Perceptions of Sexual Consent in Northern Ireland: Rape, Responsibilisation and Reasonable Belief
Project Completion Date: 31/08/2021
The final report of the independent judge-led review into how the criminal justice system handles sex offences in Northern Ireland (NI) (‘the Gillen Review’), was published on 9th May 2019. Among the recommendations in this final report are proposals on reforming the definition of consent as contained within the Sexual Offences (NI) Order 2008.
Consent is the central element in prosecuting the crime of rape, with the prosecution tasked with proving the absence of consent on the part of the complainant and that the defendant did not reasonably believe that the complainant consented. The application of the consent threshold raises questions over the allocation of responsibility when establishing whether an offence has been committed. These questions can be linked to an emerging literature on the 'responsibilisation' of sexual assault victims, highlighting the way expectations of risk management are placed on victims: where a victim is deemed to have engaged in ‘risky behaviour’, such as drinking, dressing provocatively, attending parties or engaging in casual sex, they are blamed for the assault and reasonableness is attached to the actions of the defendant.
This project aims to provide an insight into community and professional perceptions of the adequacy and scope of the requirement for reasonable belief in consent in the definition of rape in NI and the proposals made in the Gillen Review. A comprehensive multidisciplinary literature review will be conducted, as well as around 15 semi-structured interviews with community and professional workers providing a rich source of empirical data. The findings will be situated within the wider international and comparative context, in particular the recent trend towards the adoption of an affirmative consent standard in definitions of rape.
Socio-Legal Studies Association