IN 2008, Strathfieldsaye Storm stood up and said violence was out of bounds.
Players wore white arm bands in recognition of the women in their lives affected by violence and sexual assault – and the club handed out information on referral services and strategies for victims, families and perpetrators of violence against women.
What followed was a first for country football in this state, when the Storm signed a sponsorship agreement with a family violence prevention network.
In a press release distributed at the time, the club’s then president said “as a club in our first year of competition, we realise the importance of establishing a culture that is respected within our local and the broader Victorian community’’.
“By setting a standard of conduct that establishes such a strong statement, we believe we can be leaders and educators within the community. Like all fair minded people, the club condemns violence against women by males and we are prepared to forego on field success to attain the respect of the community.”
Prepared to forego on field success to attain the respect of the community?
Was consideration given to that when the club signed Stephen Milne?
Or were values quickly discarded in the quest for a premiership?
It has been widely reported that Milne is facing rape charges – and yes, he is yet to face his day in court, so therefore entitled to the presumption of innocence.
This is not about whether or not he should be allowed to play pending court proceedings, it's about Storm staying true to its values and sending the right messages to the community it made a promise to.
The club should have waited until the outcome of court proceedings before signing a player facing such charges.
The club showed courage and leadership in helping change community attitudes towards violence against women, including sexual assault. And importantly, it sent a strong message to victims/survivors that they matter – their stories matter – more than football.
It was a strong stance to take in a community deeply entrenched in football culture – and it showed there is no place for patriarchy in any club with family values.
That stance would have empowered some women (and men) to feel safer speaking out – knowing their community was supportive and trying to understand.
But what has become of this same community when signing a footballer means more than integrity and long-term cultural change?
As Victoria Police chief commissioner Ken Lay recently wrote “an estimated 20 per cent of Australian women have been sexually assaulted … sexual assault is under-reported.’’
Rape and sexual assault are two of the most under reported crimes in Australia. We have to ask ourselves, why?
Any one answer would be too simplistic, but surely as a community we need to take some ownership about why victims don’t feel safe to report sexual assault. What are we doing to further silence them?
What are we doing to further silence them?