Last July, three young Australian men were found guilty of sexually assaulting an underage Norwegian traveller in the bathroom of a Croatian bar. This month they returned home, after evading a possible fifteen year jail term.
Dylan Dhojan, Ashwin Kumar, and Waleed Latif originally cried not-guilty; two of the men denied that the encounter was non-consensual, and the other claimed to not be involved at all. As the investigation unfurled, however, their DNA was found on the young woman’s clothing, and a physical exam determined that intercourse did indeed take place. The three Melbourne natives soon changed their plea, though were able to negotiate a deal before their scheduled trial in which they were afforded a one year sentence. Shockingly, this quickly evolved into a measly five year good behaviour bond and a €20,000 ($30,000) compensation payout.
Not only is this good behaviour bond non-enforceable in Australia, where they now dwell free, the notion that these men can quite literally pay for their sins has ignited deserved uproar amongst women’s rights advocates. Local Croatian campaigner Sanja Sarnavka shared her objection with local media, expressing that “In a democratic state, everyone should have the same treatment, regardless of their wealth or assets”.
Though Sarnavka also voiced understanding of the young girl’s decision to accept the financial compensation, in order to avoid the further trauma a trial may inflict, the lack of punishment for the violent offenders has also sparked conversation regarding what this verdict means for rape culture and the discourse surrounding it.
This culture, used to demonstrate the ways in which male sexual violence is normalised, is as complex as it is conditioned by the world around us. As Emilie Buchwald, author of Transforming A Rape Culture, describes “A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm”. In this way, the minimal consequences awarded to such abhorrent actions ensure the brevity of the situation is as lost on the assaulters as it is greater society.
This sentiment is evident enough in Dhojan’s Instagram post alluding to joining the “mile-high-club” with a stewardess before boarding his flight home to freedom. In a public display of irreverence, Dhojan highlighted the very issue of the trio’s soft brush with justice; while their punishment was made easier to swallow, there is no way to sugarcoat the way their young victim’s life is now forever changed. She is no longer afforded the luxury of a casual and playful approach to sex; her view of intimacy is marred with violence.
Moreover, the idea that these men have paid to gang-rape a minor without consequence only further encourages the discourse portraying women as acquisitions, and condones the male entitlement so ingrained in this culture of violence. These notions are once more echoed by Dhojan’s flippant remarks, this time regarding his philosophy on life, “Disregard work, acquire women”, which he so proudly shared on his hyper-masculine social feed.
Perhaps the only beacon of hope in this fiercely repugnant case is the outrage both on home shores and abroad, with an abundance of people flocking to the internet to express their disgust with the verdict.
How disgusting that three Australians rape a 17y.o. girl in Croatia then negotiate a payment allowing them to fly home.Should lock them up.
— Bob Pulford (@bobpulford) February 7, 2016
In 'rape culture doesn't exist news', 3 men pay to avoid gang rape trial, remain delusional about selves and women. https://t.co/XcKnaAkKjP
— Amy Gray (@_AmyGray_) February 7, 2016
— Sally Lou (@skiddelywoo) February 7, 2016
Though even with this public outcry, there are still articles published by major corporations such as The Age, concluding with the fact that the Norwegian victim was drinking the night she was attacked. As if this information does anything but prove the degree to which she was violated. As if she forfeited her sexual autonomy the moment she partook in the same social activities of her future attackers. As if they were lead wayward by a girl who would eventually cry foul. So too, this serves to demonstrate that there are people out there who will argue for extenuating circumstances, and in turn, protect these rapists.
Anger over this individual crime and it’s vile outcome is not enough to combat the conditioning that leads people to ask “What was she wearing?” or “Why was she out on her own?”. We cannot lie complicit as a society who accepts sexual violence as an unavoidable inconvenience, we must work to change the values and attitudes that lead so many to believe this is true.
It is so very necessary to reverse this discourse, to understand that this culture exists, and that it is not just carried out by obviously villainous predators, twirling moustaches while they stalk future prey. It is carried out by average people; parents, the boys you see on Tinder, and seemingly sweet-natured strangers. It is carried out by a society that lies complicit in the wrist-slapping punishment of sex offenders.
As long as rape culture exists, there will always be a new target – how many must there be before we stop teaching them to load their arrows?
Croatia, Fury, and Fury trial. “Fury Over Payment By Melbourne Men To Avoid Rape Trial In Croatia”. The Age. N.p., 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
Ford, Clementine. “The Toxic Conditioning That Tells Rapists They Can Commit The Same Crime Again”. Daily Life. N.p., 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
RT International,. “Pay To Rape: Australians Avoid Jail Terms For Raping 17Yo Girl After Paying Her $22,000”. N.p., 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
Wavaw.ca,. “What Is Rape Culture? | WAVAW | Women Against Violence Against Women”. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
Women in the World in Association with The New York Times – WITW,. “3 Australian Rapists Avoid Jail Time In Croatia After Paying $22,000”. N.p., 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.