’s weaknesses and prejudices for her own personal gain. Stop her while you can, before Ireland has its own version of Donald Trump.

Vote for literally anyone except Gemma if you vote in Fingal.

Sentencing of Ana Kriégel’s murderers

On Tuesday, at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin, Mr. Justice Paul McDermott sentenced the two boys who were found guilty of the murder of 14-year-old Ana Kriégel. The boys, known as Boy A and Boy B because they were only 13 years old when they committed the murder, will spend much of their lives behind bars. Boy A, who was found guilty of murder and aggravated sexual assault, was sentenced to a life term that can be reviewed in 12 years. Boy B, convicted ofmurder, was sentenced to 15 years with the sentence to be reviewed in eight years. 

The two boys are the youngest people ever to be found guilty of murder in Ireland. As a result, there was no precedent for how to sentence the boys, and Justice McDermott exercised some discretion in meting out punishment. In Ireland, murder carries an automatic life sentence, but the young age of the boys was a mitigating factor. The judge was quoted in the Irish Times as saying, “Her family will have to bear their grief for the rest of their lives. At least you will have the opportunity to reconstruct yours in a positive way.” And, he posed a challenge to them, “Will you take it?” I hope that they will, because Ana Kriegel will never have that opportunity.

Both boys will serve their time in Oberstown child detention facility until they turn 18, at which point they will be transferred to a prison for adult offenders. Although the verdict was handed down in the spring, sentencing was delayed until this week so that the boys could undergo psychological evaluations. The Court also considered the victim-impact statement given by Ana’s mother, Geraldine. Ana’s mother expressed how much they miss their daughter, and how this grief will stay with them for the rest of their lives. She said, “Life without Ana is no longer a life, nor is it even an existence–it is a misery that we must endure for the rest of our lives.” 

Boy A now acknowledges that he murdered Ana (though he denies the sexual assault), but Boy B continues to deny any involvement in the murder. Their acceptance of responsibility will likely be a factor when the court revisits their sentencing in 12 or eight years, respectively.

Ana Kriégel. Photo credit: Irish times.

The press mishandled the reporting of Ana Kriégel’s murder. Gruesome details of the killing and the state in which Ana’s body was found have been published in newspapers in Ireland and around the world. Ana’s parents have to live with the agony of their daughter’s death, and they also have to live with the knowledge that millions of people know what happened to her. At the same time, the boys responsible for killing Ana have been given legal protection: their names have been withheld, and people in the courtroom can be prosecuted if they reveal the boys’ names to the public. 

This contradiction is deeply disturbing. Some people have argued that the boys’ names should be revealed now that they have been found guilty, and that their families should have to live with shame as Ana’s family must live with her death.  But an “eye for an eye” does not seem to be an appropriate response. Rather, the media should be more sensitive in publishing the gory details about the murder of a teenager. Nothing can be gained by publishing the private information about the two guilty parties. 

The other controversial issue is one of appropriate punishment for this crime. Ana lost her life, and it is easy to argue that the people responsible should also lose theirs–at least by withering away in prison. And yet, the boys were 13 years old when they committed the crime. Should 13-year-old children be kept behind bars for decades for any crime? Consider, even if they live just to be 70, that they will have spent 57 years in jail. 

This question leads to a larger philosophical quandary about the purpose of custodial sentences in the criminal-justice system. Clearly, people who are duly convicted of crimes need to be punished for doing so, or we would have no system of justice to speak of. But can a custodial sentence also serve to educate and rehabilitate offenders? Or, do violent offenders forfeit their futures because they have essentially opted out of society?

As an American, I struggle with this last question. Our prisons overflow with nonviolent offenders (mostly for drug crimes) and with people who committed a series of minor offenses but find themselves incarcerated for long periods under so-called “three strike” laws–because it’s a great idea to apply the rules of baseball to meting out punishment for criminals? Until 2005, states were allowed to execute people for crimes committed when they were under 18 (and 22 such executions happened between 1976 and 2005). 

Or, with time, counseling, and education, could Boys A and B heal and become positive members of Irish society? We don’t know the answer to that question, which is why their sentences will be periodically reviewed by the courts. They deserve the opportunity, though. And I know it offends people to hear that the murderers of an innocent, vivacious teenage girl “deserve” anything. 

Yet history is replete with stories of people who did terrible things, served their time, and became better people. Many of these people were nonviolent offenders such as Frank William Abagnale, the protagonist of Catch Me if You Can, who is a fraud consultant for the US government. But, consider also the case of Kweisi Mfume, who was involved in crime (the degree of involvement is controversial) and fathered five children while still a teenager; he went on to become president of the NAACP and a US Congressman from Maryland. And, there is the impressive historical work of Michelle Jones, who spent decades in prison for murdering her four-year-old daughter, and became a graduate student at NYU. 

I wrote my dissertation on sexual assault in the Republic of Ireland, so I know that this nation’s history is also replete with cases in which violent sexual predators have not received appropriate levels of punishment for their offenses–but this is not such a case. Justice McDermott meted out a harsh custodial sentence, and one that is especially unusual in a country that recoils from incarcerating minors. I am glad that he believes in the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption–and I’m equally glad that I did not have to choose the punishment for these boys. 

 

Defending Men’s Right to Procreate via Rape: Lessons from Ireland

In October 2012, Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian woman living in the Republic of Ireland, died from a septic miscarriage. Doctors at University Hospital Galway detected a fetal heartbeat, but, fearing prosecution, they refused to perform an abortion that would have saved her life. Ireland’s now-repealed 8th Amendment recognized “the right to life of the unborn” and the state guaranteed, “with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother,” that it would “defend and vindicate that right.” The state failed: both Savita and her fetus perished.

Memorial to Savita Halappanavar

Memorial in Dublin to Savita Halappanavar, who died from a septic miscarriage because doctors refused to perform an abortion. Photo: Buzzfeed.

Pro-choice activists have written widely about the dangers that will befall American women if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Still, these stories sound melodramatic to many anti-abortion activists. Like anti-vaxxers who have never seen polio, most opponents of abortion have never seen women suffer the agony of carrying an unwanted fetus, and believe these horrors to be the province of “third-world” countries. The example of Ireland is difficult to ignore, however, because the country is western, wealthy, and highly developed. Proponents of fetal-heartbeat laws such as the measure in Alabama that a federal judge blocked on October 29th, which made abortion a class A felony punishable by life imprisonment, should learn from Ireland’s experiences so the ranks of our obituary pages don’t swell with American Savitas.

Alabama’s law refuses exceptions in cases of rape and incest, and here, too, legislators can learn from Ireland. In 1992, in the X Case, Irish courts attempted to block a 14-year-old rape victim from leaving the country for an abortion. The girl was suicidal because of the rape and psychological trauma of pregnancy. After initial rulings that the child would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, protestors held signs that declared “Ireland Defends Men’s Right to Procreate by Rape.” In the end, Ireland’s Supreme Court ruled that X could obtain an abortion because her life was at risk. The original actions of the Irish government in X’s case, like Governor Kay Ivey’s statement that the Alabama law is a “powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is…a sacred gift from God” are nakedly hypocritical: they demonstrate a clear preference for the life of the fetus over the mental and physical well-being of women.

Savita and X were paradigm-changing cases in Ireland because both figures were innocent victims who could not be written off as “sluts” who sought abortions in order to avoid taking responsibility for their “sins.” Savita was a married woman; X was a child who was victimized by a predator. Both Savita and X represented the familial nation in crisis: their families were at risk not because of abortion, but because they could not access one.

Ireland has learned from its past and the government has put the nation on a cultural and legal path toward fully valuing women in society. Also on October 29th, the Irish government welcomed the report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception, which endorsed the provision of free contraception, including long-term methods such as intra-uterine devices and implants. Guaranteed access to contraception and sex education will prevent more cases like these two tragedies–and minimize abortion rates. 

Yet Alabama fails on this measure, too. The state does not require sex education in schools, and schools that do offer sex ed endorse abstinence over information. It is unsurprising, then, that the state has some of the highest teen-pregnancy rates in the country. It is misogynistic to refuse to provide information on sexuality and contraception, and then force women to bear the burden of an unwanted pregnancy. 

To be sure, anti-abortion activists will argue that even if abortion is legal only in cases of rape and incest, a flood of women will cry rape–so abortion should just be outlawed altogether. But Ireland also shows that this scenario is pure fantasy: after the X case, Ireland recognized suicide risk as grounds for abortion, and Ireland didn’t see a glut of pregnant women claiming to be suicidal. This theory represents a deranged view of women as manipulative Eves, willing to do anything to erase evidence of their alleged wrongdoing. Regardless, women deserve to have the law dignify our full humanity by allowing us control over our bodies; arguments about rape and incest are adendums to that point.

Spurred by activism in the wake of Savita’s death, in 2018, the people of Ireland voted by an overwhelming majority to legalize abortion. Upon the repeal of the 8th Amendment, Irish people left notes at a memorial to Savita expressing sorrow that the measure was too late to save her. America must learn from Ireland before we have a Memorial to the Women Who Died in Forced Pregnancy. 

 

Free Contraception

The report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception was released today. The report follows the commitment made by Minister for Health Simon Harris to make contraception free for everyone–men, women, nonbinary–by 2021. According to the report’s estimates this will cost €80-€100 million per year. While that amount might seem like a lot of money, the funds will be well spent.

The report notes:

“An economic rationale for a universal contraception programme has been advanced on the grounds that it has the potential to reduce the future burden of costs associated with unplanned or crisis pregnancies (including terminations).”

So, I hope that this reality will compel anti-choice zealots to support free contraception. Every reputable study of which I am aware–and I wrote my dissertation on rape, so I’m aware of many studies–demonstrates that the best way to prevent abortions is to increase access to contraception and information about how to use it. The most effective types of contraception are vasectomy, IUD, and implants, because they do not require people to remember to take a pill every day or put on a prophylactic in the heat of desire. Plus, I know that people complain that condoms reduce sensation. Awhile ago, Bill Gates funded a competition to design a “next generation” condom, and the last I read, this was the most viable candidate–it can last for up to 1,000 thrusts (and I’m pretty sure chafing would happen first).

Failure of anti-choice activists to support this bill will demonstrate only that they have no interest in preventing abortions; but, rather, their real interest is in controlling female sexuality, keeping women chained to the stove, and slut shaming. So, which is it going to be?

I also want to make note of two items in the report that the Irish Times pointed out:

“younger women aged 17-24…are more at risk of crisis pregnancy” AND “younger men hold a more negative attitude than older men towards women carrying condoms as a precautionary measure.”

Um, say what, now? Does anyone think that possibly these two facts are related? Clearly, the Irish Times doesn’t, because the paper of record did not relate them in the article, and noted them several paragraphs apart. But, these two findings seem to be linked, without question: if young women want to avoid being slut-shamed by potential sex partners for carrying condoms, they probably don’t carry condoms, and thus lack contraception when they have sex. Young men should be well ashamed for harboring such attitudes. –Hence, the need for more sex education in secondary school.

Finally, the report also vets the idea of changing the prescription requirements for oral contraceptives. This is an interesting idea, because it would reduce the burden involved in obtaining contraceptives. The report notes that in countries including the Netherlands and New Zealand, an initial prescription is required, but then women can access the pills over the counter (i.e., without a new prescription). In Ireland, as the law currently stands, oral contraceptives are a schedule S1B drug, meaning that women need to refill the prescription every six months. The six-month barrier can be significant, and I can see reasons why a lot of women would have difficulty meeting this requirement–going to see a doctor is a burden in terms of time, and cost, too, if one needs to take time off of work in order to see a doctor. Still, there are side effects to OCPs, and open access to prescription refills might not be a great idea, either, as a person’s health circumstances change over time.

 

 

Sexual Assault

This weekend’s Irish Times has a couple of stories that address sexual assault in Ireland. The most important one, by Conor Lally, presents some statistics:

“The number of sexual crimes reported to gardaí are the highest on record, the latest Central Statistics Office (CSO) data shows….

However, security sources say it is impossible to determine whether more sex crimes are being committed or whether victims are more willing to come forward due to the impact of #MeToo and other campaigns.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he noted the pronounced increase in sexual offences and said the Government was committed to prventing [sic] and addressing such crimes.

“I very much welcome that more victims are coming forward to Garda, and I urge victims to continue to do so.”

I have much to praise here, and much to be wary about.

Image result for consent

Stories like this one serve a dual purpose:

(1) They attempt to make survivors–and I wish Charlie Flanagan would have said “survivors” instead of “victims”–comfortable reporting sexual assault to the gardaí. We want survivors to report crimes, but it remains difficult to prosecute and convict rapists. The article does not report the ratio of reported assaults to arrests, prosecutions, and convictions. Ireland, like most countries, has a pathetic history of not punishing men (it’s almost always men) who commit sex crimes.

(2) While the article points out that the increase in reported sexual assaults might not indicate an increase in the actual numbers, it fails to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults remain unreported. The SAVI Report demonstrated much higher levels of sex crimes than are disclosed. So, the article may serve to increase fear of rape, while not giving enough details about the crimes. I mention this because stories about increases in sexual assaults create a penumbra that haunts women as they walk through the world. This penumbra, the fear of rape that is stoked by these stories, acts as social control over women. If you are afraid to leave the house, or afraid to walk alone, or afraid to dress a certain way or go to a certain place, your life is limited by fear. The idea of rape controls the choices that many women make on a daily basis, and so short pieces like this one aren’t helpful.

In addition, to come back around to one of my least-favorite favorite topics, people like Gemma O’Doherty will deploy these statistics against immigrants and ethnic minorities and claim that the uptick in crime is linked with the increase in immigration. These are two trends that are completely unrelated, but many people cannot distinguish between correlation and causation. To put this in perspective, imagine that the number of reported rapes has increased in 2019, as has the number of cat adoptions from shelters. Do more pet cats create more rapists? Obviously an absurd notion, as is the notion that an increase in immigration causes an increase in sexual assault. But stay tuned for an update, because I fully expect Gemma and/or Justin Barrett to make such a claim.

Charlie Flanagan’s statement is at least a public acknowledgment of the sexual-assault epidemic. But we need to teach children–tweens and teens, not five-year-olds, to be clear–about consent, and the right of each partner for mutual enjoyment of sex. What does consent look like? What does enthusiastic consent look like? How can a person say no to sex? How can couples have sex safely? I think the new sex ed program will help, but it will take years to see if consent education leads to a reduction in rapes.

I hope that teaching people that women have a right to sexual pleasure, and that men do are not entitled to access to women’s bodies, society will move in a different direction.