A sad, sad thing happened over the weekend.
Former All Black Mils Muliaina was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. But the most godawful part about it is the most common reaction to this news seems to have been, "Poor Mils! How utterly devastating for him."
The fact that most people's sympathies immediately rest with the alleged perpetrator of sexual assault rather than the complainant says something terrible about us as a society.
Until the facts of the case are known it is important not to draw any conclusions and Muliaina, like anyone else, deserves the right not to be judged until the investigation and judicial process has run its course. The same courtesy should also be extended to the alleged victim.
And yet these allegations have been predictably met with suspicious nay-saying, with many calling into question the young woman's "motives" for laying a complaint.
An editor of a magazine for young Pasifika women wrote on Twitter: "Always thought Mils Muliaina was a gentleman and family man, then again it's probably some gold-digger lady telling lies hmmmm #WhoToBelieve".
I use this example not to single out the editor for ridicule, but to illustrate how ingrained these attitudes are when even someone whose aim it is to "empower young Pacific women" perpetuates ideas that the most likely explanation is the complainant is simply making it up.
Other online comments followed several predictable strands. "Innocent until proven guilty!" they all shriek, showing a fastidious respect for legal procedure and rights of the accused, while at the same time being entirely comfortable deriding the victim and offering all sorts of possible motives for her to make such claims.
Which leads to the "there are two sides to every story" argument, although there were a lot of people happy to advance their own theories, adding a third, fourth and fifth version of the story - most along the lines that the complainant is obviously a vengeful woman out to destroy a man's life, or is recasting her regret as coercion.
There were also repeated assertions that innocent men routinely go to jail because of such false claims - these devil women must be stopped!
That in itself is a false claim.
The chances of anyone, let alone an innocent person, being sent to jail for a sexual offence are incredibly low. A 2009 paper released by the Ministry of Women's Affairs estimates only 9 per cent of sexual offences are reported. Of those that are, only 13 per cent result in a conviction.
Overseas studies have attributed low conviction rates in sexual assault cases to societal beliefs and assumptions about sexual relationships, sexual norms and gender roles.
It's even more difficult in cases involving well-known sporting identities, largely because the public seems more often than not inclined to defend their sporting heroes, if not blatantly excuse them.
This is not a column designed to cast aspersions on Muliaina. It is not prejudging his guilt or innocence.
But, when a sports star is accused of sexual assault and the public's first concern is what it means for the individual's career, there's plenty of evidence pointing to an ugly double standard.
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