"Our players are innocent" screamed the front page of Rupert Murdoch's Sydney Daily Telegraph on February 26. The accompanying article was about the alleged gang rape of a Coffs Harbour woman by up to six players from the Canterbury Bulldogs rugby league team on February 22.
This is the second time Bulldogs players have faced rape allegations. A year before the latest allegations, at the same holiday resort, another woman told police that she had been raped by a Bulldogs player while another looked on.
Despite the violence of the alleged crimes, the focus of the media has been on what it means for the players and their club's image.
The discussion on talk-back radio and in fan club chat rooms has unfortunately reflected misogynist myths common about rape. Many fans, trying to explain and excuse the players' behaviour, have blamed it on the "pressure" placed on footy stars. In arguing that the players have a tendency to misbehave when drunk, many have revealed how much rape is still trivialised.
One fan wrote: "I know 'no' means no, but sometimes in a drunken state that may mean maybe and when both are in the drunken state, it just happens."
Others' comments included, "I am sure the girl wasn't totally innocent, maybe she was flirting", and, "If I were the Bulldogs club, I would hire two to three prostitutes to take on the team bus after each trip away, so the players can fuck themselves silly after each game when they get on the drink."
Rape is not about having lots of sex, being overindulgent, or being drunk. Rape is about exerting power over a victim. It is an act of violence, not sexual passion. Men do not rape women because they like them, but because they have contempt for their rights.
And let's get it straight: violence is violence regardless of the perpetrator's career, how much they drank, or whether they had previously had sex with the victim.
The Bulldogs have employed their own team of private investigators to examine what took place. They are likely to be looking for every piece of information to dirty the victim's image.
If she goes through with court proceedings, this young woman is likely to be attacked by the corporate media, her sexual history and her life will be examined and judged.
But what about a serious examination of the incredibly misogynist culture within football teams? Is the media, or the National Rugby League, going to do anything about that?
So far, the NRL initiatives are inadequate — curfews, security personnel traveling with players to "keep them out of trouble", early return from away matches, curbing binge drinking, leadership and personal development courses and a strict player code of conduct. Almost all these measures are designed to control players, not to shift sexist attitudes.
The real problem with the media overage of this case, however, extends well beyond it. Coverage that implies the football players are, at worst, misguided and badly mannered, and women silly enough to party with them more or less deserve what they get, help to justify a culture of sexual violence that sees around 140,000 Australian women assaulted every year.
Instead of talking endlessly of the impact that the allegations will have on the players, we need to discuss what impact these attitudes have on women and how they can be fought. Just another reason to march on International Women's Day this year — we'll see you there!
From Green Left Weekly, March 3, 2004.
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