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Former football great Tim Watson began his column in The Age last Thursday with the curious phrase that "the past 48 hours has become a living nightmare" for St Kilda Football Club players and officials. Thereafter, not once did he mention the emotional suffering of the alleged rape victim.
With this simple sleight of hand Watson unwittingly reinforced many of the prejudices that beset women who "cry rape". Suddenly the alleged perpetrator had become the victim, and it was women who were implicated in, if not blamed for, allegations of rape. After all, how can young footballers avoid an allegation of rape when women are banging at their door at 2am?
Seemingly oblivious of the circumstances of the present case, Watson recounted the antics of amorous women in the football subculture. Yet, strangely, none of the examples he offered had anything to do with rape. A woman consenting to sex is not a woman raped. Is it so hard for men to understand this? Where are the columns of women who have slept with footballers and then, in the post-mortem, have accused them of rape?
Maybe Watson missed the fact that the woman making the rape allegation here told police she consented to sex with one man but not to sex with a second man? Leaving aside the veracity of this claim, in what subculture is it assumed that if a woman has sex with a man she has consented to sex with a different man on the same night?
Until the rape laws were changed a decade ago, the courts in this country virtually demanded to know whether a woman claiming to have been raped was a virgin or was sexually active. They even wanted to know what the woman was wearing when the alleged rape occurred. And despite welcome changes to the law, defence barristers still have a field day with women who allege rape. That's why rape is massively under-reported and why only a small percentage of rape cases result in a conviction. Women just aren't believed.
I wish Watson hadn't omitted what he and I know only too well about the football world. The stories of groups of men on the rampage, the cover-ups and the institutionalised belief that women who have sex are sluts whereas the men are studs - that's the football subculture.
It's a subculture in which some men have always believed they have the rights of the Viking raiding party. However, unlike the women raped by the Norsemen, it seems that amorous women who wander through the football subculture can never be raped. For isn't the moral of Watson's piece that modern women who look for sex must take that which comes their way?
Instead of asking how these latest allegations will affect the status of AFL football we should be asking what they tell us about violence against women.
Tim, this isn't a "sex scandal". A sex scandal is Charles having it off with Camilla, or Lady Di with the butler. A woman who alleges sexual assault is claiming to have been the victim of an act of criminal violence. If this woman is telling the truth imagine how she must have felt when she discovered, under the headline "Fans rally to Saints", that coach Grant Thomas believes the allegation of rape will only "galvanise the group"? The presumption of the innocence of the accused should not result in the belittling of a woman who alleges sexual assault.
Throughout history men have told other men that "no" can be a precursor to "yes". And through experience men have learnt that the first "no" is not always the end of the matter. But those who use this little pearl of secret men's business to defend men accused of rape do all men a disservice. Do we seriously think that the average bloke can't stop when a woman says "no"? And is the average bloke so dumb that he doesn't know when "no" means "no"?
It's about time we admitted that rape is a cocktail of sex and power used by some, not all, men against women.
Rape should be as hard to prove as any other crime. And no accused man should have to cower or hide. But that shouldn't preclude us from debunking the myth that most women who "cry rape" are chronic liars and schemers who've maliciously changed their mind after a sexual encounter.
Whatever becomes of this particular incident, the need for AFL clubs to seriously challenge this subculture of misogyny is overdue. Unlike many old-fashioned blokes in AFL football clubs, a modern woman knows the difference between sex and rape.
This article was first published in The Age on 23 March 2004.
Phil Cleary was independent member for Wills from 1992 to 1996. His book, Cleary Independent was published in 1998. He played 205 games with Coburg, coached the club to two VFA premierships, and is now its president.
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