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Irish outcry over teenager's underwear used in rape trial

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Media captionIrish MP Ruth Coppinger protested by brandishing lacy underwear in parliament

A series of protests over sexual consent have been taking place in Ireland, a week after a man was acquitted of raping a 17-year-old.

In the trial, the defence lawyer told the jury: "You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front."

The 27-year-old man was found not guilty of rape shortly afterwards.

The controversy led one Irish MP to hold up a lace thong in parliament to highlight "routine victim-blaming".

Ruth Coppinger produced the blue lacy underwear in the Dáil (Irish parliament) from her sleeve on Tuesday.

"It might seem embarrassing to show a pair of thongs here... how do you think a rape victim or a woman feels at the incongruous setting of her underwear being shown in a court?"

What happened at the trial?

The case, in which the man was cleared of rape, was originally reported by the Irish Examiner newspaper on 6 November.

The accused maintained that the sexual contact between him and the girl, which took place in a laneway in Cork, had been consensual.

Details of the closing argument presented by his senior counsel Elizabeth O'Connell, however, attracted widespread attention and prompted a series of online protest movements.

"Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone?" she asked, according to the Examiner's report.

"You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front."

How did the protests start?

The day after publication of that court report, the head of Dublin's Rape Crisis Centre criticised the barrister's remarks.

Although she did not question the verdict, she called for reform of a legal system in which she said such suggestions were frequently made.

Amid increasing media attention, Irish social media users expressed outrage at the remarks in court.

Under the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent, Irish women posted photographs of their underwear in all shapes, colours, and materials to protest the use of such techniques in court.

Many pointed to other countries which have tighter controls on what can be introduced in rape trials, and in what manner the jury can consider them.

After producing lacy underwear in Ireland's national parliament, Ms Coppinger told one supporter that compulsory training should be introduced for both judges and jurors.

The controversy surrounding the trial was reminiscent of an outcry over intimate details made public in the trial of two high-profile rugby players, who were cleared of rape in Northern Ireland earlier this year. The revelations caused controversy on both sides of the border.

What happened at the protests?

Lunchtime protests calling for an end to "victim-blaming in the courts" took place in a number of Irish cities on Wednesday, organised by Socialist feminist group Rosa.

In Cork, where the trial took place, an estimated 200 people gathered to march on the courthouse and lay underwear on its steps.

In the capital, supporters gathered at the Spire of Dublin, where a "washing line" strung between lampposts displayed women's underwear.

Other protests were set to take place in the western city of Limerick on Wednesday, and Waterford in the south-east on Friday.

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