The case of Eoin Considine, sentenced to four years in prison this week for the rape of a young woman, is both unusual and troubling.
The facts of the case, as reported by the Limerick Leader, are as follows: Mr. Considine went to a bar on a night out. There, he met a young female student nurse, and they hit it off. The duo retired to the young woman’s home, where they began to have consensual sex. At some point during sex, Mr. Considine started to get “rough”: He put his hands around her neck and began to choke her. He pinned her down. He grabbed a handful of her hair and started pulling it. He was “banging her head against the headboard of the bed”.
The young woman asked him to stop. He did not stop for, the court heard, a “60 to 90 seconds”. When he eventually did stop, she asked him to leave, but he initially refused because he wanted to “be sure she was okay”. Before he eventually left, the court heard that he apologised to the woman and explained that he had thought that “she liked it” because he had a previous girlfriend who “liked it” that way.
When he was contacted by the gardai, Considine told the officers investigating that he knew why they were calling and admitted that he had “gotten it wrong” and “taken things too far”. A consultant psychiatrist for the defence said that since the incident, Considine had suffered severe depression and suicidal ideation. His victim, too, suffered severe psychological aftereffects, telling the court that she subsequently became “hypersexual” and had come to think that “my primary self worth only goes so far as to provide sexual gratification”.
Trying to make sense of a case like this is difficult.
In the first instance, let there be no doubt that what happened was, by the letter and the intent of the law, rape: Mr. Considine continued to have sex with a woman who had explicitly withdrawn her consent. He seems not to have taken that withdrawal of consent seriously until it was too late for both parties. The jury was correct to convict him, in this writer’s opinion.
At the same time, the court accepted that there was nothing in Mr. Considine’s previous character, or in his conduct that night, that suggested that he had any intent to do his victim harm. In fact, his own evidence suggests that in essence, he thought what he was doing was normal. His previous girlfriend had “liked it”, he said – or perhaps more accurately, he had believed that she liked it. Insofar as he was concerned, it seems, he thought that choking and pulling hair and “getting rough” was just a normal part of sex. If his psychiatric report is to be believed, he has suffered significant guilt on foot of his conduct – as he should.
The troubling question, I think, is where Mr. Considine got the idea that any of this conduct was “normal”. He was, at the time of the offence, a very young man in his early 20s – hardly a veteran of many long term relationships. At the same time, he is a member of the first generation of young people to have had access for almost all of his life to internet pornography, in which many of the behaviours he inflicted on his victim are routinely depicted as being things that women enjoy. That content also depicts women as enjoying being called names, abused, and sexually degraded.
How do we know porn is to blame? Liberals, for example, might argue that many women do enjoy some of the things depicted in porn, and that perhaps Mr. Considine had in fact been influenced by his previous relationship more than by what he had seen on the internet. The answer is that relationships are a process of mutual discovery (and not just in terms of sex) where things that the other person likes are slowly uncovered and revealed. But in this case, Mr. Considine’s starting assumption was that all women like doing the things that porn stars are paid to do.
Indeed, it is remarkable to consider the extent to which this interaction, which ended up ruining two lives, mirrors the experiences of many young women:
Sexual choking has become increasingly prevalent in mixed-sex pornography and young men’s sexual behaviour. A national probability survey in the US found that 21% of women reported having been choked during sex, and 20% of men reported that they have choked a partner during sex. In this study, adults ages 18 to 29 reported engaging in choking at higher rates than older adults, which suggests a cohort effect and exhibits the population shift in sexual behaviour.
Another US study found that 58% of female college students have been choked during sex, further suggesting that this “kink” is becoming increasingly common in younger age demographics.
Indeed, one thought I had, reading about this case, is that if every incident of its nature was reported to Gardai, Mr. Considine would find himself with thousands of young Irish male cellmates.
My other thought is that it is difficult to read a case like this and conclude that women have emerged as unqualified victors from the sexual revolution. The shift in sexual culture has not only created, amongst young men, an expectation of sexual availability, but an expectation in many cases that young women are eager to do for free what women in porn demand payment for.
In turn, young men – or at least a troublingly high number of them – seem to have growing difficulties distinguishing between what they see on screen, and real women.
In this case, it seems to me likely that Mr. Considine did not intend to do any harm. And yet he did significant harm – both to himself, and to his victim. Two lives, essentially, ruined by porn.
The bigger tragedy is that they will not be the last.