OPINION

What happens when rape culture doesn't stay on WhatsApp

Photo: PA

As a cricketer goes on trial for rape, Rachael Sigee highlights the dangerous behaviour of sportsmen rating women in private WhatsApp groups

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By Rachael Sigee on

Typically, when a sports team does well, they want everyone to know about it. They jump into each other's arms, dance in front of fans, raise trophies on top of podiums and ride through cities on open-top buses. Professional athletes are relentlessly competitive and it seems only fair to celebrate their achievements.

But one recent game between professional sportsmen was not shared on a public forum. It was kept to a private WhatsApp group. Points were not counted publicly, discussed by pundits on television and totted up in a final end-of-season table; they were analysed by the players on their phones.

This game was not football, rugby or cricket, but the age-old competition between men to rack up notches on their bedposts.

This week, 23-year-old Australian cricketer Alex Hepburn, who plays for Worcestershire, is on trial accused of raping a sleeping woman after she had consensual sex with his teammate Joe Clarke in April 2017. According to prosecutor Miranda Moore QC, the woman woke up to find Hepburn performing a sex act on her and initially believed it was Clarke, who had in fact left the room to be sick. After touching the man’s hair and hearing his Australian accent, she says she was horrified to discover it was a different man and pulled away.

Hepburn reportedly told her, “You are beautiful,” and tried to convince her to continue, but she left, called a friend to tell them what had happened, and was later found “distressed and crying” in the street by a member of the public who called the police. Hepburn denies rape. His defence is that the sex was consensual and took place after “initial kissing”.

Notably, the case against him includes phone evidence of his participation in a WhatsApp group in which members were awarded points according to the women they had sex with. Women were rated out of 10 and were referred to as “freshies” or “re-heats” depending on whether or not they had slept with members of the chat previously. The prize was apparently to be a free night out paid for by the winner’s fellow competitors.

It is part of the particularly disgusting and tangled web of professional sportsmen who seem to view sex as an extension of their teamship, and women as disposable and shareable as their locker-room towels and spare socks

In last year’s Belfast trial, in which several Irish rugby players were found not guilty of rape, evidence again included WhatsApp records. Messages such as “there was a lot of spit roast last night” were read in court.

In April last year, Olympic swimmer Otto Putland was cleared of raping a woman after she had had consensual sex with his teammate. During the hearing, it was revealed that both men were part of a text group that involved earning points for the women they slept with. The apparent rules of this group decreed that members could get bonus “points” by “stealing” each other’s conquests. The judge did not permit this text evidence to be heard by the jury as it was “prejudicial”.

These instances demonstrate the treatment of women with an astonishing lack of respect and a mentality that women are passive vessels for men’s sexual pleasure.

Rape culture has taught men that they are entitled to have sex with women – any women, all women – however and whenever they choose. Even though we don't yet know exactly what happened that night, pending the outcome of the trial, the kind of language used in these WhatsApp groups serves to support, perpetuate and feed this notion. It’s the digital locker room that contains chatter that most participants would not want to be public, would not want certain audiences to hear.

It appears to be the same detail over and over again: that consensual sex with one man appears to render a woman as “fair game”. Her consent to one sexual interaction, with one partner, is seemingly taken as blanket agreement to whatever and whoever else comes next. It is part of the particularly disgusting and tangled web of professional sportsmen who seem to view sex as an extension of their teamship, and women as disposable and shareable as their locker-room towels and spare socks.

Sex is not a game to be won and partners cannot be swapped like they’re coming off the subs bench, but some men seem to believe this is the case.

After all, they are a team. All for one and one for all.

@littlewondering

Photo: PA
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