The Trial of the Yellow Rose

A ‘Yellow Rose’ campaign showing solidarity for the alleged rape victim in Belfast Crown Court, has already exceeded its goal by over €3,400.

The campaign, started through social media, plans to send three bouquets of yellow flowers on Wednesday and three individual yellow flowers – roses, sunflowers, tulips – everyday for the rest of the court case, which is set to continue until the 2nd of March.

It is reminiscent of the campaign countrywide when Joanne Hayes was in court in Tralee accused of the murder of a newborn baby in what became known as ‘The Kerry Babies’ trial.

30 years ago, Bernie McCarthy of the Tralee women’s group, walked four miles from her home into the town of Tralee to leave a yellow rose with Joanne Hayes’ barrister, in a show of solidarity.

Campaign organiser Aine Kavanagh, says the idea for this Yellow Rose campaign, stemmed from a discussion in a Facebook group ‘Mná na hÉireann ag Taistea.

She notes the catalyst for them was the Irish captain Rory Best visiting the courthouse in Belfast. “We had been following the rape trial and saying “Oh isn’t this just awful, that poor girl,” but it wasn’t until we saw that Rory Best had shown up that we felt particularly angry. Many of us have been in situations where we have experienced sexual assault or rape and many of us know well the feeling of being too intimidated to say anything, and too worried that other people wouldn’t believe your story.”

According to Noeleen Blackwell of the Rape Crisis Network, “This case is an example of how extraordinarily difficult these trials are for someone who reports a rape. Going through this experience, once making a complaint about alleged sexual assault, is extremely difficult for all involved. But, we must remember here that in the eyes of the law, everyone is considered innocent until the conclusion of this trial.”

In these type of cases in southern Ireland the alleged victim has the right to waive their anonymity, and Blackwell notes that in many respects this puts Ireland ahead in how we treat sexual assault cases: “This issue is quite simply about one person’s word against the others however, there has to be a better way, for everyone involved in these type of cases.”

According to Kavanagh, “Rory Best’s attendance was a symbolic gesture of “you’re accusing some very powerful men here, and it’s best you stay quiet,” against the background of many people’s comments online that this young woman was probably lying for whatever reason. It was also the same week that the Tánaiste Simon Coveney was discussing a way of legislating for a rape ground for legal abortion access, and it was just the same idea from all angles: that women are inherently untrustworthy.”

Kavanagh notes that just like women did for Joanne Hayes, her group felt they could use that idea in a practical way: “I really didn’t expect it to go public really at all.”

This campaign has garnered an impassioned response online, and CEO of Women’s Aid Federation NI, Jan Melia, who will receive the excess of the donations over the €100 goal set, says: “We are honoured and humbled that this group of women is sending solidarity to victims of rape and sexual assault in Northern Ireland. Every year we support thousands of women who have been victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives, through our Helpline, our refuges services, our outreach and our support programmes. The money raised from this campaign will help us keep doing that.”

It has been 30 years since the Kerry babies trial, and in recent days, Joanne Hayes name has once again become synonymous with women on trial.

This campaign, driven through social media, reflects the same emotion and solidarity shown by women, who perhaps could never have imagined their act of delivering a yellow Rose would in the current climate still show such impact.

The current ‘Yellow Rose’ campaign aims to deliver flowers to Laganside Crown Court, care of the alleged victims barrister Toby Hedworth QC.

Alongside the flowers which will be sent to the Belfast court, envelopes with a link to the ‘Go Fund Me Page’ along with printouts of the messages people have left will be delivered.

Kavanagh says: “We had set the limit at €100 and honestly thought we’d be doing very well to even get that! I think the momentum shows that many other women (and men) around the country feel the same way we did, that this woman’s story is a familiar one, that the abuse she is getting for daring to speak out is really horrendous, and that her courage is phenomenal.”

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