Whatever might be said of Jude Collins – and there has been a tsunami of warranted criticism directed his way – it is difficult not to accord him some grudging acknowledgement. Not because anything he might generally say, as part of his seeming fixation with deflecting criticism away from Sinn Fein. comes remotely close to passing muster. Rather it is due to him having the cojones to stand up in full public view, no mask, no moniker, and express the most unpopular, even obnoxious, views for little appreciable gain. At a time when the internet is infested with anonymous toxic trolls venting the most hateful and intimidatory spleen at abuse victims and their proponents, someone shunning the shield of anonymity in defence of the unappreciable is most welcome. No point in critics demanding a free speech facility and then flagellating those merely for availing of it.
What is worrying rather than challenging about Jude Collins’ views on people who come forward to recount their experience of being raped is not his concern to uphold the principle of innocent until proven guilty but a determination to block any view of a person’s experience other than a judicial one.
Examples showing the utter redundancy of that reasoning are legion. If we were to follow it, investigative journalism would be redundant. The BBC’s searing and celebrated Tonight programme in March 1977 which broadcast Keith Kyle’s interview with Enniskillen school teacher Bernard O’Connor about RUC torture would be rendered valueless on the grounds that a court is the only proper place to hear these things. Nor would society be free to infer that any prisoners were beaten during the blanket protest because no court convictions of prison staff ever took place. We don’t have to think too hard to see how limiting on public understanding the Collins model for understanding would be.
Earlier this morning Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform tweeted that "In USA when inmates were asked it revealed 15 times the rate of sexual abuse than official figures."
Now if we consider that the bulk of official figures are most likely vast compared against court determined guilt, how much would we know about prison rape if we relied on the courts? How much would we know about rape in wider society? Universally, rape is so widely under-reported to police that "no other major category of crime – not murder, assault or robbery – has generated a more serious challenge of the credibility of national crime statistics" than this form of sexual violence.
When examining these things there is a need to separate out the account of the person who says they were raped and the issue of proof required to obtain a conviction. In the non-rarefied world we live in rather than the lofty chambers of the judicial beak, we can easily accept, on the balance of probability, a person's claim to have been raped if it measures up, sounds plausible and is not contradicted by alternative evidence. It does not follow from that claim that a person accused of that rape should be automatically found guilty. The problem with Jude Collin's view is that it is predicated on the securing of a conviction before we can say a rape took place. The upshot: the actuality of rape must always be commensurate to the convictions recorded. This flies in the face of everything we know about rape and other acts of sexual violence. Because we do not know something judicially can never be allowed to mean we do not know it.
What is really happening via the pen of Jude Collins here is an attempt to recruit the ideological rule of law into the echeloned defence mounted by Sinn Fein: dispute the authenticity of the account, delay any judgement by placing it the other side of a future court verdict in the hope of derailing any present societal verdict that might adversely affect electoral fortunes and political careers.