A woman can’t be a little bit pregnant, she can’t be a little bit dead, she can’t be a little bit equal, and she most certainly can’t be a little bit sexually assaulted.
If consent is absent, rape has occurred. There is no grey.
While the details get shuffled about – the code, the players, the seedy nightclub providing the backdrop – in essence the same story is being retold. Footballers and sexual assault. The same story and frequently, the same public reaction: scepticism.
Blame it on misogyny, blame it on our cultural pastime of cynicism or blame it on a media ever on the hunt for an “angle”, the more frequently these stories appear in the press, the greater our scrutiny of the victim.
As a rule our society may accept that rape is wrong, rape is heinous, rape is unforgiveable, but when these cases involve demi-Gods and ball sports, suddenly the game changes. Suddenly, not only is the case treated as a bit iffy, but more startling, we revert to the bad old days when it’s not only healthy scepticism about rape but outright victim vilification.
Unlike rape cases not involving sportsmen, footballer assault stories are treated to a front page, 6pm airing. Unlike “real life” cases played out in police stations, crisis centres and court rooms, in the footballer cases every known – and merely speculated – detail is put under the public microscope. Great attention is given to terms like allegedly and groupie and fan and partying and inebriated and not only is the nameless, faceless victim scrutinised, but publically demonised for daring to besmirch the pristine reputation of Australian sport.
Endless fascination exists with considering allegations to be fabricated. Extensive speculation occurs about morning-after remorse, about attention-seeking, about story deals with New Idea. Enthusiastically do we lament the smudged reputation of “heroes”. Rarely do we flip the coin. Rarely do we dare talk about the tragic numbers of unreported rapes. Or the ruined life of victims. Or the reality that men – men in numbers too frightening to consider – sexually assault women. The media have groomed us so keenly to hunt for an angle ourselves that thinking about the victim just seems thoroughly superfluous.
Our culture spews forth numerous paradoxes. A favourite is the mixed messages we send young women about sex and sport. On one hand we trip over ourselves to laud footballers. We throw them parades, pay them ridiculous sums of money and call some “God” and “Son of God”, the irony having been lost long ago. WAGs become celebrities, not because they have contributed anything meaningful to society, but because they have reached the pinnacle of womanly success: they’ve nabbed a ‘baller.
While we worship ball wranglers and laud WAGs as though it’s a profession befitting a peace prize, in the same breath we like to talk about individual responsibility. To advise women about their obligations not to stir the lust of men, to not – God forbid – start something they can’t finish. We’re “treated” to the deep insights of an outed racist reminding women to expect sexual abuse – not Milo – if they dare drink.
When the grey of footballer assault is mooted, the evidence offered is young women worshipping players. Of shadowing them at known hang-outs, about following them spaniel-like on pub crawls. Like our anachronistic perceptions of knee-high boots and low cut tops, apparently if a young woman participates in state sanctioned athlete adulation, she needs to brace herself for the inevitable. The inevitable, apparently, being a ball player’s inability to act decently.
We tell women to be sensible around their idols, to keep their wits about them, to preempt the toxic mix of their lip gloss and gushing. Rarely do we dare tell footballers to be careful of their celebrity. To not exploit it. To not see a besotted drunk girl and think score. To dare to say no.
For all their gross tragedy, these assault cases do serve a few educative purposes.
They remind us that, as we always suspected, our love of sport has affected our judgment.
They remind us that, as we always suspected, if athletes are involved, different rules apply.
They remind us that, as we always suspected, gender equality is at most a pipe dream.
Oh the humanity.
October 06, 2010
© Lauren Rosewarne