Sports Rape Culture Keeps On Thriving

by Cara on July 9, 2008

in media, misogyny, patriarchy, pop culture, rape and sexual assault, slut-shaming, violence against women and girls

The title to this opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald about rugby rape culture is atrocious — When a woman cries rape, a football code turns itself into a fortress — but it turns out that we can either blame the editor, or a poor sense of irony. Because the article is actually quite good and very responsible. One could almost say feminist.

A woman reported being raped by four members of the English rugby union team. And what has followed, of course, is a bunch of misogynistic “bitches lie” and “it’s a plot against the team” ranting. In one of the largest, most widely-read and widely-respected newspapers in Australia, Jessica Halloran calls out the rape apologist bullshit.

In the past 10 years, of English soccer players involved in sexual assault allegations, all charges have been dropped. For the past 28 years not one professional footballer from any major Australian football code has been convicted of sexual assault. And in the end it’s “predatory women” we seem to have a problem with.

For the teenager involved in the Pony Club incident many will have asked; what was she doing there? Why did she go back to that hotel? And no doubt some will go as far to say, “she got herself into that situation; she was asking for it”.

“Girls who party with rugby players till all hours of the night and then think that nothing will happen – must be crazy,” a blog contributor wrote.

Another wrote: “Here we go again with another women supposedly being raped. Another party girl trying to cash into what is now getting a bit ridiculous.”

All the usual lines have been used to try to sully the woman’s reputation. There had been speculation she is a lap dancer (she is not), a sports groupie (hardly a crime) and that she had had her “boobs hanging out” (who cares?).

Shockingly, but not surprisingly, came the line from the insiders at the Rugby Football Union that this was a set-up.

The British paper The Independent said those insiders believed the allegations of rape after the first Test in Auckland were “designed to destabilise” England. “If there had been any substance in the case it should have been dealt with,” a Twickenham official said. “The whole episode has been unsatisfactory, but you have to remember that New Zealand are still bitter with us over their exit from the World Cup.”

Yup. And while we don’t have a large rugby fan base in the U.S., you can see this culture at work every time there’s an allegation against a college athlete, as well as the pros. Bitches. Lie. Oh, how they lie. (Except when they don’t.)

Read the rest, because there’s a lot of important information about how the case has already been horribly mishandled by the judicial system.  Halloran goes on to cite numerous other cases and note that this mentality, as well as the tendancy by the accused to refuse speaking to the media or police, is rather commonplace.

In 2004 the feeling was the same within the rugby league fraternity when sexual assault allegations emerged against the Canterbury Bulldogs.

So many anecdotes emerge from the football codes about players being hunted by these women that rarely do we hear footballers giving up stories about women being mistreated.

And with the Auckland case, again a rich football association is proving to be a fortress. For a week England kept a policy of silence in the face of questioning from the media. The players, on advice from their lawyers, initially refused to be questioned by Auckland police.

The solidarity and unity that is the lifeblood of sporting teams can also be a powerful thing off the field and perhaps too much for a teenager to take on.

Yes — or for any grown woman.

Before I had even gotten this far, my mind drifted to the Bulldogs.  I don’t think that the case ever got any attention here, but it was big, big news in Australia.  And very disturbing.  A woman alleged that she was raped by multiple members of the team, while additional players looked on.  There then emerged evidence that gang bangs were a regular part of the Bulldogs’ culture.  (Certainly, a woman can consent to sex with multiple men, and I’m not going to admonish people for their sexual preferences.  But I will judge the players for hiring prostitutes, and for the language and culture surrounding the things they did.)

What I remember what some of the wildest, most large-scale rape apologism I’ve ever witnessed.  It really was like the Duke lacrosse case, only with less racism and seemingly larger percentages of the population who were invested in the allegations against their team being proven false.

The moment that stood out most was in one of my classes where the topic came up and an impromptu debate was held.  Only, it wasn’t so much of a “debate” when virtually the only vocalized opinion in the room was that the Bulldogs were getting a raw deal.  One young woman in the class, around my age at the time, 20-ish, seemed to think herself an expert on the whole case and happily explained “you know, the woman was known as someone who had sex with all of the players and was basically a prick tease. So if she was in the room with them . . .”  That was when I finally said something.  I don’t remember what, but I do remember that I said it loudly enough to interrupt and talk over her, and that it was most likely along the lines of “it doesn’t matter how many players she slept with in the past or on that same night.  A woman can have sex with twenty guys in a row, and if she tells the twenty-first guy to stop and he doesn’t, THAT’S RAPE.”  I do remember the whole room looking at me like I was the crazy unhinged feminist.  I was the one who was being outrageous.  And the woman who had been talking just looked at me in utter shock and said something like “well yeah, I didn’t say it wasn’t . . .” except that she totally had.  And then she continued explaining how it was okay to rape this woman.  Because, you know, she was a “prick tease.” What did she expect going there, and you know how guys are. No one else challenged her, including the professor, who was female.  I ended up just switching off.  I blocked her out, went to my happy place or something.  I didn’t have the vocabulary for this sort of argument yet, and it was too soon after my own rape to deal.  To this day, though, I wish that I had gotten up, taken my bag and left.

Of course, since the Bulldogs themselves weren’t publicly talking, rumors also started flying.  And because I was in Sydney, everyone “knew someone” who really knew what had happened.  It was quite remarkable, actually, particularly because all of the bullshit was in the form of excuses for and not allegations against the team.  Well, okay, that’s not exactly remarkable.  But it shocked me at the time.  I’ll never forget the most outlandish story I heard: someone very authoritatively informed me that they knew someone who knew the Bulldogs, and okay so maybe they did rape the woman, maybe not, but whether consensual or not, not all of the players in the room did anything!  One of them, they told me breathlessly, only sat in the corner and masturbated!  This, I suppose, was supposed to convince me of the Bulldogs’ virtue, not that they were rapist (and rape accomplice) scum.  I’d say that if this is your defense, you’re better off not talking.  But one can only presume that others found the story sympathetic and compelling, as it had the feeling of one that well-worn, scripted from telling many people before me.

I tell you all of this now, not because I think that the case was particularly unusual.  Quite the opposite. The only unusual thing about the Bulldogs allegation was its extraordinarily large scale.  I tell you because it’s a part of a pattern. It’s a story you’ve likely heard before. It’s the story we’re looking at here. They’re always the same.

It was my first real introduction to mass rape apologism.  Indeed, it might have been the moment when the notion of “rape culture” first dawned on me.  What an introduction it was.

That year, the Bulldogs won the Grand Final. They were all over television, being praised. Heroes.

The only problem with this opinion piece is that it fails to go far enough to connect these cases to a greater rape apologist culture and not just some really good and unscrupulous PR guys who work for sports teams.  In a culture that was not so repulsively anti-woman, the lies and the smears could not exist.  They couldn’t use lines about how a woman who hangs out with rugby players deserves what’s coming to her, or she was wearing something low cut, or she’s a slut (same thing, right?) and so she must be lying.  These kinds of arguments simply wouldn’t hold any water.  In a world where women were equally valued, where they had a right to not be raped, they would be nonsensical.  Comments about her “poor decisions” and state of dress would be utterly meaningless.  But instead, these are the arguments that take hold with the public — because they fit the narrative of golden boys and evil, conniving girls.

Look, I believe rape accusers until given reason not to. And so I believe the woman here. But even if she were lying, even if she came out tomorrow and recanted saying that yes!, she was actually working for the All Blacks, hired to bring down the English team and she just couldn’t handle the guilt anymore and had to confess — even if that hugely unlikely scenario happened, if the players were vindicated, we still ought to be hugely, terribly disturbed by what is happening here. The treatment of this woman, though obviously affecting her more than anyone, isn’t about her. The insults have nothing to do with her. The apologies have nothing to do with her. They have to do with a hatred of women. Even if she were to turn out to be one of those tiny percentages of women, equal to all other crimes, who file false rape reports — and again, I don’t think she is — that’s not even the point anymore. The point is that people are arguing that if she had been raped, it would have been acceptable for X reason. The point is the argument that she could not have possibly been raped for Y reason. The point is that she has been made unrapable. And no matter what, we must refuse to accept it.

Is sporting culture more misogynist and rape apologist than the culture at large?  Most likely. But it couldn’t survive in the abscence of an outside culture willing to feed it.

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{ 15 comments }

1 Jenee July 9, 2008 at 11:46 pm

I just wanted to write a quick, one or two word response expressing my agreement, but none of the words I could think of seemed strong or affirming enough. You kick ass. Don’t stop.

2 Jem July 10, 2008 at 4:07 am

I’m glad you’re writing about this! I’m a NZer, but living in Britain for a bit, and I almost laughed (sadly) at the coverage of this.

She did it to destabalise the team, really? Do they think that all of NZ is in on this conspiracy, or that this woman is just especially ‘bitter’ and thought of this cunning plan by herself?

Also, cashing in? I haven’t noticed rape victims getting much in the way of payouts recently, but maybe I’ve missed something.

I think she’s actually decided not to press charges (although I may be wrong) because she doesn’t want to deal with the media. Which is incredibly sad, but you can kind of understand.

3 Seth July 10, 2008 at 9:49 am

It’s a shame your message isn’t more like common sense. It certainly seems that way to me. Certain things need to be all volunteer only, this is one of those things.

4 SRod July 10, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Long time reader, first time commenter. Cara, you are on point every day. It inspires me to continue to be critical despite the backlash. To echo Seth’s comment, your message (and that of others) is indeed common sense and I too am saddened, frustrated and incensed every time I read about atrocities such as this one in which common sense fails to prevail over misogynistic bullshit. Every day, I encounter misogyny and sexism in its explicit and insidious forms, and every day I wish it were easier to make change.

5 shiva July 10, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Competitive sport as a concept is based on a fundamentally fascist ideology, so it’s no surprise to me at all that the players are rapists. If might is (quite literally) right on the playing field, then it will be treated as such in all aspects of life.

I really have no understanding of why any feminist (or progressive of any kind) would support competitive sport at all.

6 Jha July 10, 2008 at 2:14 pm

You’ve said it so many times, and everytime you do, it makes me both angrier that it’s still happening, and more frustrated that it’s not common sense.

Thanks for keeping up the good fight.

7 Renee July 10, 2008 at 2:23 pm

One of them, they told me breathlessly, only sat in the corner and masturbated! This, I suppose, was supposed to convince me of the Bulldogs’ virtue, not that they were rapist (and rape accomplice) scum.

This really gets my blood boiling. If you sit in a room and watch a woman being raped your are equally guilty of committing rape. Failure to act is not a proof of innocence, it is proof of your complicity.

8 Lemur July 10, 2008 at 4:40 pm

“Girls who party with rugby players till all hours of the night and then think that nothing will happen – must be crazy,” a blog contributor wrote.
Yeah, totally. I mean, what was this girl thinking, leaving the house with a vagina? Socializing with men? And just expecting to be treated like a human being and NOT RAPED- clearly, she must be crazy.
Excuse me, I think I have to go vomit now. And maybe stab myself in the head.

9 SunlessNick July 10, 2008 at 9:31 pm

Even if she were to turn out to be one of those tiny percentages of women, equal to all other crimes, who file false rape reportsI think it’s less than other crimes, not equal. We see over and over the shit that is piled on women who report rape – how they’re slut-shamed and told how their wrong actions brought it all on themselves (and that’s from people who claim to be on their side) – we see how their lives are more likely to be trashed than the man they accuse. Reporting a rape involves more pain and less likely return than reporting any other crime – so yeah, I’d need considerable evidence before believing that any woman is voluntarily putting herself through it for no reason.

And I suspect deep down, that most MRA-types and sport-culture enthusiasts get that too. They just respond to it by hating rape victims even more – for reminding them that when they spew their bile onto victims, they prove that advocates for victims are right when they point out the bile that gets spewed. How dare the bitches force them to show their true colours like that?

10 SunlessNick July 10, 2008 at 9:33 pm

“Even if she were to turn out to be one of those tiny percentages of women, equal to all other crimes, who file false rape reports”

This bit of my last comment was a quote of Cara’s post of course. I seem to really suck at coding on this blog.

11 Jem July 11, 2008 at 3:52 am

Oh also, now there’s this http://www.stuff.co.nz/4615055a10.html – because if you don’t cry, it’s not rape, right?

12 SunlessNick July 11, 2008 at 8:38 am

Ah, the old “not following the designated Scared Victim script” ploy. Anyone hit bongo yet?

13 SunlessNick July 11, 2008 at 8:53 am

That was actually meant to read “Sacred Victim” – though I supposed it amounts to the same thing in this case.

14 Mickle July 11, 2008 at 2:30 pm

“I mean, what was this girl thinking, leaving the house with a vagina?”

That reminds me of Wanda sykes stand-up bit about detachable vaginas. With the unspoken punchline being that the vagina isn’t really the part that rapists are after, it’s the violation of consent and autonomy.

(which I know you know, but society tend to ignore that)

15 Mickle July 11, 2008 at 2:39 pm

sorry for the double posts but…

I have to take issue with this:

“If might is (quite literally) right on the playing field, then it will be treated as such in all aspects of life.”

As a soccer player (from kindergarten to college) I can tell you that might is not the only thing that’s important. It’s not even the most important thing (though, yes, a certain amount is always essential). Skill, intelligence, and teamwork are essential as well. At least in soccer.

The biggest problem with competetive sports isn’t the physical competetion on the field, it’s the way the players are revered off the field, the way some coaches let “star” players get away with being bad teammates, and the way it creates an “us” vs. “them” mentality within the team with regard to everyone else.

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