The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Rugby rapists and other sexual offenders

Posted by Cate on May 12, 2009

I’m sure I was the only one sickened when I watched Four Corner’s report into sexual violence against women by players and coaches in National Rugby League. I won’t detail the specific offences, I was distressed enough watching the program to be completely frank, as a victim of sexual violence myself. But I would encourage all Dawn Chorus readers to watch the program on the Four Corners website.  I’m struggling to write anything at all, as the images of the program play out in my head. I hope our readers will be kind towards my disjointed thoughts. I will hopefully add some more cohesive updates.

A few points that I’ve been thinking about…

I find the notion of group sex as an acceptable ‘bonding experience amongst men’ quite bizarre and can see it as little more than exerting physical power against women. Is this practiced (anecdotally or otherwise) amongst other groups of men in society? Surely the watchers of such acts are as implicated as the direct perpertraitors. The notion of consent in such an environment is surely, laughable.

What is the real impact of an apology? Apologising for embarrassing one’s wife is not the same as apologising for destroying the emotional psyche of another human being. An apology cannot be equated with restitution.

Many of these events were looked at by police many years ago and no charges were laid. How many more women will come forward, preferring the media as their vehicle for justice over  the judicial?-

What role did women play? A woman was interviewed who was effectively a match maker between players and fans. She viewed a video of sexual violence (filmed on someone’s phone) yet continued such matchmaking.  

I was pleased to see training for rugby players about consent and sexual violence but despair that such training is necessary at all.  Such ‘education programs’ further perpetrait the notion that acts of sexual violence can be attributed to a lack of knowledge or willful ignorance of what constitutes sexual assault or consent. Surely respect for women at a deep internal level is not something which can be taught. Further, I shudder to think how one tabulates whether such programs reduce the instances of sexual assault against women.

The article is noticeably absent on the front page of the Herald Sun website


25 Responses to “Rugby rapists and other sexual offenders”

  1. Anon. said

    One of the most telling parts of this story I felt was when the Knights’ coach called the female reporter ‘baby’, despite being interviewed for a program about footballers’ attitudes to women!! Amazing.

    The whole program certainly made for some shocking viewing, and I was pretty horrified by the woman who acted as matchmaker, because to a certain extent I feel that she is complicit in the mens’ crimes and a propagator of a culture which has no respect for women.

    All in all an extremely complex and distressing issue, but I was impressed with the way it was handled by 4 Corners.

  2. Kat said

    I’ve not see the 4 Corners episode in question, but there’s an interesting blog article here that addresses the same issue, from a man’s point of view

  3. Penelope said

    I was incredibly disturbed by this program. It shows the fundamental flaw of yes/no consent in the face of the incredible power issues at play – fame, physical power and many-against-one are all factors here. A 19-year-old girl versus a dozen famous rugby players – what hope did she have?

    The response of that young player to the training video (ie ‘if they were just nicer to her afterward and said thank you there wouldn’t be a problem’) made me physically sick.

    • Clem Bastow said

      Me too, Penelope – it was shattering. Their awful blank faces when the lecturers tried to explain the double standard (i.e. in thinking that the player who was raped by a man wasn’t “asking for it” but the woman “flirted with both of them”/”put out first”) made me shudder.

      • Christine said

        I was really disturbed by their blank stares, too, and the final comment by the player that it would all be alright if the girl was treated well afterwards, if they got her a taxi and made sure she was ok. (!!!?!)

        I was also disgusted to see coverage of Johns’ sacking on Channel 10 news tonight calling it a “sex romp”. Why not “alleged gang rape” or even “rape claims”? The results of their poll had a majority (58%) say it was wrong for Johns to be punished.

        I’m looking around the web at newspaper coverage and the comments left sicken me to the core. I know attitudes toward sexual assault are far from enlightened in this country, but I didn’t realise they were THIS bad. I am repeatedly reading comments regurgitating the archaic myths that girls ask for it dressing a certain way, getting in a certain situation etc.

        I am so grateful to 4 Corners for their examination of this issue and getting right to the heart of it. I appreciated that they took blokey, footy culture and the heroism attached to it to task. Such courageous, intelligent and hard-hitting reports
        need to be kept up.

        One tactic to combat this complacent or blame-the-victim attitude toward rape I really would like to see is effective, committed education about sexual assault in high schools. The thickheaded unawareness of blatant double standards displayed by the seminar participants in the program, as well as these dreadful comments I keep reading make me realise that many, many people don’t have even a basic understanding of the seriousness of rape.

    • ms.E said

      What frightened me about this particular scene is that it appears young men are coming to the game with these attitudes! how many other young men there must be out there who are not ruby players and therefore do not receive this training?
      Or is attitude really born within rugby circles?

      • Jaa said

        Or the reply to the question whether this was wrong (in the training video): ‘depends how good his lawyer is.’fark.

  4. Bearded Lady said

    Thanks mscate. I’m similarly at a loss for words. Equally distressing are some of the viewers’ comments on the Four Corners website, many of them published before the programme was even aired.

  5. Andrew said

    I too was appalled with the behaviour of these rugby players. And on national tv last thursday nite, the player accused/implicated was given a pat on the back for belated apology after the proverbial has hit the fan. What’s next? A few tears to get public sympathy! Not from me i can assure all the good readers!!

    But I was not surprised. It has been going on for years. I lived in Queensland all through the nineties and witnessed some things that could only be described as criminal. Young women being abused, fondled and sexually harassed right before the eyes of club officials. This behaviour was not only tolerated but even encouraged or given at least tacit approval.

    I suggest that this matter must immediately go before the justice system and the behaviour cease. I can foresee that rugby will suffer no end. I am not a fan of the sport but know many people who are. If the sport is to survive, these conflicts must be resolved as quickly as possible.

    It is horrific enough that bad men behave in such a manner; even worse that good men stand by and allow it to occur by doing nothing!

  6. For all the hype leading up to the screening of this program, I found it quite underwhelming. As a piece of reporting, it was okay, but I found the context provided to the behaviour weak and ultimately unsatisfactory.

    Risk-taking? Alcohol? Too many groupies throwing themselves at them? The real issue, as you point out in your post, is a fundamental disrespect for women… and a very particular and very damaging manifestation of hegemonic masculinity.

    And given that this was probably the most damning of the current batch of reports, I’m not convinced that “trial by media” is any more effective than “trial by police”. Most of the condemnation I’ve read of Johns seems to be focused on him sleeping with a teenager, cheating on his wife and/or group sex (which is not the same thing as gang rape), and the other side is banging on about football groupies and silly drunk girls. What about, er, sexual assault? Because that is what the New Zealand woman appears to be alleging.

    And I agree that the footage from the consent and sexual violence seminar didn’t inspire much hope for the players, but if misogyny is learned, surely respect for the opposite sex can be too?

  7. debra said

    i did not watch the program but i know and can guess the rest of it. hence my disinterest in any football club as i feel (personally) it is an ingrained culture which will never change. i have no respect for sportsmen. i won’t watch the program as i don’t want to be further appalled. i call this personal harm minimisation. no amount of apology from these men can be viewed as genuine. if that is how they live you can’t all of a sudden be sorry because you have been found out. crocodile tears. i went to a co ed working class high school in the 70’s and was groped daily – not only breasts but hands up my school dress pushed against the lockers. i didn’t know then, that was sexual assault. albeit the offender often copped a kick to the nether regions or a punch to the face as this seemed to be a language they could understand. – not that violence is the answer, but at 14 i didn’t know any better. anyway just my 2cents worth.

  8. Geek Anachronism said

    I didn’t watch it, but KAK had snippets of it playing in the ‘news’ during her show and that was awful enough for me right now. I think the bit where the woman said there wasn’t a moment she wasn’t being handled and there was always someone there was the worst bit. Mind you, following that she had a lovely thing with Bettina Arndt and some other people about how poor mens don’t get enough sex when they’re married. As if my sex life as a married woman has nothing to do with the sexual violence that permeates society.

  9. Rhiana Whitson said

    It’s worth watching the 4 Corners extended interview with Charmyne Palavi, the “matchmaker” for NRL footballers and young women who want to bed them:

    Not to deflect the issue away from the criminals of this story – the NRL – I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the role of Charmyne Palavi and other women involved in this “scene.”

    Compared to the televised version Charmyne’s interview, the extended interview reflects a much more critical Charmyne about her involvement and analysis of the NRL. I still find her internalisation of the club-cultural degradation of women disturbing, but in the extended interview she comes across as less a willing and complicit participant in her involvement with these “really hot bodies.” Instead I see this internalisation as symptomatic of her own victimisation as a rape victim/survivor. Expressing the most archaic of still unfortunately still mainstream societal views towards rape (as shown in the presentation about consent given to young players in the 4 corners story) she explains that she kept her rape hidden from her partner, the police and from what we can gather, most other people close to her, because she feared that her partner would “react like a man” which according to her dealings with men means he would’ve failed to believe her, claimed that she was drunk and must have wanted/deserved it (i.e. rape). She feared that she being raped would lead to her partner breaking up with her.

    Interestingly she perceives herself as less a “matchmaker” than a “big sister” role in her dealings with young women who contact her, shockingly she seems to represent her post-rape self as almost “damaged goods” unable to “get out” of the same scene she says she discourages younger women to get out of “while they still can.”

    Charmyne’s perception of her rape, combined with her continued involvement in these circles and only mild outrage at the continued crimes she’s become privy too are very worrying; she sees herself as powerless, a pawn in the NRL players perverse sexual games, and at least at this point in time, she appears as though she has accepted her supposed fate. She knows that what is going on isn’t quite “right” but lacks the self-esteem to escape it. In short, Charmyne appears to me to be quite deeply scarred by her rape, and still in the denial phase – which is understandable, it can take years for the way the trauma of rape manifests itself in your life.

    We live in a society which treats sports people (and mainly it’s sports men) as GODS, we worship their athleticism, their hyper masculinity… this means that for some women who follow these sports, they follow suit and instead of recognising behavior towards women as harmful, abusive/misogynistic it is accepted as “part of club culture” a small concession to make to find themselves closer to players…

    My initial response to this story was that whilst it is of the utmost importance that the male players be dedicated about issues of consent and the misogynistic culture so entrenched in the game be stamped out, we also need to work more actively to EMPOWER the women involved in club culture. Because: THIS TYPE OF BEHAVIOR TOWARDS WOMEN SHOULD NEVER BE ACCEPTED BY WOMEN, to me this is clear evidence (not that we all didn’t know already) that FEMINISM IS STILL RELEVANT AND INTEGRAL TO THE LIVES OF YOUNG WOMEN – young women, as well as young men need to be taught in clubs and schools from a very young age that this type of treatment is never, ever acceptable, and it should NEVER be taken lightly.

  10. […] The Dawn Chorus has a good summary of some issues raised, and included this link to the story on the 4 Corners website. […]

  11. […] From the Dawn Chorus I was pleased to see training for rugby players about consent and sexual violence but despair that such training is necessary at all.  Such ‘education programs’ further perpetrate the notion that acts of sexual violence can be attributed to a lack of knowledge or willful ignorance of what constitutes sexual assault or consent. Surely respect for women at a deep internal level is not something which can be taught. Further, I shudder to think how one tabulates whether such programs reduce the instances of sexual assault against women. […]

  12. ms.E said

    Another aspect I found interesting was the focus, particularly at the start of the program, on what a violent, aggressive sport rugby is and what risk takers the players are, and therefore how hard it is to control them off field. It felt almost like these factors were being offered as an excuse or reason to justify the players behavior and clubs lack of response.
    I’m just guessing, but doesn’t being a professional sportsmen of any sort also require a great deal of discipline? Maybe there needs to be more of a focus on this aspect by the clubs in their approach to changing attitudes, rather than hiding behind the excuse that this aggressive behaviour is “needed” to be a good player.

    • mscate said

      It seems to suggest a kind of biological reductionism almost, that agression is an innate male response, intergral to certain sports…I’m waiting for someone to truck out the old men+testosterone=aggression palaver…

  13. mscate said

    Matthew Johns has been stood down from his position at Channel Nine. It’s a start.

  14. au revoir said

    Hearing that Johns has been sacked from Channel Nine and also as an Assistant Coach was the best news I have heard all week! Now, if only they would name and shame the other players.

  15. Christine said

    I feel sick at this latest development where a former workmate has come forward to say ‘Clare’ bragged about sleeping with the players. She said in a snarky tone ‘there was no trauma!’ The Australian public will surely take this as certain proof ‘Clare’ was lying. This whole incident has made me realise it’s not just NRL players or young people that need education about sexual assault, but this whole bloody country. How many people do you think will understand a sexual assault victim may first react by trying to convince herself she was in control, before the awful truth sinks in? Sadly, very few. I’m afraid even those who haven’t taken a side may now lean toward villifying the woman.

  16. Beau said

    As a victim of sexual violence I am horrified (though hardly surprised) by the sheer lack of objectivity displayed by the media in it’s representation of this case. This is extremely evident in the language used (as noted in previous posts here). The decisive refusal to actually acknowledge that an assault has been committed makes me feel undermined – as a citizen, a woman and as a consumer of the media. What really boiled my blood last night were Channel Ten’s supreme research skills, manifest as video footage of Matthew Johns’ Facebook page of all things. The pixelated screen shots of comments on his wall ‘We’re right behind you’ etc (posted by, um, whom? It could have been his publicist for Christ’s sake), somehow act as a legitimate perspective, when really it’s a wafer-thin and barely veiled projection of the position of Channel Ten, and a clear sign of the neglect and inherent sexism in our media. I am so mad mad mad and mostly, just disappointed and sad.

  17. hannahcolman said

    I love the oversimplification of the story on ACA’s website:

    Matthew Johns discusses the sex romp scandal that cost him his job at Nine, exclusively with ACA.

  18. […] for the last week or so, but I have not been able to summon the will to write about it myself. The Dawn Chorus has a good summary of the 4 Corners program, the Radical Radish analyses some of the issues, there […]

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