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Rape trials generally showcase our legal system at its worst

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Thursday, 27 July 2017

Canberra was recently captivated by a high profile rape case involving cadets attending the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA).  A 19 year old male ADFA cadet had been accused of raping an 18 year old female cadet in his room during the early hours, following a night of drinking. 

As is the case with many rape trials, there were two distinct versions of events, which were "chalk and cheese" (to quote the defendant's barrister).  The defendant did not deny having sex but said he believed it was consensual, and pleaded not guilty.

I will outline (a shortened version of) events as described in the Canberra Times report.  The summary therefore is the reporter's take.


The complainant told the ACT Supreme Court about the defendant being drunk after a dining-in night, which she said involved a three-course meal on campus with free, unlimited alcohol.  The woman described how, after texting, he joined her (about 10PM) at a nightclub and, after midnight, they took a taxi back to the defendant's room at the ADFA campus.

"It wasn't consensual. Because I just kind of went along with it but I just kept saying I want to go to sleep," she said.  "It's still fuzzy, what happened."

The complainant conceded that she kissed and lay down with the defendant, and turned over to go to sleep. "Then I came back into consciousness ... back into what was happening.  He was having sex and I just lay there because it took me a while to work out what was happening". 

Prompted by police, the woman described herself as "heavily intoxicated" that night. She had not had dinner, she felt confused, dizzy, wobbly and that she didn't have a "barrier" on what she was saying or doing.  She described how she fretted for days over whether to report it because she was worried about her career.

The defendant's barrister told the jury that his client was blown away by the accusation and claimed texts leading up to the incident showed the pair had liked each other.  He said, if someone woke up and regretted their actions after a night out drinking, that didn't mean it hadn't been done of free will.  He told the jury it was only when a friend told the woman that what had happened was wrong, that the woman started to question the night's events.

Prosecutors suggested the jury would have no trouble concluding beyond reasonable doubt that the woman did not consent to sexual intercourse.  Alternatively, if the jury did find there was consent, the Crown said it was the woman's intoxication that caused the consent. Under ACT legislation, consent caused by intoxication is negated.


There are a number of aspects on the case that show legal procedures surrounding the case in a bad light.

Firstly, the Court ordered that the identity of the complainant be suppressed, and allowed her to give evidence by audio-visual link from a remote witness room.  The judge said this was standard procedure in the ACT for sexual assault and rape cases, and jurors were not to assign any more or less weight to her evidence as a result. 

I don't have a problem with all this, except that the same protections were not available to the defendant. 

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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