Reposted from my Wordpress blog.
By now, most of Australia has probably heard about Peter “Spida” Everitt’s incoherent ramblings on Twitter. Since then he has tried to back pedal and claims he is trying to stop “false” allegations of rape and sexual assault. On Sunrise he said “…if it is untrue, you’ve gotta be punished”. This is, to say the very least, problematic.
Courts do not find people innocent. They find them guilty or not guilty. Not guilty is not the same as innocent. Furthermore, someone being found guilty or not guilty does not have any bearing on the actual TRUTH of the situation. Courts don’t work in truth, they work in evidence presented. This is why there are plenty of criminals who walk free and plenty of innocent people who are convicted.
Now, I’m not saying that false claims of rape and sexual assault never happen. They absolutely do and it’s disgusting because, in the public mind, it further invalidates the real victims as well as damaging the lives of the accused. No one is denying that.
The point is they don’t happen very often and Everitt’s statement that “…none of these allegations have been found true” suggests that he believes every single time a sports star has been accused of sexual assault, the girl has been making it up. Every. Single. One. Seriously Mr Everitt? You honestly believe that? Because if you do, this says a lot more about the attitude of sports stars than it does about the veracity of the allegations.
The fact is, the decision made by a court does not necessarily reflect what happened, it reflects who presented the stronger case. By threatening people with punishment for failing to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that their claims are true, you’re simply encouraging people to keep assaults to themselves. It’s already hard enough to get victims to come forward and “stand by their claims” in court. Threatening them with punishment just drives them further away, allowing more scumbags to get away.
If we’re going to start punishing people for what Spida Everitt defines as “false allegations” we’ll have to start punishing someone every time the accused is found not guilty. Yes, that means every time a punch-up results in no conviction, every time someone gets off the hook in a drugs case, every time an alleged thief walks, every time a traffic violation case is dismissed the accuser must be punished. What would Spida like to see? Fines? Jail time? Public flogging? How exactly would any of this help?
Now, I understand that he is trying to get people to take responsibility for their own actions. Certainly, going off and getting wasted can be a bad idea, but the blame simply cannot be placed on the victims. The fact of the matter is, sports stars are in the position of power. With that power comes responsibility. Like it or not, you’re now a public figure and your actions are going to be seen and judged by the public in a way that most private citizens will never experience. They will be held to a higher standard and expected to be “better” than the common man. That’s what comes with being a star. This is the life you chose when you became a professional athlete. If you want to play your particular sport at senior level, part of the package is the fact that you’re in the public eye. You knew that when you signed up. People worship sports stars. They make heroes of them. They adore and emulate them. I think this is part of the problem.
Australians love their sport. While I’m not the biggest sporting fan on the planet, indeed I think it’s sad that footballers get paid more, on average, than teachers, but having attended a few games I can understand the enjoyment. The problem comes in when these people are heralded as “heroes”. When you’re told you’re the best, the greatest, a star, a hero often enough, you’ll start to believe it. When you’re given things and flocked by fans simply for being who you are, you’ll start to get the sense that you’re better than others. It happens to movie stars, it happens to rock stars and it happens to footballers. It’s very easy to fall into the “don’t you know who I am?” mode of behaviour and herein lies the trap. This is where a sense of entitlement comes in. Hey, I’m famous. People love me. From there it’s easy to start taking what you want. Girls throwing themselves at you at the post-game party? Hell yeah! Take your pick! But there’s a big difference between what you can do and what you SHOULD do.
You’re the one with the power. Rape is all about power. Whether or not you think consent was implied, be it from the girl’s actions, the dress she was wearing or what her friends said, you’re the one with the power. Purely because of your fame. To claim that this is somehow unfair is disingenuous. Is it fair that you’ll wind up on the front page for being caught pissing in the street, while Joe Bloggs will only cop an earful from his wife when she picks him up from lockup? Probably not, but you’re the one who chose a life in the public eye. You’re the one with the power.
Yes, we expect more from the athletes than we do from the “common citizens”. Yes a footballer accused of sexual assault will be more widely reported than a hitherto unknown citizen. And that footballer will have just as much chance of being convicted that the unknown citizen. When you’re being paid an average of $221,000 per year to kick a ball around, part of that is compensation for being in the public eye. Spida Everitt was paid for this for years and is now paid to roam around Australia in a mobile home. Nice work, if you can get it. I’m not saying the life of a professional athlete is all beer and skittles, but it beats the hell out of working for minimum wage.
To say we need to punish people because their claims are not proven beyond reasonable doubt is a massive roadblock to justice, it’s unworkable, unreasonable and serves only to protect the guilty. While I agree that false accusations are damaging, this is not the way to deal with them.
Spida Everitt has refused to apologise for his comments, because accusers are not apologising to players found not guilty. He talks about the damage done to the lives of those accused. Damage which pales into insignificance when compared to the damage done to those who have been assaulted. I don’t think Spida has thought this through, but given his limited command of English (“deflamatory” is not a word) perhaps he simply can’t express himself.