It was the classic situation in which most sexual attacks happen in this country. A night club, plenty of alcohol, the ordering of a "Black Russian" vodka drink which left the victim semi-conscious, an offer of help to get home – then a dispute over the sordid events in the car park.

But despite the best efforts of as many as 50 people including a priest to portray it otherwise, a jury of his peers convicted Listowel man Danny Foley – unanimously – of sexually assaulting a local girl in a repulsive act of violence beside a skip in a dark car park.

Had it not been for the arrival of a garda car on routine patrol, this case would probably have gone unprosecuted. A recent study for the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland found that alcohol is a factor in three quarters of rape cases and a major reason why two out of three of those reported to the gardaí are never presented before a jury. James Hamilton, the Director of Public Prosecutions, put it candidly: "If the only witness is so drunk she cannot remember it clearly, there is a real problem in the case."

But in Listowel there were other witnesses: the gardaí drove into the car park and there they found the girl lying scratched and bruised, her trousers and underwear removed, 35-year-old Danny Foley lying astride her.

Questioned, he said they had consensual sex and that he'd only gone to the skip to "have a slash". CCTV showed quite the opposite – he had carried her to the place where, even though she was semi-conscious, he assaulted her.

The jury believed her absolutely, as did judge Donagh McDonagh, whose seven-year sentence reflected the seriousness of the crime.

But, as we have heard all week, Fr Sean Sheehy, parish priest in Castlegregory, 50 friends of the accused and his family have carried out a campaign against the victim which exposes just how thin the veneer of respect towards women is in wider society. Their statements querying the court decision, going so far as to call the girl involved with the "so-called" victim, demonstrate how quickly people are prepared to blame the woman for what occurs and how willingly they close ranks to protect "one of their own" rather than act on principle and in line with the facts.

If the failure to take responsibility for the cover-up of sex abuse by the hierarchy in the Dublin diocese was not fresh enough in their minds, the insult of a priest leading the virtual shunning of this woman in an open court has been yet another unwelcome revelation of attitudes we all thought were changing. Fr Sheehy's resignation is small comfort. His behaviour was so beyond the bounds of understanding for the victim in this case he had no choice.

The irony of this case is that the legal system worked. But the perpetrator's supporters have refused to accept it and are trying to undermine the decision of the court.

What's really disturbing is that their treatment of this now 24- year-old victim has such historic echoes of the Lavinia Kerwick scandal, a landmark rape case from 1991 that was supposed to have transformed society's attitude to sex crimes. When Kerwick became the first person to identify herself as a victim of rape – in her case by her former boyfriend – we all saw the devastating effects that not being believed played out in her life as she struggled with an eating disorder and emotional instability. Now the mother of a young child, she is only beginning to regain a balance in her life. "I was raped but I am not a victim, not any more," she has said of her recovery.

About 70% of sexual assaults are committed by somebody the victim knows – a date, a friend, an authority figure, a partner, a husband, a father. By its nature, this makes it much harder for friends and family to accept. It makes it harder for the victim to come forward, such is the blanket rage that sometimes mutual friends of the perpetrator feel as they claim that his "good name" is being sullied by someone he knew. It makes sexual crimes much harder to prosecute. It means fewer women come forward.

The updated report into Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) reveals just how warped some attitudes to sex crime can be. Four in 10 people feel that the victim is in some way to blame for the assault and men are much more prone to rationalising the reason for the rape, with almost half believing that it is a crime of sexual desire rather than one of subjugation, violence and power. If this case teaches us anything, it is that we need a comprehensive and continuous public awareness campaign about rape and sex crimes that addresses prejudices and ignorance.

Any educational programme needs to be directed at boys and girls in schools, and in an age-specific way, address the motivation and consequences of violence against women. It must also include discussion about the role of binge drinking. But as we see from this case, all professionals who become involved with both the accused and the victim and their families – including priests – need to be included so that they are well versed in the sort of misconceptions that so many people and particularly men still harbour about sex crime.