Image-based abuse is a crime

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It was probably too much to expect that the aftermath of an AFL season would pass without some incident of sexual harassment or abuse, but I have always been relentlessly optimistic. Thankfully, one member of the Richmond football team went above and beyond to maintain the tradition of men committing crimes against women on Grand Final night. Sorry, I mean “allegedly”.

The as yet unnamed player is being investigated by Victoria Police after non-consensually circulating an intimate sexual image through both social media and private text messages. In the photograph, a woman is pictured topless while wearing the player’s premiership medal. According to this report, the victim says she consented to the photograph being taken but was assured it would be deleted. Victoria Police have confirmed in a statement that the image was posted without consent.

I’ve seen this behaviour described as “revenge porn” across a number of news outlets today, with even the woman alleging the harassment referring to it as such. Revenge porn is the popular term for behaviour that sees a person or persons use exploitative, pornographic images to intentionally humiliate another human being, but it’s a misnomer that has the misfortune of making a straightforward crime sound salacious and naughty. That word “crime” is important – because no matter what you might personally think about this being a bit of “harmless fun” or “boys being boys”, the fact remains that it is a crime in Victoria to participate in image-based abuse, with the offence carrying a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve also seen a cross section of reprehensible comments in response to the breaking of this story. Victim blaming is rife, with some fans on the Richmond Tigers Supporter Group Facebook page gleefully offering their views that the woman is partly or wholly to blame because, hey, we know what fellas are like.

“If she didn’t give the consent to take the photo in the first place, she wouldn’t be in this predicament. She allowed to be taken. She was just after her 15 mins [sic],” said “Stephanie Anne”.

“Neal Augustus” wrote: “Stupid typical footy groupie now she will claim foul play the works. If you don’t want that to happen why be around a group of AFL players drinking and striping. Just typical footy groupie story [sic].”

“George Murray” opted for none of his own words, instead just posting a meme of Kim Richards (a cast member for The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills) yelling, “You’re a slut pig!”

The next time you feel tempted to dismiss feminism as a man-hating ideology that paints all men as rapists, spend a bit of time around the kind of Average Austrayans who argue that “footy groupies” are “sluts” who “should have known better” whenever allegations of sexual misconduct against famous men arise. It isn’t feminists who believe men can’t control themselves or be trusted – it’s the people who think women need to be wary around groups of men because those men can’t be held responsible for their actions.

These views are in the same category as those offered by designer Donna Karan this week. In response to a question regarding the allegations of widespread sexual abuse and assault emerging against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Karan described Weinstein and his wife as “wonderful people”. She went on to say, “I think we need to look at ourselves … how do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?”

Karan has since apologised for the comments, saying they were “not representative” of her views. 

It’s nothing short of infuriating that someone would make this argument in the first place, let alone someone whose entire business model hinges on “presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality” in her clothing line, but there is very little logic to a victim blaming mentality. Women are not the gatekeepers of male sexuality or behaviour. It isn’t our responsibility to stop them from engaging in criminal activity. But it’s perplexing how many people seem willing – eager even – to downgrade the committing of these kinds of illegal acts to just a bit of boyish, harmless fun that is at least partly if not wholly the fault of the women involved.

The president of the Richmond Football Club, Peggy O’Neal, has described the actions of the player as “terrible judgment”, saying, “If it turns out that it is disrespectful to women, we certainly don’t stand for that. That’s not what our club’s about and if someone has made a disrespectful and humiliating gesture, then of course it will be taken into account.” She went on to say: “I think that our club has shown it’s for equality, it’s for inclusiveness, and it wants to promote women.”

A reminder to Ms O’Neal: circulating image-based abuse without consent among your teammates isn’t just “disrespectful to women”, it’s a criminal offence. If the Richmond Football Club is for equality and inclusiveness in the way it claims to be, it will issue a severe penalty against the player responsible and all those who forwarded the image afterwards. Something along the lines of losing his job would be a good start.

After all, what did he expect?



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