St Kilda footballer Stephen Milne leaving the Magistrates Court. Photo: Justin McManus JZM
Last Sunday, it was revealed members of the St Kilda football team were attempting to help fund former teammate Stephen Milne’s legal defence. Milne - an alleged rapist referred to regularly by the media as ‘troubled’ - will front court in August 2014 relating to sexual assault charges dating back to 2004.
His former teammates have approached club sponsors, coterie members and prominent supporters in a bid to finance Milne’s legal team. In an email used to solicit the funds, Milne was described as a ‘loyal servant’ and a ‘proud man’. One can presume the latter means he is too proud to ask for help, while the former is a reference to the years of loyalty he’s given The Club - loyalty that deserves to re-paid now by The Powers That Be.
Stephen Milne and his wife Melissa Rudling leave court. Photo: Scott Barbour
While one member of the St Kilda Halo Coterie described the request as ‘a disgrace’, two other club benefactors defended the players, saying “they’re a close bunch and they’re obviously helping out a mate.”
In the world of football, mateship is king. It matters little that Milne is financially well placed to fund his own defence because this isn’t about money. It’s about solidarity and closing ranks, ‘bros before hoes’ and a team united. Most galling about it though is how it once again reflects the lack of interest in supporting the victims of alleged crimes - particularly sexual ones - especially where masculine codes of power are concerned.
If the St Kilda members pursuing these fundraising goals are successful, they’re not just providing Milne with a defence. They’re telling his alleged victim (who, for better or worse, believes she has a case against him) that Milne has the weight of privilege and power on his side. It isn’t the first time a woman has come up against the enormous weight of the AFL.
In 2009, former Carlton Club president John Elliott revealed the club had paid ‘hush money’ over the years to women who claimed they’d been raped or assaulted by their players. In retaliation, Carlton banned Elliott.
For all the lip service it pays to tackling violence against women, the AFL has been fairly weak in its approach to actually achieving these goals. From various people, I have heard whispers of parts of the football culture that never make the news; parties in which women are corralled into private rooms for the pick of players swarming about; ‘pranks’ such as those outlined in Anna Krien’s excellent book Night Games, in which players do such vile things as shit into the shoes of women they’re fucking as part of a group; players notorious for targeting drunk women and raping them while they’re passed out.
And while I’m prepared to accept that some of these stories are untrue, logic tells me that not all of them are. Being a part of the AFL imbues its players with an enormous amount of privilege and entitlement, two of the key ingredients that drive rape culture. I will say this right now - I believe that the AFL and its coterie of teams is harbouring rapists, and that the methods they choose to address this are inadequate at best.
Whenever charges are brought against AFL players (and such a thing is rare - despite more than 30 allegations having been made against players over the years, only a handful have resulted in criminal charges and not a single one has resulted in conviction), discussion ensues about due process and the presumption of innocence before guilt.
I don’t know whether or not Milne has done the things he’s accused of, and I acknowledge that this is for a court to decide (while remembering that a verdict of Not Guilty does not necessarily mean She Lied). But I do know that, after initially bungling the case, Victoria Police have since decided there is sufficient evidence to pursue charges against Milne. This is an enormous victory for the victims of sexual violence, because it demonstrates to them that with the right political will, the law can be on their side.
Because I also know that a society that bends over backwards to ensure its sporting heroes are given the full respect of both the law and a ponderous public rarely extends the same respect to the alleged victims deserving of their own day in court. For all the accusations of bias against feminists and supporters of victims, there is little attempt made to hide the bias in those determined to make excuses for men accused of sex crimes.
To wit: that the cry of ‘innocent until proven guilty!’ is often a betrayal of another belief - that these men are the innocent victims of a lying woman and a feminist agenda to invade masculine annals of power and destroy them from the ground up. Stephen Milne’s mates’ attempts to fund his defence is just another example of footy boys sticking together, closing ranks and reinforcing the other code that often goes hand in hand with the code of football - that of silence.