Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Peter Roebuck story: we must be careful of the dots we connect

Front page of today's Fairfax Sunday papers is the exclusive "The Roebuck tragedy: a tale of love, beatings and blackmail".  This is a remarkable piece of investigative journalism, reporting on the enigma who was Peter Roebuck, both respected cricket commentator, and now also known as alleged child sexual offender and benefactor.  A paradox indeed.

Yet, within what appears to be a factually diligent reportage, there is a disturbing connection.  The connection is not made deliberately, and in this particular case, the connection is fair.  Unfortunately, it also enables those who are not so fair-minded to extend the connection in directions where it has no right to go.  This connection is that as Peter Roebuck was a homosexual, that homosexuals are likely to sexually assault young boys.

Some people commit sexual assaults - race, class, sexuality, religion or any other characteristics has no relevance

Whenever sexual assaults are reported, there is understandable community concern, even outrage.  This heady emotion can often combine with prejudices against various groups in society, so that an offender who is of a particular race, class, sexual orientation, even religion is seen as representative of all of their kind, rather than representative of sex offenders.

Within the article, cricket commentator Jim Maxwell explained that:
"he was "taken aback" when he gave his statement to police shortly after his friend's suicide, and the second question they asked was "Did you know he was a homosexual?"

For those who have a predilection towards criticism of gays, this offers them the opportunity to say "see, he was gay, no wonder he did it to those boys".

All of the evidence is to the contrary.  Pedophiles are pedophiles, not because they are black men raping white women, Catholic priests interfering with altar boys, or gays assaulting young men. These three cohorts have had the misfortune of attracting widespread media attention, as a result of certain cases that have enabled myths to be perpetuated.  None of these groups deserved those connections.

Myths related to sexual assault are damaging myths

There are so many myths relating to sexual assault, which have been disproved by many studies (see a list of reliable references below).  These include the myth that sexually provocative dress means that women are "asking for it", the myth that most assaults are by strangers, that most assailants are old men, and so forth.

When these myths are allowed to perpetuate, our society suffers.  We distrust priests (most of whom are well meaning people).  We discriminate against women for the way they dress.  The US criminal justice system has been shown to discriminate against black men. And there are many more impacts on our society.

The Roebuck legacy must not be about gays and boys

The Peter Roebuck legacy will be many things.  It may be about the need to support youths reach their potential in Africa.  It may be about the need to be more aware of abuses against vulnerable children.  It may be related to cricket. It may be other things entirely.

What the legacy must not be is an excuse for bigots to accuse all gays of being pedophiles, nor an excuse to be suspicious of all white men in Africa.

For when we engage in unfounded bigotry, it hurts us all.

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

References on sexual assault myths:

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