Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport

Cover image, Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport (Black Inc)

‘Cops want to catch crooks, they don’t want to be social workers,’ he said. ‘I’m not saying they don’t care about the victims – it’s just that a lot of police aren’t equipped with the skills to deal with the complicated issues that sexual assaults offer up. A break-in rape – now that’s a good job, a “feather in your cap” job.’

‘Because there is an obvious villain?’ I asked.

‘Exactly. A crap job, however, is a fourteen-year-old goes to a party, says she was raped, the guys say she was with everyone. That’s too hard.’

Davies spent twenty-nine years with the Victorian police force, the top cop at the sex crimes squad in his final years. It was here that he felt he could do his best work.

Intent on changing police and public perceptions of rape – perceptions that in his mind often damaged victims because their experiences didn’t suit the stereotypical scenario – Davies wrote letters to newspapers to clarify stories, met with journalists and tried to raise the profile of the squad so that the public understood its work. A fellow detective, Ken Ashworth, said Davies brought about a cultural change. ‘When a prostitute would make a complaint, police used to say it was just a civil debt,’ Davies told me later. ‘They don’t anymore.’ But then, only two years into the job, Davies found himself suspended.

It was the rape allegations on the night of Collingwood’s premiership win that partly triggered it. During a separate police integrity investigation, Davies was recorded confirming to journalists that Dayne Beams and John McCarthy were the footballers being questioned about the allegations. When the charge of unauthorised disclosure of information was laid against him, Davies was forced to resign.

Although he would never be a policeman again, Davies’ desire to change police culture had not diminished. As he loaded me up with names of authors, papers and textbooks about police and media attitudes towards rape, I asked him about the process following an allegation of rape.

A neat explanation goes a little like this, explained Davies. If the complainant comes to the police immediately, hours or days after the incident, they undergo a medical examination. Then their statement is recorded and the ‘what, where, when and who’ are established. Once all or most of these boxes are ticked, police have a potential case to prosecute and the complainant will get their ‘options’ talk. ‘This will involve talking them through the prosecution and court process.’

The process of the investigation, however, is rarely neat. The complainant’s statement is invariably picked over for inconsistencies and credibility. ‘They know that any weakness in credibility of the complainant will be seized on by the defence.’ Davies added that this can often be done with a fair degree of scepticism. ‘There’s the, “C’mon, tell us what really happened” or “If I ring your boyfriend, what will he say? Do you have a boyfriend?”’

The complainant’s initial reaction to the alleged assault is almost always interrogated, the general belief being that there are only two options available to a victim: fight or flight.

‘But there’s a third reaction,’ he said, ‘and it’s the most common one. It’s “freeze.”’ Like a rabbit caught in headlights, the vulnerable person simply seizes up, unable to flee or to fight. ‘But that doesn’t suit police, the media or the courts – you’ll always have a defendant’s lawyer saying, “Why didn’t you scream?”’

Then there is the tricky scenario in which the complainant actually knows the offender. ‘You’ll have police asking, “If you were raped by this guy, then why did you go back and see him?”’ 

But again, Davies said, the complainant’s reactions are far from practised in such a situation, and in some instances they’re second-guessing themselves. ‘Especially when the guy they think may have raped them comes back to them the next day and says they “had a great night.” She’ll be like, “What? It was hell. Is this the same night we’re talking about?” Often men will “retell” the situation and dress it up as something it wasn’t.’

The options talk is a necessity, no matter how cold and pragmatic it may seem to the complainant. Carolyn Worth at the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault told me about a situation in which a woman, after being told what she could expect during a trial, decided she would not be able to handle the crossexamination. The woman had Tourette’s syndrome, explained Worth, sighing. ‘She knew she wouldn’t be able to withstand the questioning. The thing is, what made her not testify is likely to be the same reason her neighbour raped her. She was vulnerable, a perfect target.’

A friend of mine who was raped at a wedding reception when she was in her late teens was told quite pragmatically by a police officer and a sexual assualt counsellor that she would have to accept that she’d no doubt be ruining the wedding couple’s memories of their special day if she decided to take the offender to trial.

‘I was told that most of the wedding party would have to testify,’ she said, adding that the options talk had been so discouraging that she had even started to question if the assault had happened, despite the physical evidence. ‘I should have been encouraged to go through with it. I had a toxicology result proving that I had Rohypnol in my system from that night. Who knows how many others the same guy has done it to since?’

The options talk is also about police explaining what the complainant’s chances are of getting a conviction – and if the prospects are low, then police will most likely be advising against pursuing the case, or will already have made the decision to suspend their investigations.

Davies believed police needed to be less focused on getting a win in court. ‘The law is very specific about what is rape and what is not, but it’s not being applied. We’re not brave enough in our own prosecuting,’ he said. ‘I’ve heard numerous sergeants say, “Oh, it will never get up” and “The Office of Public Prosecutions, they just want a win.” But we need to not focus so much on conviction, but keep putting these cases in front of juries and maybe one day they’ll be more sophisticated in their understanding of rape.’

I wondered if this was why Justin was charged and the others who came under investigation on the same evening were not (Sarah’s statement revealed she’d made multiple complaints against multiple protagonists) – because police assumed a jury would not be sophisticated enough to understand the nuances of the bedroom allegations, while the charges against Justin involved a classic rape stereotype. The setting was, after all, a dark alleyway.

‘I had a sergeant come up to me recently,’ Davies continued, ‘and he’s a good policeman, but even he said to me he was confused about what to do in a rape case he was investigating, that it just came down to “he said, she said.” And I said, “How can you be confused? You charge him. Why not? You do the same with a robbery. If a complainant was robbed in the street and identified the assailant, the police would not hesitate in charging the offender.”’

I was uneasy. ‘But a rape charge is different, surely? I mean, you can’t rub that off. It’s a permanent stain.’

I wanted to agree entirely with Davies, to share completely in his horror at the treatment of rape complainants, but something kept snagging in my thoughts and it was Justin. His quiet and gentle manner threw me. When I looked at him in the dock, snared in a stereotypical rape scenario from the alleyway to the aftermath, he didn’t seem to fit the stereotype that went with the story. A stereotype that seems to rely on a typology popularised in 1979 by Dr Nicholas Groth in his book Men Who Rape: the ‘sadistic,’ ‘anger’ or ‘power’ rapist, men varying in their motives but all premeditated in their hunt for vulnerable prey. Justin seemed like a boy in comparison.

But this was naïve. ‘There is no type,’ Dr Angela Williams, a forensic physician with much experience of rape cases, later said to me. ‘I meet a lot of offenders, and not one is a guy hiding behind a tree. You can’t pick them in a crowd, but they can pick out their victim – it is someone in a vulnerable position, be it a family member, an ex-partner or someone who is very drunk.’

Williams said in spite of commonly held beliefs about rape and rapists, only about one in a hundred offenders was the ‘tree’ man, the rape occurring in the alley, by the train tracks or in the bushes. Among her colleagues, these stereotypical scenarios were often referred to as ‘rape myths.’ ‘You never hear about the husband who rapes his wife and brings her flowers the next day. Or the guy who’s a top bloke, plays cricket at the local club and so on. And as a result, the victim looks at these myths and thinks no one is ever going to believe them.’

The same thing applied to the victims of rape: ‘I meet all sorts of girls and women, they can be covered head to toe, in work attire, dressed for a nightclub, in gym gear, there is no pattern.’

And then there was the question of how to define rape itself.


Edited extract from Night Games: Sex Power and Sport by Anna Krien, published today by Black Inc. Available in print and ebook.

Anna Krien

Anna Krien is the author of Night Games: Sex, power and sport and Into the Woods: The battle for Tasmania’s forests, and the Quarterly Essays Us and Them: On the Importance of Animals and The Long Goodbye: Coal, Coral and Australia’s Climate Deadlock. Her debut novel, Act of Grace, was published in 2019.

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