Rugby rape trial: Is this NI’s #MeToo moment?

“From Hollywood to Belfast, #MeToo sparked a women-led movement against sexual harassment and assault.”

These were the words on a Facebook post promoting a discussion earlier this week, in the wake of a high-profile rugby rape trial in Northern Ireland.

Ireland and Ulster Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were both acquitted of all charges, but the conversation around the trial shows no signs of abating.

  • Ulster rugby pair cleared of rape
  • Key people who made the headlines
  • Trial that played out beyond court

    The wider issues raised by the case, and in particular the players’ message exchanges – containing explicit sexual terms about women – have prompted intense debate.

    Some say it is indicative of a misogynistic culture, but another strand of opinion points to a generational shift in attitudes – prompted, in part, by social media.

    One of the debates alludes to the viral #MeToo movement, that sprang up in America in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

    Women and men from all over the globe who claim to have been sexually harassed have shared their stories across social media using #MeToo,

    • Advert calls for players to be dropped
    • Petition wants Jackson, Olding reinstated
    • Rugby legend calls for players’ return
    • Jackson apology over ‘degrading’ Whatsapp chat

      Fiona Ferguson from People Before Profit, the group that organised the panel discussion in Belfast, said it was clear people want a similar #MeToo movement in Northern Ireland.

      Ms Ferguson pointed to the thousands of people who attended protests in Dublin, Belfast and beyond after the trial finished.

      But she said those protests “tapped into an anger” that went beyond the trial.

      “The anger is something that has built up over a long period of time. It’s the way that women are treated by society, not just about the trial, but other issues like the abortion laws in the republic. The case touched a wide layer of people.

      “It was one case, but it lit a spark.”

      ‘Real fans standing up for Ulster men’

      Last week, a crowd-funded advertisement was taken out in a Belfast newspaper calling for Mr Jackson and Mr Olding to be dropped by Ulster and Ireland.

      They described the Whatsapp messages that emerged during the trial as “reprehensible”. Mr Jackson later apologised for the messages.

      However, a separate advert was published days later, calling on Ulster and Irish rugby to reinstate “innocent men” to playing duties.

      That advert was signed by “real fans standing up for the Ulster men”.

      The former Ulster and Ireland rugby captain, Willie John McBride, believes that Mr Jackson and Mr Olding should be allowed to play for their province and country again.

      “At the end of the day, they were not guilty”, said Mr McBride, who is the president of the Ulster Rugby Supporters Club.

      “It’s time these guys were back, and I hope that the Ulster authorities and the Irish authorities allow these guys to do what they do best – and that’s play rugby.”

      Changes in law

      But the debate has become wider than whether the men will play again, with people – many of them on social media – calling for changes in the law as well as compulsory sex education, that among other issues, deals with the issue of consent.

      On Friday night, a protest was held outside Kingspan stadium in Belfast, the home of Ulster rugby.

      Kelly Turtle, one of the organisers and co-founder of Belfast Feminist Network, said Ulster Rugby needed to take steps to stamp out “misogyny and sexism”.

      “We are saying to Ulster Rugby – you have to take responsibility for this, take drastic action to change the culture that’s allowed these attitudes to fester”.

      She claimed there would not have been such a large turnout outside the court on the day of the verdict had it not been for the #MeToo movement, but acknowledges that it won’t change through rallies alone.

      “It is not about the result of the trial, but the long, difficult process, the intense media coverage and the impact on the woman,” she said.

      One of Ulster Rugby’s key sponsors, Bank of Ireland, has already said it was “highly concerned” about issues arising out of the court case, pointing to “the serious behaviour and conduct issues” that had emerged.

      But what can change?

      Writer and broadcaster Finola Meredith believes education is the way forward – pointing to what she calls “blatantly misogynist, revolting, contemptible” Whatsapp messages revealed during the trial.

      “This is about our country, this is about who we want representing our country in this particular sports team,” she told BBC Radio Five Live.

      “Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, perhaps if they were going back to another job, we would say ‘yes, they’ve been acquitted, as they have, and they should just go back to their job’. But this is not just any job. They’re ambassadors, they’re role models and, in that context, an individual’s conduct really matters.

      “There’s a huge disquiet among a lot of people, that we don’t want to just brush this away as though it doesn’t matter and return the players to the team. There has to be some consequences for what we heard at the trial.”

      ‘There needs to be action’

      An internal review of the players’ conduct by the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) is currently under way and both players are suspended until that review is completed.

      However, Jonathan Bill, chairman of the Ulster Supporters Club, claimed the “vast majority of Ulster rugby fans” wants the players returned to the pitch.

      “In reinstating the players, absolutely it should not be as if nothing has happened. There should be measures to ensure that there’s some sort of mutual respect programme or something else put in place,” he said.

      During a BBC interview he was asked if it would damage Ulster Rugby if they returned?

      “It don’t know whether it tarnishes Ulster Rugby,” he said.

      “It puts Ulster rugby in the spotlight but, frankly, Ulster Rugby has been in the spotlight over the last number of weeks in a rather unpleasant sort of a way.

      “There needs to be action. I just think banning them from playing for Ulster would be disproportionate.

      “This has been a very unpleasant episode all round. There are no winners.”

#MeToo movement takes hold in South Korea

Young women in South Korea are fighting for a new future. The #MeToo movement which has highlighted sexual harassment and abuse around the world has taken a surprising hold in this socially conservative country.

Allegations which would once have been brushed aside have brought down some of the most prominent men in power, and women are coming forward to confront social norms that have silenced them for decades.

But can it last in a culture which often brands feminism as a dirty word?

Just last month singer Son Naeun of the popular group Apink was forced to defend a picture on Instagram of her holding a phone case which simply read “Girls can do anything.” She was accused of “promoting feminism” and deleted her post.

And even after months of abuse revelations, those who speak up risk derision and suspicion.

Skip Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

"My daughter- I hope that you will never ever have to shed the tears of pain that I shed for so many years. I was so young, so in pain and desperately tried to tell the world what I was going through…but everyone said it was such a shameful thing and forced me to keep silence."

— Hawon Jung (@allyjung) March 23, 2018

Report

End of Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

It’s worth noting that where this event took place – Gwangwhamun Plaza in Seoul – is the same place where thousands gathered for the mass candlelight demonstrations against the now-ousted president Park Geun-hye last year. South Koreans know the power of protest. They have seen it topple a president.

But can it change an entire culture?

The current administration has said it plans to extend the statute to limitations of power-based sexual abuse cases, and it has pledged to set up a process for victims to report sexual abuse anonymously.

Most women so far have been using an anonymous app called Blind to report abuse. At one point the company said there were around 500 posts a day.

However, President Moon Jae-in noted as he addressed the #MeToo movement that South Korea “cannot solve this through laws alone and we need to change our culture and attitude”.

Prof Joo Hee Lee, who teaches sociology at the all-female EWHA University, agrees.

“I think, most of all, the corporate culture should be changed. The South Korean corporate culture is characterised by an old boys’ network – very closed relations. They’ve excluded women’s voices and other diverse voices from management. So that must be corrected.”

The legal system can also make it difficult for women’s claims of abuse to be heard.

Lee Eun-eui took on the corporate giant Samsung Electro Mechanics after it failed to listen to her claims of abuse.

She reported it to human resources, only to find herself an outcast. At first she was given no work, then she was moved to a different department. She was told that no-one would be on her side.

“In the beginning I said the bigger the fight the bigger the reward,” she told me. “While that is a motto I apply to all different aspects of my life, the actual lawsuit was a very lonely and difficult process.

“But after going through the hardship and when it all ended well, I realised it was a fight that I had to do.”

It took four years, but a court eventually ruled in her favour. She now has a new career as a lawyer helping other women with sex abuse cases.

“I’m very happy when people who come to get advice from me tell me that I am their role model. I think then that it was really worth fighting for.”

There are other signs of change. Members of the younger generation are more aware of their rights and are keen to be assertive. I visited a university jiu-jitsu class where I was greeted by young women keen to talk about the #Metoo movement and “girl power” as they called it.

Hee Won-sung, is studying law, and has also studied in the US. She can see a difference in attitude.

“I think it’s far more difficult for women who’ve only lived in Korea because there’s a traditional criteria that women have to be quiet and nice and kind and stuff, nowadays it’s changing but it needs to change more.”

Prof Lee feels that this new generation could provide a breakthrough.

“It’s not been easy for younger women to speak up and confront or challenge the older man in power, but nowadays I think the generations of younger women are very well educated, they are more assertive and most of all they don’t want to put up with older generations’ ways of doing things, so I can see some hope there.”

The new strength being shown by women in South Korea is not welcomed by all. Some have described it as “man hate” and say the movement is a witch hunt.

But there is a quiet determination, especially among young South Koreans, to change what they feel is wrong and sweep away the pillars of this once patriarchal society.

#MeToo movement takes hold in South Korea

Young women in South Korea are fighting for a new future. The #MeToo movement which has highlighted sexual harassment and abuse around the world has taken a surprising hold in this socially conservative country.

Allegations which would once have been brushed aside have brought down some of the most prominent men in power, and women are coming forward to confront social norms that have silenced them for decades.

But can it last in a culture which often brands feminism as a dirty word?

Just last month singer Son Naeun of the popular group Apink was forced to defend a picture on Instagram of her holding a phone case which simply read “Girls can do anything.” She was accused of “promoting feminism” and deleted her post.

And even after months of abuse revelations, those who speak up risk derision and suspicion.

Skip Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

"My daughter- I hope that you will never ever have to shed the tears of pain that I shed for so many years. I was so young, so in pain and desperately tried to tell the world what I was going through…but everyone said it was such a shameful thing and forced me to keep silence."

— Hawon Jung (@allyjung) March 23, 2018

Report

End of Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

It’s worth noting that where this event took place – Gwangwhamun Plaza in Seoul – is the same place where thousands gathered for the mass candlelight demonstrations against the now-ousted president Park Geun-hye last year. South Koreans know the power of protest. They have seen it topple a president.

But can it change an entire culture?

The current administration has said it plans to extend the statute to limitations of power-based sexual abuse cases, and it has pledged to set up a process for victims to report sexual abuse anonymously.

Most women so far have been using an anonymous app called Blind to report abuse. At one point the company said there were around 500 posts a day.

However, President Moon Jae-in noted as he addressed the #MeToo movement that South Korea “cannot solve this through laws alone and we need to change our culture and attitude”.

Prof Joo Hee Lee, who teaches sociology at the all-female EWHA University, agrees.

“I think, most of all, the corporate culture should be changed. The South Korean corporate culture is characterised by an old boys’ network – very closed relations. They’ve excluded women’s voices and other diverse voices from management. So that must be corrected.”

The legal system can also make it difficult for women’s claims of abuse to be heard.

Lee Eun-eui took on the corporate giant Samsung Electro Mechanics after it failed to listen to her claims of abuse.

She reported it to human resources, only to find herself an outcast. At first she was given no work, then she was moved to a different department. She was told that no-one would be on her side.

“In the beginning I said the bigger the fight the bigger the reward,” she told me. “While that is a motto I apply to all different aspects of my life, the actual lawsuit was a very lonely and difficult process.

“But after going through the hardship and when it all ended well, I realised it was a fight that I had to do.”

It took four years, but a court eventually ruled in her favour. She now has a new career as a lawyer helping other women with sex abuse cases.

“I’m very happy when people who come to get advice from me tell me that I am their role model. I think then that it was really worth fighting for.”

There are other signs of change. Members of the younger generation are more aware of their rights and are keen to be assertive. I visited a university jiu-jitsu class where I was greeted by young women keen to talk about the #Metoo movement and “girl power” as they called it.

Hee Won-sung, is studying law, and has also studied in the US. She can see a difference in attitude.

“I think it’s far more difficult for women who’ve only lived in Korea because there’s a traditional criteria that women have to be quiet and nice and kind and stuff, nowadays it’s changing but it needs to change more.”

Prof Lee feels that this new generation could provide a breakthrough.

“It’s not been easy for younger women to speak up and confront or challenge the older man in power, but nowadays I think the generations of younger women are very well educated, they are more assertive and most of all they don’t want to put up with older generations’ ways of doing things, so I can see some hope there.”

The new strength being shown by women in South Korea is not welcomed by all. Some have described it as “man hate” and say the movement is a witch hunt.

But there is a quiet determination, especially among young South Koreans, to change what they feel is wrong and sweep away the pillars of this once patriarchal society.