Sport, sexual assault and a woman’s word

ImageImage from National Museum of Australia site:

In the last week or so, many awful things have happened regarding sexism in this country, please see here, here and here for various background info, details and opinions.

In light of recent events regarding the alleged indecent assault by Blake Ferguson (NRL) and the alleged four counts of rape by Ben Milne (AFL), I’d like to go on to the Australian sporting industry and its rape culture and in particular, discuss this notion of women ‘crying rape’. There are many different things to consider in regards to this very sensitive topic. In the media, especially regarding the sports industry, the implication that women are lying, fabricating and sensationalising incidents with men, especially if they are famous men.

Examples of cases that push this image of women lying include: the ‘St Kilda Schoolgirl’, where a 17 year old lied about several different situations with the St Kilda Football club – including getting pregnant; Katie Lewis who has alleged that NRL Souths Player Ben Te’o punched her and fractured her eye socket, withdrew the claims, then reopened the complaint; The 19-year-old ‘Clare’ involved in the Cronulla Sharks 2002 group sex scandal was accused of gloating about sleeping with the players (including Matthew Johns) and then lying about being there being no consent; AFL player Andrew Lovett was accused of raping a woman, dropped by St Kilda, and later acquitted; and Brett Stewart who was accused of kissing and digitally penetrating a 17-year-old girl without consent, which turned out to be not true (Stewart being drunk as all hell was true) and Stewart paid dearly for it.

In Stewart’s case, it is a shame he had his name dragged through the mud. Most are in agreement that he was certainly unfortunate to be dragged into this situation, but I really home this outcome doesn’t become, as David Penberthy writes, a defence for the guilty. Some say that Matty Johns did not deserve the punishment of losing his job on the Footy Show and as a coach – he did nothing illegal they say. But the whole idea of group sex personally creeps me out, but if you wish to CONSENT and engage in such things then by all means do so, but I imagine that Channel 9 wouldn’t want such imagery and ‘questionable morals’ associated with the family-friendly channel. Furthermore, even if ‘Clare’ did consent, this notion of pack sex — while not uncommon amongst NRL players — (I personally think) it is just bizarre and just promotes an unhealthy animalistic attitude towards women and sex and an unhealthy sex culture, something that the NRL is desperately trying to distance itself from. It really is no surprise he was fired.

Why those who do lie, sensationalise or fabricate do so, I don’t know. But it is not common, it is very rare, despite many reported and further sensationalised cases in the media the percentage is around 2-3% of total assault cases — about the same rate as other crimes. In the UK a recent report showed it was low as 0.6%.

I would like to make a disclaimer that  I am just a simple student who is just analysing and discussing different sides of things. I do NOT claim to represent, be an authority on or even understand what it must feel like to be a victim of rape or sexual assault. I am not insinuating that all women ‘cry rape’, I am analysing why women are accused of that and how it affects the portrayal of female victims.

I completely acknowledge there is an unhealthy culture of sex, drugs and alcohol in our sporting industry, especially AFL and NRL. I believe sport holds a very important and unique position in our national identity, something which I plan to go into in another post (I will link when written). What I am interested in is looking at that controversial idea of the ‘grey zone’ in the sporting industry and how media deals with it.

I read three very interesting things online, one was called: Women in the “Grey Zone”? Ambiguity, Complicity and Rape Culture by Deb Waterhouse-Watson and Adam Brown, which analysed the concept of the ‘grey zone’ and the representation of sexual assault to do with Australian football in the media. It discusses a 2009 Four Corners episode called “Code of Silence” in which ‘Clare’ (who I mentioned above) talked about how she was traumatised from the group sex incident that occured with Cronulla Sharks players in 2002. To quote the article:

If, as “Code of Silence” suggests, footballers’ practices of group sex are abusive, whether the woman consents or not, then it follows that such a “gang-bang culture” may in turn foster a rape culture, in which rape is more likely than in other contexts. And yet, many women insist that they enjoy group sex with footballers (Barry; Drill 86), complicating issues of consent and the degradation of women.

These other women they are referring to include Charmyne Palavi, who appeared in the same episode explaining her pursuit to sleep with rugby players. Waterhouse-Watson and Brown argue that the program portrayed Palavi as ‘cheap’, ‘promiscuous’ and even subtly imply she was party responsible for her rape, she claims, by a well known rugby player. What makes it more complicated is that despite being raped she still continues to pursue rugby players and furthermore, she continues to ‘organise sexual encounters between women and players, despite her knowledge of the “dangers,” both to herself and other women.’

This ultimately makes her a ‘grey zone’ figure according to Brown and Waterhouse-Watson. Of course, the whole concept of ‘grey rape’ is controversial, some people disregard it completely, some people agree that there are various strange areas when it comes to ‘consent’.

In reading this article ‘Sometimes women lie about rape’ by Anna Rittgers, a a lawyer and senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, I thought she was overall quite callous and aggressive, but I found the following sentence interesting:

In the church of radical feminism “Women don’t lie about rape,” so it would be heretical to afford any man accused of rape a fair trial.

In articles like Rittgers’, I strongly criticise even the suggestion that women sometimes lie about rape because promotes a detrimental excuse that can be applied to all women even though it is such a minuscule amount of people who do that. It also gives idiots like Todd Akin  the excuse to say shit like: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” (Really?!)

The image of women lying about rape conjures up the imagery address in this article:

There’s this idea that a false allegation of sexual assault is the one weapon that shamed women wield. Men have fists and cash and the threat of death; women have this. A shy call to 999 on a Monday morning that leads to the slow sirens of police arresting her ex at work, a sorry officer shielding his head as he falls into the car.

When a trial by media and social media is a constant risk, women will continue to not report. 

I’m against trial by media and immediate assumption before anything has been announced or anyone has been charged or found guilty/innocent, particularly when the full story isn’t known or evidence is not overwhelmingly strong. I think everyone should be afforded a fair trial or an attempt at a fair trial.

But this applies in every situation. Including the most recent example I can think of, the Nigella Lawson case and and those ‘choking’ photos. I question the way the media exploded and obsessed over it and automatically assumed it was a domestic violence case. I am not saying what Saatchi said was correct, it really doesn’t look like a ‘platfull tiff’. But I also don’t understand why the media rushed to a unanimous assumption of the worst from a couple of photos before any statement from either of them, especially Nigella.

Is Saatchi’s explanation completely implausible? Would he be so stupid to assault such a famous wife in public? Now Nigella is apparently the face of domestic violence, before she has said anything about the incident herself. On the other hand, sometimes secretively abusive relationships need to be outed before something can be done about them — being silent is sometimes the worst option and if this brings attention to domestic violence then Nigella’s situation needs to be treated with care, dignity, not speculation and drama. Sigh, sometimes I think the media just has no patience.

Maybe it is just an expectation now that the media will dramatise everything and anything — but I generally like to think I am not being taught bad ethics in my Journalism course. Some people will argue differently, but I believe rape cases are not all black and white, but this ‘grey zone’ is a very dangerous zone to even talk about because it will be taken advantage off more often than not. I believe the media reports too much on women that have falsely accused others of sexual assault especially in sport and even if Brett Stewart had a year or so of his career sidelined, he had to pay a large number of legal fees he probably could have afforded, even if the funny Matty Johns was stood down, I don’t believe it is worth the majority of sexual assault cases that are genuine being jeopordised.

Anna Krien wrote about in her new book Night Games about the ‘grey areas’ of no meaning no, or maybe, or well, OK, but not with all your friends, that make both sexual assault cases and the relationship between young footballers and their female fans so complex and challenging and need greater consideration (listen to an interview here with Dominic Knight on ABC 702). In an interview with Mamamia, she follows a highly publicised case of rape allegations against a junior footballer, in which he was eventually acquitted. She talks about the pack sex mentality and how both men and women are victimised in this culture. “Court, it seems, is not where progress is made,’’ Krien writes. “It’s just where things end up.’’.

Now, to brighten our lives, here is a kitten in mittens from the TV show It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: