When a good time turns to rape

Joshua Hewitt 

Rape, consent and the grey zone, at 10 in the morning.  And a keen crowd has turned up to hear journalist and writer Anna Krien tackle the subject head on.

Anna Krien’s latest book, Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport begins as a tale of a good night that turns bad. The writer focuses her book on the trial of a young man, Justin Dyer, who was charged with the rape of Sarah Wesley following a night celebrating Collingwood’s 2010 AFL victory.

What appears at first to be a relatively straightforward case of a rape in an alleyway becomes complicated by another event that occurred earlier that evening – an incident involving the same girl and two of Collingwood’s high profile players. Anna Krien says that like most journalists, her ears pricked up when she heard that two Collingwood football players were being questioned about a gang rape that occurred in the aftermath of Collingwood’s victory.

Journalist and author Anna Krien

Journalist and author Anna Krien

When the two players in question were not charged, the media throng disappeared, however Anna Krien did not. “The one man charged was insignificant,” she says. “He wasn’t a high profile footballer, he played in the junior league.” What was significant was that, despite having no link to Collingwood, he was being represented by the club’s lawyer.

“I wondered if this was Collingwood’s way of controlling the narrative and making sure that their two players weren’t brought into the trial,” she said. Anna also thought that whatever occurred in the bedroom with the Collingwood players was too difficult for the police and too sophisticated for a jury. “Where as the alleyway fitted a stereotypical rape scene,” she said.

Anna Krien uses the case to explore issues of rape, consent, sexual harassment and football culture. “Rape cases are extremely difficult, let alone in a case such as this,” she said. She immersed herself in the trial and became quite close to the defendant. “I ended up liking him. He wasn’t the stereotype. He wasn’t this big bad footballer who thought the world owed him something, and that he could take whatever he wanted. He was quite gentle and reserved and quite reticent,” she said.

This closeness brought her under scrutiny, particularly from the prosecution, she said. She believes it was part of the reason Sarah Wesley would not speak to her. She said that the prosecution thought she had picked a side. She sees this as one of the problems with the kind journalism she pursues. “Everyone always wants to know which side you’re on,” she said.

The voice of the young woman involved in the case is absent from the book. Not only would she not speak to Anna, her testimony was heard via a video link before a closed court. Anna wonders what the young woman lost by not appearing in the court.

“Ultimately she would have come out feeling like the legal system had failed her because he was acquitted,” she said. “She would have come out with this idea that she wasn’t believed. But I do think that if she was in that court room and she saw what I saw, which was a man who was actually very broken and suffering and very damaged, she might have come out with something; something might have healed within her.”

Outside of the case, Anna explores the “herd mentality” of young men such as footballers, and what she describes as the grey zone, the zone where the line between consent and rape is imperceptible.

“I’m really interested in that space between a man’s action and a woman’s inaction,” she said. She grapples with the confusing terrain that men and women sometimes find themselves in. She described a situation where a woman is “up for it” and enjoying herself with one player, and then another player enters and still she is enjoying herself, and then another player enters. But at this point, Anna said, ” There must be this really sobering moment when she goes, ‘oh, hang on, this isn’t about me. I’m actually not even in this bedroom’, and slowly what was a good night, flips into this degrading ceremony.”

Throughout the book, Anna expresses a range of sympathies, never laying the blame at the feet of just one group. Yet she believes that football clubs are missing an opportunity to positively influence young decent men.

“If there were ever a field or industry that could create good young men, who play sport well and treat women well, this is it,” she said. She believes that the clubs have made a genuine effort to change the culture, but that there is still a long way to go.

“They should be taught responsibility and respect, rather than what’s criminal and how not to cross the line.”