Like fight or flight, freezing is now recognised by psychologists and health professionals as a common reaction to a threat.
Figures released by the Legal Aid Board following a freedom of information request in 2017 show that over the past five years, an average of 30 per cent of rape trials involved questions about a complainant’s sexual history.
In 2016, the practice was used in 28 rape trials out of the 99 which were scheduled.
A trial judge always has discretion as to whether or not it’s permissible to cross-examine a complainant on their sexual history.
From a defence point of view, it’s something that has to be given a lot of consideration; it’s not a decision that anyone makes lightly.” O’Sullivan also notes that if a complainant is cross-examined about their sexual history, “the prosecution can elicit evidence on the defendant’s past, also”.
One of the traditional, now highly contested, ideas about consent is the “No Means No” framework, where consent is understood to be revoked if and only if the unwilling partner says no and resists, firmly and explicitly There were many lessons to be learned from the Belfast rape trial, from the intricacies of trials and the lack of representation offered to complainants, to the misogyny still perpetuated by some men, and the differences between the law in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
But perhaps the important and troubling lesson from the trial is that our understanding and practice of consent is so unclear that it is possible for one person to leave a sexual encounter believing it was consensual, while another person can leave believing it was rape.
The law also states that consent can be revoked at any time and that “any failure or omission on the part of a person to offer resistance to an act does not of itself constitute consent to that act.” Ireland made marital rape illegal through the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act in 1990.
Though it has proven difficult to enforce, with only four convictions to date, the marital rape amendment was an important development.
This damaging perception of masculinity means that men can feel uncomfortable or self-conscious explicitly turning down unwanted sexual advances.
Men are also raised to value their physical strength, and their ability to physically resist any threat.