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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Our Police With (AFL) Stars in Their Eyes

As the dust settles on another weekend in Footy Town, we take stock of the footballer rapes and assaults - and the response of those charged with bringing them to justice. Sadly, this weekend has seen yet more allegations surface of AFL player violence against women: a nightclub assault and a gang rape.

Yes, that's right, more raping. When you remember that only around a quarter of rapes are reported, yet scarcely a month goes by without a footy rape or attempted rape allegations coming to light, it's probably fair to say that most weekends see an AFL player raping someone somewhere. (Please, for safety's sake, keep that in mind when you're out on the town.)

What makes this case remarkable is the reaction of the boys in blue. But first, the most serious allegations: it seems that at least two (unnamed) Western Bulldogs "forced themselves" on to a woman "at an apartment" after meeting her at a bar. It's a depressingly familiar account.

As the Herald-Sun reports, the normal course of events when something like this happens is for specialist police to step in and look out for the interests of the victim. But in this case, Sexual Offence and Child Abuse officers claim that the usual protocol was abandoned, they were "bulldozed" by police from the Sexual Assualt squad and "prevented from carrying out their role":

SOCA's role is to care for victims, build up a rapport and eventually take a statement.

In this case they were pressured to speed up the process, sources told the Herald Sun.

"SOCA said she wanted to take some time. There was some reluctance," a police source said.

"But they (the sex crimes squad) said `No, we need something now. Get it now'.

"SOCA was forced to take a handwritten statement in the hospital.

"The done thing is that the victim is looked after first. If she doesn't want to make a statement there and then you don't do it.

"But the sex crimes squad wanted a signed statement straight away. They wanted to get something in black and white, before knocking on doors.

"SOCA are not happy. They certainly have in a formal way expressed their unhappiness in the way it was handled.

"In this matter protocol was not followed. The victim's interests were not looked after, which is paramount." (Herald-Sun, 6/12/05)

The demand from the Sexual Assault squad to get a statement from the victim whilst she was recuperating in hospital has resulted in an official complaint being made against them by members of SOCA. Why on earth would detectives undermine an investigation like this? Apparently, "some members of the sex crimes squad stepped in when they heard footballers were involved."

Okay. I have to be very careful in what I say, but it's clear that:
  • The investigation of a very serious crime took a different course than it normally would just because the alleged rapists were AFL players.

  • The nature of this intervention has upset at least some sworn police officers.

  • Some professional investigators believe that the effect of this intervention was not in the interests of the victim and may undermine or prejudice any subsequent legal action.

If someone were to suggest that heavies from the sex crime squad are spoiling investigations into AFL players - giving them carte blanche to rape - we'd dismiss such nonsense out of hand. Sure, statistically-speaking AFL players probably see more of the rape squad than, say, librarians. And it's natural that a "rapport" would build up from frequent contact. But doesn't it seem like a long bow to draw that some police are hampering the proper investigation of crimes?

The top brass has made statements about trusting cops to investigate AFL players after the shocking scandal of Heath Culpitt's botched rape investigation, when Assistant Commissioner Simon Overland was forced to concede publicly:

that he could not discount the possibility that some officers "wouldn't be intimidated or wouldn't have other reasons for perhaps not pursuing allegations against high-profile people as vigorously as they might". (The Age, 10/02/05)

And let's not forget that our police have established a very cosy relationship with AFL players. For example, who can forget Sav Rocca being chauffer-driven to work by awe-struck police? Not to mention the lenient use of police discretion by small-town cops from Geelong dealing with local footy heroes.

The AFL's attempt at reining in the worst and most public abuses of AFL player privilege by sacking sex offenders merely ups the stakes: the investigating officers will be acutely aware that treating footballers as they would any other citizen could mean they'll be benching their favourite player, or spoiling their team's chances in the big match.

In light of these apalling lapses of judgement, botched investigations, loss of confidence in detectives by senior cops and conflicts of interest, the public has good reason to doubt the ability of police to fairly and impartially investigate complaints against footy players.

So consider the plight of the woman who was allegedly struck by Dancing With The Stars favourite (and Collingwood mid-fielder) Brodie Holland out the front of Billboard nightclub on the weekend: Why should she trust our cops to do their job properly in conducting the assault investigation?

Until police demonstrate that they can be trusted to investigate allegations against AFL players without bias - that they won't ride roughshod over established policing practices, that evidence won't "just disappear", that special favours and a wink-wink culture doesn't prevail - please, please, tell your female friends and relatives: don't pick up footy players. Don't let them buy you drinks. Don't flirt with them.

Just walk away.

Citations: Herald-Sun, 6/12/05; The Age, 10/02/05

Word Count: 963

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