Sexual assault or a traumatic sexual experience?

Recently in the media, the case of Luke Lazarus has been playing out. Originally he was convicted of the sexual assault of a young girl at the back of a nightclub in Kings Cross and now the verdict has been overturned.

It’s not an easy case and one I’m not willing to make a set judgment on because I was not there, I have not seen the evidence (only what has been told in the media) but it’s worth a discussion and to explore some of the issues involved.

When an accusation of rape or sexual assault is made and it’s not as straight forward as a woman being pinned down screaming “no” and fighting against her attacker, it becomes complex and involves a combination of evidence and our own beliefs towards male and female sexual encounters.

The woman was an 18-year-old virgin, was drinking and consented to some form of sexual contact with Luke Lazarus, which can be evident by the footage of her making out with him. She consented to being led outside, but the confusion begins about how clear her communication was when she wanted the sexual contact to stop. Consent is sometimes not so straight forward and easy as saying yes or no. She might have felt out of control of her body, overpowered and if sexually inexperienced, not sure how to handle this situation. If this was me, I would have pulled or push forcefully away so the other person knew where my lack of intent and consent was, but then I’m a 31-year-old woman, not 18. I can understand how overwhelming and confusing this situation must have been for her.

However, we also have a guy who probably thought he was getting lucky. All the signs were there. She was into him, kissing him and even agreed to go to this back alley. Of course he would be thinking it was going to lead to sex. Maybe that’s one of the problems – sexual expectations. In this hypersexual world, women are commonly engaging in casual sex and men are also expecting it. But what comes first? Do woman want casual sex or do many woman give in to casual sex to meet a man’s expectations? If this move had worked in the past for Luke, he would be expecting the same again.

If he was turned on, had been drinking a bit, was a bit more aggressive in his sexual conduct and lost in the moment, her attempt to stop the sexual encounter might have gone unnoticed. This doesn’t mean it was right, rather brings light to the issues of how we should or should not consent to any type of sexual behaviour and how we enforce our sexual boundaries. The issue of consent when a sexual encounter has already begun is not so easy to navigate around, especially when you are 18 and hooking up with a slightly older guy after a few drinks whose father own the night club you are in. The pressure to give in sexually might have been high mixed with feelings of boundaries being crossed. In her mind, she was not consenting, maybe even feeling forced and persuaded into this sexual act, but in his she was. So, who was right?

Mr Lazarus is made to look like a sexual predator (like many men are) and the woman often involved in these situations – an innocent victim. This is the impact that gender stereotypes often have on situations like these. We are society that sees men as predators and pursuing sex and woman the gatekeepers who are often the victims. But gender stereotypes can also work the opposite way. If a woman is dressed a certain way, behaving in a certain way, she is often seen as asking for it or being a tease. Some might see this case in that way as she was hooking up with him and out drinking, but she still had a right to say no at any stage.

I don’t think Luke Lazarus is a sexual predator, but he does seem like a bit of a dick. But that’s not a crime unfortunately.

Then there was the argument that because she gave him her number after (apparently, which is all part of his brag book and trophy) it couldn’t have been sexual assault because she would have hurried away from him. That doesn’t sit well with me as this must have been a confusing situation for her and at the time also being so sexually inexperienced, probably didn’t realise her boundaries had been crossed so forcefully until a bit later. She might have been in a bit of shock. Also, if the appeal of following Mr Lazarus into the alley was one of lust and attraction, then of course she would oblige when asked for her number. Young woman and many woman in general struggle to identify at the time when their boundaries have been crossed because often they don’t know clearly where they are.

The issue here is consent and why we should educate not only woman but men on what this means. In this hypersexual society where casual hook-ups and sex are common, this is a necessity to focus on in sex education. It’s risky to engage in casual sex with someone you don’t know, not just physically but mentally. Women need to know that at any point they can say no. But that message needs to be made sometimes with strength and even force. Who cares if he calls you a tease or doesn’t like you after. Your boundaries and self-respect are more important than that. Maybe we also need to be educating woman more strongly, so that they know that they are worthy whether a man wants them sexually or not.

This is not a straight forward issue and I feel awfully sorry for those involved. Luke Lazarus will always be tainted with this crime, whether he was innocent or not and the victim here might be left not feeling like a victim anymore. It’s traumatic for her and I only hope she can recover from this.

But the message we need to take from this terrible situation is one of consent, what is it, how we communicate it and how we educate woman and men. Everyone needs to consent to any sexual contact and that consent can change at any point in time.

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