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.


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