Anna Krien’s Night Games is a fascinating exploration of football, rape and the justice system, and like Krien’s previous works there are no easy answers to the questions it raises.
Night Games focuses on the trial of a young man, Justin Dyer*, for the rape of a young woman, Sarah Wesley*. The incident took place early in the morning after Collingood’s AFL Grand Final victory in 2010. Earlier that night, Sarah had had sex with or been raped by three other men – two of whom were Collingwood’s Dayne Beams and John McCarthy.
The question of whether Beams and McCarthy raped Sarah is never answered, because they are not charged and the events of earlier in the night are shaded out of the narrative told by both defence and prosecution during Justin’s trial.
The case thus neatly sidesteps the AFL players involved and instead focuses on the hanger-on, a young man who is a player in the VFL and who is immediately dropped from his team when rape charges are laid.
This turn of events complicates Krien’s exploration of the AFL, but the courtroom intricacies are fascinating. Through this lens, Krien interrogates a jock culture in which the male team is always the priority and some men use women for their own ends.
Krien has no opportunity to meet Sarah, but she does get to know Justin and his family during the trial. It is clear that Krien is torn over Justin’s culpability – he acts according to the jock culture that he aspires to, but he cannot fathom that he might have done something wrong.
In Inga Clendinnen’s The History Question (Quarterly Essay, 2006), she wrote, ‘…when people are using stories as weapons, they will simplify them, and with simplification a great deal can be lost.’
This captures the great sadness that is at the heart of Night Games. Stories are rewritten time and time again by their protagonists and by observers, but the law and the courts have no time for these rewrites. The court’s objectives are to tease out the conflicting ‘stories’, to discover who is ‘telling the truth’, and ultimately to decide which history will go down as correct.
But sometimes things are not so clear-cut. Krien quotes academic Dr Lauren Rosewarne, who says that feminists see it as extremely dangerous to raise the idea that there might be shades of grey in rape, ‘because prosecuting rape is so hard’. But ultimately Krien argues that there are shades of grey, where a woman might not have been ‘forced’ in any physical sense, but might have given in to persistence and ultimately feels ‘treated like shit’.
Emily K Maguire’s piece on The Drum in response to Night Games takes a very different perspective here, arguing that since consent means ‘free agreement’, such scenarios are definitely rape, with no shades of grey. However, Krien argues that much is lost in the black-and-white nature of rape trials: Justin Dyer is acquitted, but does this mean he is utterly innocent?
This book is an eye opener, not so much because of what it reveals about football, but because of what it suggests about a murky territory that exists just a few small steps back from our accepted understanding of rape.
In this territory there is the push for boys to get the girl no matter the cost. There is the persistence of men who think they deserve sex, and believe they have the right to ask for it, not once or twice but endlessly – perhaps until she gives in.
While reading Night Games I thought often of the persistence of some men of my acquaintance when I was younger, and how this sometimes led my friends or I to do things we didn’t really want to do, even it if was just a kiss in the naïve hope we’d be left alone.
In hindsight their insistence showed an utter lack of respect for what we wanted, and our acquiescence was a symptom of not knowing how to say no when the question came from people we knew and perhaps even liked.
Giving in to what we didn’t really want seems a step not so far from Sarah giving up in the face of Justin’s persistence in an alleyway – giving up, but feeling, then or afterwards, that resistance worn down does not equal consent.
And so we come back to the stories that make history. In Night Games, Krien writes:
If she lied about explicitly telling Justin “No” and that he pushed and dragged her, then I can only say that she chose a lie over what she perceived as her only other option, silence. She had no language to explain the grey zone, to explain what was lost in translation between the sexes.
If Sarah made some things up to suit ‘accepted ideas of how rape occurs’, this does not mean she was not raped, nor that everything she said was a lie. But once the accusation of rape was made and her story told, she had no choice to stick to it.
Justin, charged for rape, must in turn label her a liar, for he does not fit his own idea of what a rapist is. For both these young people, their stories are now weapons that must be simplified in the battle to decide whose story should go down in history as the ‘truth’.
Very few rape cases go to trial and fewer still lead to a conviction. Without diminishing the seriousness of rape allegations, Krien’s book suggests that perhaps if we recognised a middle ground between angel and liar, between rapist and persistent young man, then something closer to justice could be achieved.
* Not their real names.
3 thoughts on “Stories and weapons in Anna Krien’s Night Games”
Lovely, thoughtful review of a wonderfully thoughtful book. I loved Krien’s analysis of the “grey”, the language around consent. Is there a woman who can’t relate to her discussion I wonder?
Sorry for the very slow response! Yes, I too thought that the analysis of the ‘grey’ area was really important. But it’s SO sticky – the issue of YES vs NO seems so clear cut, but as Krien says, it’s not so clear cut in an environment where a woman doesn’t feel empowered to say no, or doesn’t feel able to for x number of reasons.