Sunday, 1 July 2012

Saying no to the All Blacks

Another rugby tour, another allegation of sexual assault by a rugby player, this time Junior All Black Nathan Harris, accused of raping a woman in a South African hotel after losing a big rugby match.

It's worth paying attention to how this case is reported - whatever the outcome - because it's instructive of how "mainstream" New Zealand deals with sexual violence.

Firstly, there was point blank denial:
The New Zealand Rugby Union has spoken with 3 News and completely denies their players were involved. 
The same day, the story changed somewhat, with NZ Rugby Union general manager acknowledging that there had been some kind of discussion with Police before the Baby All Blacks left South Africa and that the NZRU will co-operate fully:
“Neither team management, nor NZRU have been contacted by the local authorities since then or advised of any further issues or inquiries. If we are contacted we will cooperate and help in any way we can.  The team has just returned from South Africa, and we will discuss the matter further with team management in due course.   Our understanding of the matter is that the allegation is focused on one player.” 
It's at this point we also find out that the woman concerned had come to the hotel to meet player/s, and that she may have been drunk.  Neither of these things mean, of course, that she could not be raped - because rape is simply about non-consensual intercourse - but nonetheless, we know these things now.

The next day, we hear more from the NZRU.  It turns out one of their players was actually asked for a DNA sample before leaving South Africa.  We also find out the woman concerned cannot remember what happened, and cannot identify the alleged rapist.  If this is true of course, it makes any sexual contact at all illegal.  In South Africa, as in New Zealand, it is not possible to give consent if you are so drunk or incapacitated by drugs that your judgment is negatively impacted.  This is tricky in court - how drunk is too drunk? But if someone says what happened to them wasn't what they wanted, and they are so drunk they cannot remember, consent is definitely compromised.

At this point, we also find out that the NZRU see this allegation as "as serious as it gets" with Chief Executive Steve Tew discussing his concerns about Junior All Blacks:
They get an awful lot of advice, and the dangers of being in a foreign country where you put yourself at risk if you make poor decisions and obviously this young man has made a poor decision and he's now dealing with it.
So the "dangers of being in a foreign country" include making "poor decisions" which you have to deal with afterwards.  Too true.  I'm just not sure I've heard forcing someone else to do sexual things they don't want to do described in this way before.

It's clear at this point who we should have sympathy with - and in fact the player concerned is described as "very upset", what with all the danger in the foreign country I guess.

A couple of days later, the player concerned tells the world who he is, and that he's innocent, but that he shouldn't have let the woman alleging rape into his room.  This is interesting, because now we no longer have a sexual assault case hinging on identification.  Perhaps he knew his DNA test was going to positively confirm sexual contact.  Now, this case is all about consent.

The Baby All Black is innocent, he tells us, and he's sorry he invited the woman back to his room, sorry he let down his team-mates, and sorry his family are having a hard time.  He is hoping for a "good outcome" so he can "get on with his life." 

Another article the same day talks about the "pressure cooker" situation players selected to play rugby for New Zealand face, and notes that some players "transgress".  We also start to get character references from neighbours about what a nice bloke the alleged rapist is.

Can you be a "nice bloke" and rape someone?  Of course you can - otherwise we would have far fewer rapes in New Zealand.  They are not all carried out by scary dudes with "Rapist" tatooed on their forehead.  They are mostly carried out by men who do not recognise, or decide not to recognise, when positive consent has NOT been given.  Alcohol is a factor the majority of the time - it makes it harder to resist, makes it easier to overcome internal barriers around over-riding someone else's wishes, and it makes it more likely afterwards that alleging rape will be difficult, precisely because recall will be diminished and people will consider the victim's drinking makes them partially culpable.

I have some prevention tips for the All Blacks, and they are not about danger in foreign countries.  It's time we started preparing our sportsmen to think about their responsibilities as role models for masculinity.  It's time we started openly talking about consent - what it looks like, how you negotiate it - and insisting it is part of every sexual encounter.  And it's time we demand that the All Blacks, our prime brand, representing all of us in Aotearoa New Zealand, understand consent and respectful relating so well that we never hear another rape or domestic violence allegation made against any of them, ever again.

Other countries do it.  The US and Canada provide sexual violence prevention training for male athletes.  So does rugby league in Australia.  It's not good enough for the NZRU to lie, then claim to take seriously, then excuse allegations of sexual violence.  It's not Andy Haden's world anymore.


Hugh said...

" It's time we started preparing our sportsmen to think about their responsibilities as role models for masculinity."

Here's a better idea - let's stop looking at rugby players as role models for anything other than people who want to get very good at playing rugby.

LudditeJourno said...

Hi Hugh, nope, don't agree, I'd much rather dominant masculinities were reframed, as they are being in the US and Australian programmes I linked to, to not support and encourage violence (in this instance, against women, personally I'd go further). And in NZ it doesn't get much more dominant than the All Blacks - with the positives (team-work, supporting one another, much more racially integrated team, and historically racially integrated team than many other successful sports teams including Maori and Pasifika men in leadership roles, etc etc) and the negatives (extreme adoration of being "hard" and inflicting "big hits", not showing emotion/pain, excusing and condoning violence against women etc etc.)

Brett Dale said...

Brilliant piece. It's been disgusting how the media has handle this. Doesn't matter if it's the hearald, fairfax or TVNZ, they have been so so pushing that we should feel sorry for this guy and what he is going through.

It shows the power and strangle hold the NZRFU has on the media. The way they have been reporting this story is beyong belief.

I can guarantee you if this was a member of the Junior Kiwis (Rugby league)the media will be treating this story so different.

Still it's not as repugnant As Andrew Saville from a few years ago leading another rape allegation story on TVNZ and saying "Hijinks at the Hilton"

Here's hoping the lady that made the allegation is getting all the help and support she needs, because she is the victim here.

Hugh said...

"I'd much rather dominant masculinities were reframed"

As would I. I just don't think 'This guy does X, and he's good at playing rugby, therefore you should do X' is a good way to go about this reframing.

Annani said...

I'd rather the caption on that ad was "Don't be a rapist". "That guy" sounds like the dude who always ends up chucking up off the balcony or spilling his beer on the carpet.

Anyway, I agree that being able to kick a ball doesn't qualify a person to be a good role model, but the fact is that rugby players are considered role models in this country. I also think that all people deserve to be treated as innocent until proven otherwise, but this framing of Harris as an innocent victim of some drunk slapper's* rape allegation is just... incredibly sickening.


* Worst offender: this story on NZ Herald - "Party turns into nightmare for Harris"

B side said...

Of course the possibility that the Woman is a lying so and so or has simply forgotten her own actions at the time due to being phonged out of her mind with self inflicted abuse is not even raised surprise.

LudditeJourno said...

No surprise B side, you're right - unlike the majority of media outlets, I won't be assuming this rape allegation is a lie, or a bit of fuss about nothing. I don't believe that's a valid assumption to be making in this case, or in the vast majority of others, because of reams of research into reporting of sexual violence to the police. But I'm sure you'll be able to find vast quantities of articles that will assume both of those things - that's rape culture, we're soaking in it.

Hugh said...

@B: You do realise that having sex with somebody who's so drunk they won't remember it is rape, right?

Anonymous said...

@B side:

Fewer than 5% of rape complaints are false, and these usually don't proceed to charges or conviction (i.e. that figure is just allegations made to the police and false complaints tend to be OBVIOUSLY false so it is extremely rare for them to proceed further). That means there's at least a 95% chance this woman is telling the truth. Considering the threshold for reasonable doubt is 98% you can almost convict this guy based on her word.


Anonymous said...

LJ, while I share your disgust for the framing and reportage of this case, I think your statement "another rugby tour, another rape allegation" is an unhelpful generalising statement.

@me. I hope you never get on a jury.


Anonymous said...

@bluey - i have worked in the sexual abuse field for over ten years. if my comments are too difficult for you to handle then i suggest you shield yourself from most other truths in life too. reality sucks.

Anonymous said...

anon (i presume @me) i dont find your comments difficult to handle, i just think the idea that you could convict someone of a serious crime based on allegation without any other process ludicrous. the innocent until proven guilty presumption leads to all sorts of horrendous pain for victims but the solution is not to throw out the process entirely.


Hugh said...

I don't think me was really suggesting that the man should be convicted based on accusation. Zhe was just trying to point out that, if we are going to play the "possibilities" game, it doesn't really cut the accused's way.

Anonymous said...

@hugh i dont think we should be using probability as a criminal justice tool, but to the extent to which it was used by @me it was mathematicallly unsound.