Mairia Cahill's armchair Provo trolls sink to sickest depths
How do you solve a problem like Mairia? Some Sinn Fein supporters, brave boys and girls hiding behind their Twitter aliases, believe they have the answer. They simply turn the muck spray on Cahill, bombarding her endlessly, day after day after day, with everything from petty jibes and "jokes", to direct threats, to the filthiest, dirtiest abuse they can muster.
The relentlessness, as much as the vile misogyny, is the point. The aim, presumably, is to batter down Cahill's defences, virtually beat her into submission so that eventually she can't take it any longer and gives up her campaign to expose the truth about sex abuse within the republican movement.
Internet attacks on Mairia Cahill are nothing new, of course. They started up almost as soon as the original Spotlight programme detailing her alleged abuse by a suspected IRA man was broadcast back in October last year. Since then the news agenda has moved on. But the trolls haven't.
They perform their self-imposed campaigning duties with total devotion, ever-faithful to the cause, racking their brains for new ways to insult Mairia, and all for the good of Mother Ireland. It's a nasty job but someone's got to do it. There have always been volunteers, willing to get their hands dirty, and this sort of counter-insurgent activity is easily carried out from the comfort of an armchair.
Much of it is unprintable. Some of it would be laughable in its puerile and grotesque ineptitude if it wasn't so malign in intent. Cutting the head off a picture of your victim and sticking it on the body of a fat, half-naked woman in a fishnet body-stocking is straightforward schoolboy bullying. But it's also a vicious attempt to sexually shame Cahill, to demean and diminish her, and that is a particularly hateful tactic given the nature of her past ordeal.
Last weekend a new Twitter account, parodying Cahill was set up. That's right, a parody account of an alleged rape victim. Because nothing could be funnier than a broken, traumatised woman, desperate for justice, right? Hilarious. Gets you every time.
Where does the Sinn Fein leadership stand on this nasty little war against Cahill? No matter what their differences with her may be over the truth of the alleged abuse and its aftermath, they should be loud and long and unequivocally clear in their complete condemnation of these tactics. To fail to do so will be read as an implicit endorsement, and a nod and a wink to continue dishing out the dirt, all while keeping their own hands relatively clean. Schoolboys again: until the big bully says it's time to call it quits, the lesser tyrants will keep on flushing people's heads down the toilet with impunity.
Of course, it's not just here in Ireland that rape victims find their trauma compounded by online attacks. The young woman who was raped as a teenager by former Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans, then left naked and abandoned in a hotel room, is now forced to live "on the run", according to her father. It gives a whole new meaning to the acronym OTR. No reassuring "letters of comfort" for this girl, though - quite the opposite. Hounded out of her home by Twitter trolls and her identity unlawfully revealed, she has since had to move house five times in three years, as well as change her name. Earlier this month Ciaran Goggins - previously pictured on Ched Evans' website as a "true friend and supporter" before abruptly being erased - was exposed as the author of comments describing the victim as a "false rape accuser" who was unhappy because she did not get a "big win" and "a pink Mini".
Some men - and women, sadly - need little excuse to get in touch with their own inner misogynist. The bitterness, hatred and resentment lurks just beneath the surface, waiting to be set free, and then directed at a mass-identified target. As we've seen in the Cahill case, the effect is even stronger when the woman-hating is fuelled by a warped sense of sanctified nationalism and misplaced tribal loyalty. But the result is always the same. One coward aims a sneaky kick, which gives another coward the confidence to join in with a lower, harder blow of his own. Soon they're all at it. I hope Mairia finds the strength to keep standing.