Donaldson arrest: Global spotlight remains on #MeToo

Sexual violence and abuse are endemic in our society. They occur at all levels, within families and in different organisations. Jeffrey Donaldson’s (the now former leader of the main Unionist party, the DUP) arrest is a horrifying reminder of this.

By Ann Katrin Orr 

*CW: gender violence; sexual assault; abuse; abuse of minors; abuse of power*

Sexual violence and abuse are endemic in our society. They occur at all levels, within families and in different organisations. Jeffrey Donaldson’s (the now former leader of the main Unionist party, the DUP) arrest is a horrifying reminder of this. He has reportedly been charged with 11 crimes, including sexual assault. These are described as historic and relate to people who were minors at the time. His wife has also been arrested and is facing charges of aiding and abetting in connection to this.

News coverage of these events has avoided discussing the case, citing the important need to protect the complainants and their identity. The desire to not prejudice a legal trial is of course real and valid. Let us say therefore, it takes a huge amount of courage, bravery and strength to disclose abuse or report to the police – especially when the person you are accusing is a powerful individual. When you know or have a sense of the huge public and personal consequences your report will lead to, the pressure to remain silent is huge. We send our full solidarity to those who have taken this step in recent weeks and wish them strength in what is surely a gruelling, lengthy and acutely distressing process. 

Victim blaming 

We wish we lived in a world in which women, victims and survivors of abuse are believed. Survivors of abuse have a variety of reasons why they do not speak about the abuse they have experienced. From the fear of not being believed to the fear of retaliation and the desire not to expose yourself to the potential re-traumatisation that reporting and the court process so often constitute.

In Northern Ireland less than 10% or reported rape cases lead to charges being read out in a courtroom. How badly equipped the legal system is to deal with such issues was laid bare by the Ulster Rugby Rape Trial in 2018. The outrage caused by this trial led to the attempt to introduce legal reforms with the Gillen review, among many other things, recommending that victims who now are only witnesses in criminal law proceedings should have the right to their own legal representation and council. The daily coverage of this trial and the details of the horrifying cross examination the woman was subject to exposed the reality of the court system and was why the #IBelieveHer became such a focus during and after this trial.

With the news of Donaldson’s arrest and as the nature of the charges became known, it was made public that he had resigned as leader of the DUP. The party, which on his initiative had just returned to power sharing in Stormont a few week’s earlier, suspended him from their membership as did the Orange Order. He retains his MP seat for the Lagan Valley constituency as an independent but is highly unlikely to stand for election in the Westminster elections expected later this year. Even without his name on any ticket for the next election there could be a strong challenge to the entire political establishment through strong socialist feminist campaigns that challenge all forms of oppression and the system that is responsible for it.

Socialist feminist struggle

Donaldson’s prominent and powerful position in Northern politics, in the Orange Order and generally is a factor. The charges against him expose again how widespread sexual assault and abuse are in our society. In the last few months we have seen a wave of protests in Italy against a horrifying femicide and an explosion of #metoo in the entertainment industry in France. 

We fight for a society where #metoo becomes a phenomenon of the past, a world in which misogyny, the sense of entitlement and the ability of individuals to dominate, exploit and abuse others is eradicated by ensuring that society is structured completely differently: on the basis of common respect, cooperation on the basis of equality to use the resources we have to meet all of our collective needs not to enrich and empower only a tiny few. Socialist feminism is not about fighting simply for a reduction in gender and sexual violence – it is about fighting for an end to these social ills. That requires solidarity with victims and survivors as well as united struggle by working class people and young people of all genders against all forms of exploitation and oppression.

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