Why a celebrity rape trial is a 'monster that feeds itself'

If the Belfast rape trial had taken place south of the Border it could not have received nearly as much publicity. In the UK the media are allowed to identify the accused in such cases, which means rape trials involving celebrities receive enormous amounts of coverage. In the Republic a person charged with rape can be identified only after being found guilty, and then only if doing so does not endanger the victim’s anonymity.

Until the Belfast trial the director of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Noeline Blackwell, was “conflicted” about which jurisdiction had the better law. “Given the intimate nature of sexual-violence trials, it is of value for all concerned to have them held other than in public and without identifying the parties to the proceedings,” she said.

When a case involves a celebrity, Blackwell believes, the media interest that accompanies being able to identify the defendant makes the trial more difficult for all concerned. Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has suggested the media adopt a code for covering rape trials. “Do all the prurient details have to be reported? Could there not be a decency standard?” she said.

Stigma of accusation

The Republic’s ban on identifying anybody accused of rape or aggravated sexual assault before conviction is due in part to the stigma that can remain even if the defendant is found not guilty.

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