**Content warning – this post contains discussions of sexual assault**
“Why didn’t she report it to the police?”
It has to be one of the most commonly asked questions when incidents of violence against women are reported. And it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. When someone has been the victim of crime, we generally expect that they will report it to the police. And, in a perfect world, the police would investigate, make an arrest, the matter would go to court and justice would be served.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
There were two incidents of sexual assault reported in Australian media last week – in both instances, a male university student had sexually assaulted a female acquaintance. In both instances, the woman had reported the matter to the police, and the matter was taken to court.
In Adelaide, a 21 year old male was sentenced to at least 12 months in prison for the digital rape of a female friend who was asleep. He admitted to the digital penetration of a drunk friend several times over the course of the evening. When she tried to stop him, he apologised, but continued to abuse her. In his sentencing remarks, District Court Judge Steven Millsteed said:
“The crime that you committed was very serious, you took advantage of a grossly intoxicated young woman… The fact that GW was significantly intoxicated at the time does not lessen the gravity of your behaviour. Women, intoxicated or otherwise, are subject to the full protection of the law”.
While it’s heartening to hear a judge note that the consumption of alcohol in no way excuses sexual assault, his further remarks were less encouraging:
“It is evident from all of the material before me that you are a person of previous good character. You strike me, from everything I know, as a decent young man who went off the rails for a short time. It is very sad to see someone with your background before me”.
In other words, “nice boys don’t rape, they just make mistakes”.
A week later, in Brisbane, a District Court jury heard the case of another male university student who had been charged with three counts of sexual assault. He had met a female acquaintance for a coffee and assaulted her in a car park. The woman told police that he had pinned her up against the side of the car, bit her, groped her, and put his hand in her pants. She told police:
“I was struggling violently, I said, ‘stop it’”
The man admitted to pinning the woman against the car, but told police:
“The reason why she wasn’t letting me kiss her on the lips was because she was doing the whole tease thing”.
He said he was just “testing the waters” and thought the two could be “friends with benefits”.
The incident was caught on CCTV.
The jury found him not guilty.
A sexual assault case takes, on average, twelve months to reach court in Australia. Reporting rapes are known to be low, and it’s estimated that just 4% of those who are found guilty of sexual assault will be imprisoned.
The women in these cases did everything “right”. They did what was “expected” of them as sexual assault victims.
They reported their assaults. They stuck out those long months, waiting for the matter to appear in court.
One of these men, at least, will spend some time in prison. He has received some form of punishment. But hey, he’s a “nice guy”, who just made a mistake, right?
The other man is free. He will be free to continue to attend university, get an education, to carry on with his life as if nothing happened.
The woman he assaulted doesn’t get that luxury.
Even though she did everything right.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault, you can get 24/7 help by contacting 1800Respect via their website or on 1800 737 732.