Whatever the judge’s decision, the case of Jack de Belin has illuminated what we truly value in this nation.
Jack de Belin, well known in the Rugby League world as a St George Illawarra, NRL and NSW Origin player, hit the headlines in February after being charged with an alleged rape in December last year.
I will state here, I am not going to distress readers by repeating what NSW Police alleged in court that de Belin and his friend Callan Sinclair are accused of doing. To understand how important this case is though, after my warning, I do urge you to read this original report of the rape allegations as this aspect seems to have been forgotten in all the press coverage surrounding de Belin.
Since this time, the NRL, who has struggled badly with poor player behaviour over the years, finally instituted what they called a “no-fault stand down policy” for any players who are facing criminal offences with a maximum jail term of 11 years or more. Pretty much the NRL is sick of players being the headlines for crappy behaviour instead of stunning football. Not to mention sponsors are not exactly looking favourable upon all this drama, so standing down a player—on pay mind you—means the player is pretty much out of the spotlight until innocence or guilt is determined by a court and the League can carry on without the distraction.
Of course, as Jack de Belin is a “star”, both he, his club and the Rugby League Players’ Association opposed this policy. They all think this undermines a player’s right to be presumed innocent. In my opinion, it doesn’t, it is a standard sort of procedure in most modern companies and large organisations with a public face, and the ability to put an employee on “leave”—with or without pay depending on contract—until legal proceedings are finalised is not uncommon.
Last month, de Belin took the NRL and their “no-fault stand down policy” to the Federal Court of Australia to have it overturned, demanded the NRL pay for “corrective advertising” and, accusing it of “misleading and deceptive conduct”, his legal eagle, Martin Einfeld QC, told the court, “In our submission it’s a harsh rule, it’s an unfair rule, it’s a draconian rule”.
At this stage, I will remind you again, while the “no-fault stand down policy” may stand down the player in question from running on for NRL games, they are still entitled to their innocence, full pay and can still train with their clubs.
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Thankfully on May 18, Federal Court Justice Melissa Perry dismissed this claim. Justice Perry said the rule was necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and NRL to act. I say thankfully as no sleight against Jack de Belin though as a fan of the ARLC and NRL finally addressing the issue of bad behaviour by too many in their game and not having it falter at the first hurdle.
Since then, Jack de Belin has been hit with additional charges that relate to the same alleged victim on May 29 in the Wollongong Local Court. He is now facing three rape charges.
Now I can understand that de Belin (who is currently on a contract of $545,000 for the 2019 NRL season) is worried about future earnings. That is a lot of money, particularly when it is widely known how difficult it is to prosecute any cases in this nation which involves violence against women. Only one in ten “reported”—“reported” is important—cases of sexual assault result in a conviction. Yet a staggering “17% of women and 4% of men experienced sexual assault since the age of 15”. Now consider this: according to figures issued by the Australian Institute of Criminology, an estimated 70% of sexual assaults incidents are not reported to the police.
To summarise, of the 30% of sexual assaults actually reported to police, only one in ten is likely to result in a conviction.
The odds are extremely high that Jack de Belin will most likely not end up in prison. I fear he will escape any charges on appeal.
Though not discussed openly in media, those statistics would have to be in the back of the minds of players and their association. For all the talk of the NRL taking a stand against violence against women, these well-paid men know that the chances of any form of sexual assault or domestic violence charge will most likely not stick.
Whole forests have been felled reporting on the potential damage to Jack de Belin’s career, hundreds of hours have been spent discussing how much this might cost de Belin, to how much support is the NRL giving de Belin, what happens if he doesn’t play Origin; it goes on.
Yet, very little media attention in this whole saga has been given to the alleged victim. There has been zero “concern” or “care” for the victim, or discussion of footballers and their attitude to and treatment of women.
— Peter Beattie (@SmartState1) February 18, 2019
In fact, prior to the NRL instituting their new policy, a blog piece of mine was picked up by the Daily Telegraph and reprinted. To be perfectly honest, I was terrified with some of the responses I received, which personally attacked me “for trying to damage a young man’s career”—and similar vibe—and some of the utterly repulsive attitudes displayed in comments. There were over 150 comments with so many “but what about…”, or “innocent until proven guilty, let him play”, “they are not role models”, “what about his fitness while stood down”, and the one which sickens me the most, the vibe of “women are attracted to celebrity sports stars and just try to cause problems for them”.
For me, this really illustrated Australia has a very serious problem with its attitude when it comes to violence against women.
With “Counting Dead Women” standing at 21 women dead, killed by violence in Australia, as at this date (May 31, 2019) so far this year (69 women in 2018)—and these horrendous statistics from Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia: “In Australia, 1 in 3 women will experience physical violence and 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault at some time in their lives. It is estimated that 126,000 incidents of indecent or sexual assault occur annually in Australia”—surely this is the bigger conversation?
Sadly I suspect I will be disappointed with future reporting on the de Belin case whatever the judgement may be. We seem to live in a nation where a sports star potentially losing future income is more worthy of screeds of analysis than women being violently assaulted.
Think about that for a moment.