Australia Abuzz Over Rugby League "Group Sex" ScandalS

In 2002, a 19-year-old New Zealander met star rugby player Matthew Johns (left). According to reports, the two went to a hotel, where she engaged in non-consensual "group sex" with six of Johns' teammates.

What transpired in the hotel room sounds like gang rape, but not many others seem to be calling it that. The allegations came to light when ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) program Four Corners aired the segment "Code of Silence" in Australia Monday night, which included interviews with the woman, identified only as "Clare", as well as several other women who suffered sexual assault at the hands of rugby players. Clare's story was undoubtedly the worst: She says that she was raped and molested by six players from the Cronulla Sharks rugby team for up to two hours while at least six other men watched.

The details included in the program were graphic and disturbing. Clare claims that several men rubbed their penises on her face, while others lined up at the end of the bed to have sex with her. Unsurprisingly, even years later, she is still traumatized by the incident. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychiatrists have reported that she has attempted suicide several times. "For years and years afterwards I was drinking a lot, crying a lot and losing a lot of friends and doing quite destructive things to myself and other people," she told the program. "I was so angry and I wanted their lives destroyed like mine was."

Australia's National Rugby League issued an apology following the ABC special on the rape scandal. NRL chief executive David Gallop said:

"The program dealt with issues that I would hope everyone in the game finds appalling and unacceptable," Gallop said. "The distress of the victims spoke for itself and to the extent that the game can apologise for the actions of individuals then I offer that apology unreservedly.

"It is important, however, to understand the very substantial efforts the NRL, the clubs and the players have made in changing attitudes, particularly since 2004. It is also important to recognise the clear actions taken by the NRL and our clubs against those who breach our codes of conduct."

There has been at least one allegation of sexual misconduct leveled against players from the NRL each year since 2004, an issue the NRL has supposedly been struggling to address. Gallop says that group sex, regardless of consent, should be off limits to rugby players. Unfortunately, group sex is often used as a twisted sort of male bonding, and too many players have been involved in some sort of "pack sex," as it has been more accurately called by researchers.

After Mr. Johns was named as one of the instigators of the assault, he was asked to step down from his job as a television personality for Australia's Nine Network. (He has also just lost his coaching job.) In an interview following the "Code of Silence" segment, Johns apologized for his actions, but maintained that the sex was consensual. He said, "at no point did she object, at any stage, to what was going on… the woman was a willing participant in what went on." He went on to say that she clearly regrets her choices, but when asked whether she shares the "blame" for the attack, he appeared slightly confused, and says no. He also claimed to feel remorse over the "group sex," yet he refused to admit that the young woman may in any way have been a victim.

As CNN reports, Clare makes it clear during her interview that she was an unwilling participant in what several papers (including The Sun) have called the "sex romp":

"They were massive, like big rugby players. I felt that I just had no idea what to do. There was always hands on me," she said. "I thought I was worthless, and I thought I was nothing. I think I was in shock. I didn't scream. They used a lot of mental power over me and belittled me."

Clare - who made a complaint to the police less than a week after the incident, which resulted in the questioning of about 40 Cronulla players and staff, all of whom claimed that the sex was consensual - says she is speaking out now because she wants the wives and girlfriends of the players to know what they did.

It is unclear exactly what happened in the hotel room that night, yet one thing is for certain: Clare is accusing the rugby players of rape, not group sex. However, almost every news source has described the scandal as stemming from "group sex allegations," a rather confusing term, seeing as almost everyone involves admits that there was in fact, some sort of group sexual encounter, thus rendering the allegedly unnecessary. As Jill Singer for the Herald Sun points out,

The Australian continued the blame shifting with its headline "Woman alleges sex with six Cronulla players or staff ". No she didn't. Sex isn't an allegation. What Clare alleges was sexual assault. That's why she went to the police, unfortunately leaving it until five days after the event.

As Singer says, the language we use is important, and in this case, the language being used is dismissive and reductive. Clare has accused six men of raping her, while six others stood by and watched. It may be sexual assault, but to describe what happened to her as "sex" is ridiculous.

Australian Rugby League Apologizes For Sex Scandal [CNN]
Celebrity Ex-International Sidelined After Sex Scandal [Independent]
Our Game Apologizes Unreservedly: Gallop [League HQ]
Group Sex Has Destroyed My Life: Woman [Nine News]
Matthew Johns Stood Down By Nine [Nine News]
NRL Boss Admits Changing Attitudes Is Tough [Nine News]
Matthew Johnson Disputes Group Sex Details [Nine News]
Group Sex Rocks Rugby League [The Sun]
Disgraceful League Of Their Own [Herald Sun]