As nightmares go, it is bad.
A 15-year-old girl is unconscious and unknowingly raped by a 15-year-old boy at a party. Another 15-year-old films it on his phone, and the footage is distributed among up to 50 other teenagers via Facebook. That footage is how the girl discovers the crime took place: it is also how the police became aware of it.
The worst part? It’s not a nightmare. It took place in Sydney on the 4th of March this year and there is no end to the horror it entails.
That it took place at all. That it was filmed. That it was so openly shared. That we are talking about 15 year olds: these students are still children. Children who have engaged in the most vile of adult crimes.
Both the boy who committed the rape and the boy who filmed it have reportedly been charged. Neither can be named because of their age.
It is understood that the students who viewed, received and sent the footage – which could constitute child abuse - could also face serious legal consequences.
If there was any doubt that Australia is in the midst of a rape crisis, this extinguishes it.
The obvious disregard for the girl’s lack of consent and privacy demonstrated by the boy who perpetrated the crime and the boy who filmed it, is deeply disturbing. The fact it was so brazenly distributed among such a large group is equally unsettling.
Of the 50 students who allegedly received and watched the footage, were they not sufficiently horrified to raise an alarm? Or is rape so casually regarded among young Australians that the footage was not considered extraordinary?
It is a brutal question to raise, but it’s a question we need to answer.
The issue of consent is badly misunderstood among young Australians. We know this because of research conducted by The Line, Australia’s long-term initiative for young people to prevent violence against women and their children. Results from a survey released in February of this year revealed that 1 in 5 young people, aged between 12 and 20, thinks it’s ‘normal’ for a boy to put pressure on girls to do sexual things. Almost a quarter of them say the girl is responsible for making it very clear if she doesn’t want to have sex. These findings have only improved marginally from 2015.
1 in 5 young people thinks it's "normal" for a boy to put pressure on girls for sex2016 Research by The Line
They demonstrate a problem with consent very clearly, which the conduct of some students in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs suggests is dangerously pertinent.
It seems, from the media reports, that this crime was only reported because a teacher, at the Sydney school Cranbrook where the perpetrator had been a student, picked up on conversations about the footage among students.
Had that not occurred, would the crime have gone unnoticed? Would the headlines have been avoided? Would this crime have remained hidden from view?
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time sexual assault went unreported: that occurs more often than not. But, one explanation for that is because of the hidden nature of sexual assault. It is, in most cases, invisible.
Not here. This young girl wasn’t violated in private: there is no anonymity. A video of the entire crime means her moment of brutality has been viewed by many of her peers.
The small mercy is that it might provide primary evidence in the police investigation which is underway. But that is hardly a victory.
As another story which, in a dismal twist of events, also made front page news yesterday made clear.
While NSW residents had the Sydney horror on The Daily Telegraph’s front page on Tuesday, those in Victoria had an equally horrifying story gracing The Age.
Amy* was 14 years old when she was allegedly raped by three men in Geelong. Amy and her family spoke in frank and fearless terms about the toll that crime took. In February of this year Amy dropped charges against the men: not because she didn’t want them punished, but because she couldn’t submit to the further punishment of reliving the crime in a courtroom. She had been traumatised enough.
Amy’s experience is tragically prescient for the Sydney girl who was shamefully violated earlier this month. Both of these girls face a life sentence of sorts.
Inexplicably the boys and men responsible for delivering that trauma, may face far lighter sentences. Not because their actions don’t deserve serious repercussions but because our justice system, as it stands, renders not pursuing charges entirely reasonable.
It needs to be reformed urgently. As do the attitudes among young boys who believe consent is negotiable or not-required, who consider privacy to be irrelevant and who fail to respect their female peers. It’s a toxic trio with devastating ramifications.
If you need to talk to someone about experiencing sexual assault or rape, please contact 1800 Respect