Last Wednesday, the 29th March 2018 following a 42-day trial, 30 witnesses and a 3 hour 40-minute jury deliberation, Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison were acquitted on all charges that included rape, sexual assault,  indecent exposure and perverting the course of justice respectively. The jury that consisted of eight men and three women returned a unanimous not-guilty verdict for all four defendants on all charges.

Once the verdict was released social media became alight with people expressing their sadness for the complainant with many using the hashtag #Ibelieverher and stating that it was a sad day for the women of Ireland. ‘I Believe Her’ rallies were organised almost immediately and took place in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Galway and Waterford on Thursday and Saturday for people to express their support for the victim in question and all victims of rape and sexual assault.

The case is now over and whatever side you believe,  it is fair to say that the trial has opened up a wider conversation about not only consent but the way young men speak about women and the ‘lad culture’ that evidently exists in our society. This conversation was widely opened up as a result of the WhatsApp messages that were a key aspect of this trial and exposed the way the accused men and their friends spoke about the incident and the victim the following day. The men spoke about how they were “top shaggers” while a friend asked did “any sluts get fucked” to which replies such as “there was a bit of spit roasting going on” and “it was like a merry go round at a carnival” were given. It’s hard to imagine that these four men and this WhatsApp group are the only ones who speak about women this way. Where did this come from and why do they think it is acceptable?

Over the past ten years, reality television has blown up on our screens. Much of this started back in 2009 when MTV launched their first reality show of this kind Jersey Shore. The premise of the show put 8 young partiers in a house and let the carnage unfold at the Jersey Shore,  New Jersey. As the series began it became evident that the male residents of the house had a goal on nights-out,  that goal was to ‘pull’ women. It often became a competition between the men to find the most “DTF” (Down to F***)  women in the club. The men have also had a ranking system in which they defined women as ‘grenades’ or ‘landmines’ depending on their weight and attractiveness. In one episode they two of the male cast members have a conversation where they state “got nothing else, might as well grab them”.

Following the Jersey Shore phenomenon an English version of the show, Geordie Shore was launched in 2011, it is currently in its sixteenth series. The premise was the same, but the show was filmed in Newcastle Upon Tyne. The four male cast members involved again strived to meet as many women as possible. The perceived leader of the pack, Gary Beadle ‘Gaz’ was a self-proclaimed “Top-shagger” who “should have a degree in pulling women” as he claims to have slept with over 1,000 women. As in Jersey Shore, the men degraded the women they had sexual encounters with, based on their looks and used language some may say was hypocritical when calling them ‘”sluts” and “slags”. 

Another MTV  reality show where men can be seen competing to get the most women is Ex on the beachThe show brings a number of single people to live in an exotic destination while day after day their exes show up, to which drama evidently ensues. The show becomes a setting for young people to hook up and again we see the men treat is as a competition of who can get with the most ‘birds’. The men enjoy bragging about their conquests and openly remark on this on screen. In one episode (series 5 episode 1), a cast member explains his predictions for one of the girls in the house “she’s getting fucked tonight”, while another referred to a girl as a “Fun sponge” for refusing to kiss on the first night. Other statements throughout the episode, in particular, included “Eventually banged her”, “she’s got a nice arse but she’s not that fit” and “where’s that scouse girl I’m going to finger her”.

Although these programmes evidently bring out the worst in male competition and show the cast members to have a low level of respect for the women they aim to ‘pull’ not all men behave in this way. But with each of these shows attracting viewers in their millions, it is easy to see where this could be influencing the young men of today and encouraging them to become “top shaggers” and ‘pull’ as many ‘birds’ as possible.

If you have been affected by the events of the Belfast rape trial, you can contact the Rape Crises Centre for support.