The media and the Garda rape remarks


The media narrative regarding the Corrib Garda rape remarks played out with sickening predictability. Sticking as closely as possible to the Garda Press Office line, the news media decided that this was an isolated incident: yes, it was inappropriate for Gardaí to joke about raping captive women, but the matter is under investigation, and anyway it's all just a bit of private banter between colleagues. No need for a wider discussion about societal attitudes towards women, or about the militarised policing of political protest in North Mayo and elsewhere. Up popped Kevin Myers to explain why men are the real victims here, oppressed by the 'politically-correct' thought police, while Vincent Browne informed us that rape jokes “are just part of the lingo of Irish males” and that's that.

But, of course, these Gardaí didn't make their comments in a vacuum – they made them at a specific time, in a specific place and within a specific cultural context. They are reflective both of a culture in which sexist and patriarchal attitudes and structures still pertain, and of a police force which is given free reign to act with extreme brutality in the repression of protest around the Corrib project.

In an Irish Independent piece on April 10th, we are told “no one was ever in any danger of being raped. You can't get raped by a joke.” The problem is that jokes are never just jokes. Banter is never just banter. Jokes help to create a culture in which men have power over women, to reinforce sexist attitudes in men, to dehumanise women, and to trivialise the horrendous crime of rape which, overwhelmingly, is committed by men against women. We live in a society in which women are expected to laugh politely when crude sexist jokes are aimed at them for fear of being labelled a “humourless bitch”; where comedy clubs are thronged with “edgy” comics each trying to be more offensive that the other, using misogynistic language while hiding behind the defense of “irony”, and if women complain, it’s because they're not sophisticated enough to get the joke. Casual sexism, of which rape jokes are an extreme form, creates a context in which men feel superior to women, in which some men feel entitled to rape, and in which raped women are afraid to report the crime because of the prevalence of such attitudes. Only about one in 10 women who are raped report the crime, and just 7 per cent of the reported cases go to court.

Meanwhile, speaking at the Garda Representative Association conference, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter accused Corrib protesters of “exploiting” the controversy “for their own political ends... with the aim of undermining trust in the Garda Síochána and of compromising the policing of the dispute.”

Dublin Shell to Sea spokesperson Caoimhe Kerins said: “This is a bizarre outburst from Mr Shatter. The people who have undermined trust in An Garda Síochána are those Gardaí who have, for several years now, resorted to violence, intimidation and abuse to deter peaceful protest.”

The Garda comments, seen in this context, are clearly not “just a joke”, but part of the atmosphere of intimidation and violence that surround the State's policing in defence of Shell, which has lead to countless people being injured, some seriously. Willie Corduff, one of the Rossport Five jailed for his opposition to the project, was beaten up in the dead of night inside a Shell compound, while leading campaigner Pat O'Donnell had his fishing boat seized and sunk by masked and armed men at sea. Also, former security employees from the Shell compound travelled to Bolivia to take part in an attempted coup (with one of them, Michael Dwyer, being shot dead by police).

This is not the first time threats of sexual violence have been used against female activists by Gardaí, with the wife of another leading local campaigner, John Monaghan, having also been a victim. The failure of the media to treat the Garda remarks as anything other than an isolated incident of inappropriate banter, and to raise important questions regarding either the sexist attitudes which pervade Irish society (and specifically in the “canteen culture” of the Gardaí), the violent policing of the Corrib protests, or indeed the giveaway of billions of euros worth of oil and gas, is entirely consistent with their role as the servants of the wealthy and powerful, and their established pattern of ignoring or downplaying the violent actions of the Gardaí and the private security working for Shell in North Mayo.


This article is from Workers Solidarity No 121 published May 2011