Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial: Suzanne Breen: Sportsmen's online chatter betrayed truly disheartening level of sexism

By Suzanne Breen

Before they sat in the dock of Belfast Crown Court, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were widely held up as role models for young people in Northern Ireland.

Thousands of schoolboys aspired to be just like them. Without a second thought, parents encouraged their sons to look up to the Ireland and Ulster Rugby players.

Football stars get a bad name. With their flash cars, bling and nightclub antics, they are no longer universally regarded as males in whose footsteps the younger generation should be following.

They have hit the headlines too often for the wrong reasons in recent years. There's a snobbery factor at work, too. Footballers are generally working-class. Rugby players are regarded as a superior set of individuals.

Jackson and Olding were found not guilty of rape by the unanimous verdict of a jury yesterday. Blane McIlroy, who was accused of exposure, and Rory Harrison, who was charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information, were also acquitted.

But despite the not guilty verdicts, the attitude towards women of Jackson, Olding and McIlroy as revealed in court by social media conversations, raises many questions.

The image that emerged from their post-party chat was that of a bunch of spoilt, smug, arrogant idiots with little respect for the female sex. It was surely not a face that Ulster Rugby wants to present.

The terms used to refer to girls at the party and to sexual encounters were not what should be acceptable in 2018 when the struggle for equality between men and women is meant to have been won.

The level of conversation seemed more like the script from a bad porn movie than what you would expect from leading sportsmen.

It was argued in court that these were just exaggerated boasts that mean nothing and certainly didn't represent the characters of the men involved. Yet to me it seemed to be an insight into just how some men today unfortunately still regard women when they are talking among themselves.

In a series of WhatsApp messages, they boasted of their sexual exploits. "We are all top shaggers," Olding declared. Jackson said: "There was a lot of spit roasting last night."

Olding replied it "was like a merry-go-round at the carnival". Another member of a WhatsApp group asked: "Who? Are they brasses?" Jackson replied with a picture of three girls who were at the party.

McIlroy described himself and his friends as "legends".

He posted a photo of himself with females at the party with the caption 'love Belfast sluts'.

The conversations indicated that despite their respectable family backgrounds and sporting success, these men saw the women they socialised with that as inferior human beings. That's why they denigrated them in group chat.

In another message McIlroy sent to a friend, he said: "I pumped a bird with Jacko on Monday - roasted her."

Looking at the tall, handsome dark-haired young man - impeccably dressed as he walked into court every day - you would never guess that he would speak of women in this way.

The sexual encounters as described in the WhatsApp messages do not appear as ones where the participants have equal status. Women emerge as sexual objects who have things done to them and will later be the subject of male boasts.

There may have been more "flutes than the 12th of July" on display that night, but there wasn't a lot of class.

If the detail of similar antics emerged about Northern Ireland boxers, how would they be seen? Think of all the adjectives that would be used to describe them. Just because these sportsmen are from a different side of town doesn't mean they should be viewed more generously.

Belfast Telegraph

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