While on bail, a Christian residential program gave Jarryd Hayne the benefit of the doubt.  His fellow students, mostly women, were not afforded the same consideration.

 

 

On March 22 at the Newcastle District Court, a famous and talented footballer was found guilty of two counts of sexual assault by a jury. The first time he faced a court over these charges, in December 2020, the jury was deadlocked and unable to reach a verdict. Despite the degree of difficulty in gaining a conviction in sexual assault cases, the Crown Prosecutor, Brian Costello, decided there was enough evidence for a retrial. The accused man – Jarryd Hayne – was eventually convicted by the second jury. 

On May 7, at Hayne’s sentencing, the scenes outside the District Court were described by various news outlets as “chaos”. A woman shouted that Hayne was innocent after Judge Helen Syme announced she was sentencing him to five years and nine months. Outside the court, a brawl erupted and a photographer was grabbed around the neck. The woman who brought the charges was spat at as she left the court.

Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Peter Fitzsimons, himself an ex-rugby player has written about his anger at the woman’s treatment and his revulsion at the idea of ‘the brotherhood’ where team-mates and friends of Hayne have voiced public support for the convicted man and open scepticism about the veracity of the victim. Fitzsimons quotes Krisnan Inu as saying “To the so-called victim. Hope you get the help you need because the things that was said about my boy, wasn’t what he’s about.” Both the players quoted in the Fitzsimons piece – Inu and Tony Williams – invoke God in their comments. Hayne is a member of the Hillsong church.

Despite decades of feminism, despite the extraordinary courage of so many women telling the truth about their experiences, despite countless courses, programs, debates, panels, books, articles, and God-knows-all-what, the myth that women frequently lie about sexual assault remains powerful. The facts, of course, indicate the exact opposite. Of the 2 million people who have experienced sexual assault, most never report, and of the few who do, only 10% result in a conviction. If those statistics were for murder or theft, we’d be up in arms, but we prefer to turn our face away from sexual assault. Far from rushing to ruin an innocent man’s life by handing the police and the courts a pack of lies, most women who suffer such criminal abuse never tell anyone. They keep silent because, as so many who have eventually found the courage to come forward have told us, they fear they will not be believed and will even be blamed. With good cause, it seems.

 


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But it’s worse than simply justice failing to be done. The refusal by so many – some of them, sadly, women – to believe victims is a form of collusion. It is a major contributor to so many people, mostly women and children, remaining vulnerable to sexual predators, throughout their lives. A new serious incident response scheme for residents in Aged Care began in April. In its first month, 108 reports of inappropriate sexual contact in aged care homes were made. It seems women – and some men – are not safe, ever.

When Jarryd Hayne is given the benefit of the doubt, which might spring from a place of kindness and a belief in the possibility of redemption, it is sadly inevitable that his victim is given the opposite. Not to put too fine a point on it, she becomes the accused. 

In 2019, after Hayne was originally charged with four offences – he was eventually acquitted of two of them – and was on bail, he was accepted into a Christian residential program in Perth run by Youth With A Mission (YWAM). The course is called the Discipleship Training School (DTS). Hayne was open about his legal status but told the organisers he was innocent of the charges and they believed him. I absolutely accept the premise of innocent until proven guilty and Hayne had not at that time had his day in court. And, despite not being religious, I also believe passionately in the possibility of redemption, so I have no quarrel with the school so far. 

YWAM Perth in a statement on Instagram said “Prior to his commencement in the course, we did everything in our power to inform staff and students and gain their feedback regarding Mr Hayne’s participation in the course.” However, some of those involved, including a fellow participant, dispute this, saying students were informed “individually by DTS two days after classes started because reporters were roaming around and had asked some students questions”. Many of the students were women – some as young as 18. Emma, a former student and staff member, says that many participants were international and were coming from as far away as the US and that the fees were hefty. One such student said “even if Jarryd being around had made me uncomfortable to the point of leaving, I had already worked really hard and put all of my savings towards the DTS. I didn’t have the money to get a plane ticket home.”

 

YWAM Perth in a statement on Instagram said “Prior to his commencement in the course, we did everything in our power to inform staff and students and gain their feedback regarding Mr Hayne’s participation in the course.” However, some of those involved, including a fellow participant, dispute this, saying students were informed “individually by DTS two days after classes started because reporters were roaming around and had asked some students questions.”

 

According to Emma, the number of students at these residential courses generally averages around 50, and given that 1 in 3 women have experienced violence or sexual violence, it is reasonable to assume that some of those students may themselves have been survivors, not to mention some of the staff members. Another student said that when she broached the subject of feeling triggered over an alleged rapist being on campus, course organisers told her she would have to talk to them when she felt at risk. When she asked if counselling was available, the answer was no. She says she was “heartbroken seeing a program like this so ill-equipped (for) keeping their students safe.”

We seldom consider how much we ask of women when we blithely, even judgmentally, expect them to accept a man accused of sexual assault at his word. Perhaps there were people involved who would have been prepared to accept Hayne as a fellow student regardless, but surely they should have been given a proper, informed choice long before the course began? 

I do not doubt that innocent people occasionally get convicted which is a horrific miscarriage of justice, no matter what crime they have been accused of. However, our tendency (enabled by patriarchal religions that seem to harbour dark suspicions of women just for being women) to give blokes the largest possible benefit of the doubt, while giving women none at all, has a chilling consequence. It makes the world more dangerous. We have seen this over and over. There’s the epidemic of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church, the tendency of conservative religious leaders to send women back into violent marriages, the lack of care shown by some members of the police force towards victims of domestic violence, and the fundamentalist belief that women are vessels of temptation and simply by showing a bit of flesh, flirting via text messages, drinking too much or enjoying the attention of the famous, we deserve everything we get. Tell that to the frail and elderly women in Aged Care.

But there is something even worse about our desire to believe men and not women. By spitting at accusers, calling them a ‘so-called victim’, assuming they must be lying or doing it to get revenge, attention or money. By arguing that a woman was ‘asking for it’ or that she is crazy, hysterical or delusional, we are having an even more insidious effect. We are sending a very clear message to any woman who might be thinking of seeking justice for sexual assault that the game is not worth the candle. That the price she will have to pay, even if she proves her case in court, will be very heavy indeed. We want women to remain silent.

And who does silence help? The perpetrators.

 

 

 

 

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