For decades, a rite of passage for many college-age men and women from Ireland has been to spend a summer abroad, often in the United States.
Through its J-1 Visa Exchange Visitors Program, the federal government allows students enrolled in recognized Irish universities to come to the states and work summer jobs. Thousands visit each year; for most, it is a transformative and cherished experience.
So when tragedy strikes one of these students, in a country as small as Ireland and where a significant portion of the population has a very visceral connection to the setting, it is big news.
In August 2013, just hours after news broke in the United States that a wealthy investment banker had been arrested for raping an Irish college girl in the famous resort community of the Hamptons, the news appeared on the front pages of newspapers across Ireland as well.
The young woman, 20 at the time, was in the U.S. on a J-1 visa. She’d spent the summer elsewhere in the U.S. but had stopped on the East End on her way home to visit her brother, who was working in Montauk.
When the trial of Jason Lee, the man accused of raping her, began last Wednesday, April 8, a half-dozen Irish news agencies had reporters and photographers in attendance, reporting on the developments of the trial and the tale of the encounter presented by the victim—identified in court only as “Dana”—who returned to the United States this week to take the witness stand.
In Ireland, coverage of the crime, and the impending trial, has been covered closely, reporters from the various media outlets said this week. One reporter, who asked not to be identified, said she had picked up the story from a New York Post online article early on the day of the alleged rape—it was evening in Ireland by then—and that it was on the Irish front pages by the time the case was brought to the grand jury the next morning.
“When something happens to a J-1 student, it would generally make news,” said Simon Carswell, the Washington D.C.-based American bureau chief for The Irish Times, a Dublin newspaper. “A lot of people have a connection with that. I did a J-1 summer. It’s one of the things out of the U.S. that would resonate with everyone [in Ireland].”
Most of the reporters covering the trial for Irish newspapers are U.S.-based reporters, living in either Washington D.C. or Boston, who cover U.S. political and social issues of interest to those in Ireland.
The Irish correspondents said that like other instances where visiting J-1 students met with tragedy, or legal intrigue, the tale of the East Hampton rape allegation has raised eyebrows and concerns about students visiting to U.S. One called the way this story and others have been portrayed by some news outlets as “mommy mongering,” but noted that only a few are deterred from a summer of lucrative work and fun in the sun by such sensationalism.
The official J-1 website, which helps Irish students secure jobs, insurance, travel arrangements and accommodations in the U.S., shows that applications for jobs in California are already entirely filled.
As many as 10,000 Irish college students have come to the East End, and East Hampton in particular, for summer jobs in years past—most landing in Montauk, with its many seasonal jobs in hotels and restaurants.
The young woman who has accused Mr. Lee of raping her in the bathroom of his home after an early morning swim in his pool had spent the summer of 2013 elsewhere in the U.S. but had come to the East End to visit her brother in Montauk before returning to Ireland for school.