In Londonderry last week, an unsurprising act was followed several days later by a surprising one. The unsurprising one was when an 18-year-old American student was raped at knifepoint outside the Bogside Inn. The surprising one was when the Brandywell Women's Association organised a candle-lit vigil in solidarity with the young victim.
The rape was unsurprising - this kind of thing happens all the time. In Northern Ireland last year, 356 rapes were officially recorded - that's very nearly an average of a rape a day. If you take into account the police estimate that just 15% of rapes are reported, then the annual figure jumps to around 2,000, which would mean an average of six rapes a day here. Do you remember public demonstrations of solidarity with the victim or outrage at the crime? Me neither.
Maybe that's because an awful lot of people believe a woman who is raped is at least partly responsible for what happens to her. A couple of years ago Amnesty International polled 1,000 people in Britain. They found that near to one-third believed that if a woman wore revealing clothing or got drunk, she was partly to blame if she got raped. That must be a consoling thought if you're planning a rape: the chances are six to one your crime won't be reported to the police, and if it is, and your case comes before a jury, just short of a third of the jury may see it as not completely your fault, especially if the woman involved wore a short skirt or was seen having a beer or two before the attack.
But right-thinking people know the truth about rape attacks and are outraged by them, aren't they? It seems not. The Amnesty survey also found that 96% of the UK population hadn't the faintest idea how many rapes occurred annually. If people don't know what's going on, it's hard to see how they can care.
And they should. Because after murder, rape is surely the most cowardly of crimes. To commit a rape, the aggressor by definition must be bigger and stronger than his victim, so what occurs is bullying in a particularly obscene form. By carrying out the rape, the perpetrator is telling the victim that her will about what happens to her body means nothing compared to his will that she be violated. The tenderness of sexual love is replaced by the callousness of sexual hatred.
And yet we remain unmoved. If the Amnesty figures hold true here, most of us can't be bothered to find out how much of this horror surrounds us; and when we do hear of a case, many of us can be persuaded that the victim was in part to blame.
How then to explain the outpouring of support for the young woman attacked in the Bogside? An answer may lie in a statement from the Brandywell Women's Association.
They are reported as saying their vigil was 'to show the world' that this violence to the young visitor is rejected by the community. The fact she was a visitor, an outsider, somehow made the crime seem worse.
We tend to be that way about visitors. If a tourist is attacked and robbed, or has their car stolen, you'll sometimes hear that the local community has tried to right the balance with a ceremony or gift for the victim, impressing on them that local people feel sympathy with their plight and indignation at what has happened.
Good. A positive deed, placed in the scales alongside a negative deed, at least says something about what we feel. Except isn't there a hint of 'What will the neighbours think?' in this reaction?
It surfaces in other forms as well. At a domestic level, if we hear that visitors are coming, we dash around trying to make the place look decent. Shortly before Bill and Hillary Clinton came to Belfast in 1995, Belfast City Council did a massive make-over on the front of City Hall. When there's a phone-in lamenting poor service in shops or litter on our streets, inevitably a number of callers will ask "What will visitors think of us?" Our drive for change or improvement or even justice is in part fuelled by a feeling that we mustn't let ourselves down; the rest of the world is looking on.
Is it an Irish thing? I don't remember hearing English people fret over litter or shop service or crime levels because of what the rest of the world might think. Or Americans. Or Italians. By and large other populations want things in their country to be the best possible, but primarily for the sake of the people living there. For the people themselves, not those who pass through.
So good for the Brandywell Women's Association: they're right to disown the stupid, brutish coward who committed this crime. But any hint of a hierarchy of victims, with visitors at the top, is not a good idea.
As a certain female British prime minister once remarked: "A crime is a crime is a crime".