Ronaldo is who some would argue to be the best football player of all time – don’t ask me, I literally couldn’t care less about football. But what I am finding more intriguing are the recent allegations of rape made against him by Kathryn Mayorga, and maybe more worryingly, the reactions of the media and the general public towards these. The allegations date from 2009, and a year later in 2010, the star player reportedly reached an out-of-court settlement with Mayorga, by paying her $375,000 for her silence. Of course, he is stating that the money ‘is by no means an confession of guilt’. I’m sure we all have our own opinions on that one. But it would appear that people are being faced with a choice: sporting icon, or rapist? Of course, he is innocent until proven guilty, of which the courts will decide. But in the meantime, they are somehow struggling to comprehend that just maybe, he could be both.
Trash man of the moment, Donald Trump, was criticised after the infamous “grab ‘em by the pussy” recording was released. He later defended this as ‘locker room talk’ in a reference to a ‘lads being lads in a sports changing room’ scenario, or a typical ‘boys will be boys’ episode. Lad culture seems to be especially prevalent within male-dominated sporting circles, when power is equated with dominance and aggression. It is a widespread issue, from the Nottingham uni hockey boys banned for singing a sexually violent song on a bus, to the conviction of Brock Allen Turner, a star athlete at Stanford who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. This toxic sports culture has historically gone hand-in-hand with allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Innocent until proven otherwise, but I think we forget that sports players can very easily become a product of this toxic masculinity.
No locker room I have ever been has had this sort of chat in it. But what I have been witness to, is perhaps the result of it – men heckling my team both on and off the pitch, countless men calling me a lesbian, or a bitch, after I have confronted them, being shouted and whistled at whilst switching shirts on the sideline. It is tiring to constantly be on guard when all of your concentration should be on the job at hand – winning.
Rape culture is pervasive in society, but is now being called out, and huge movements have started demanding change – none more prominent than the #metoo movement. It was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke and experienced a viral boom during the Weinstein scandal, with hundreds of thousands of people sharing their stories via social media. But rather than asking probing questions about how and why our society has facilitated this behaviour, we are asking, “What about false accusations?”, as with the Ronaldo case. Suggesting that the women making the claims are lying, is hugely damaging, and something we actually know to be very rarely true, as over the last 20 years only 2-10% of rape claims have been proved to be false.
To demonstrate the sheer catastrophe that is the current situation for accusers, I’ve stuck in this graph from the Enliven Project, which is an easier way to see the scale of the problem. Granted, this came out in 2013, however the numbers are much the same according to the office for national statistics:
Along with many other avid football fans, I will be awaiting the news of the Ronaldo trial in the hope that justice gets served, either way. But I really don’t believe that even if someone like Ronaldo is proven to be guilty, there will be any negative impact on his career in the long run. He will continue to be a ‘talented player’ with a net worth over $400 million. We have seen, time and again, that men who have been accused, convicted and even have admitted to sexually assaulting people, have been able to carry on with their careers as usual – and in one very prominent case, be elected as president of the United States.
In an attempt to end on a nicer note, I would like to highlight the change that is occurring across the globe. With women more likely to come forward about their attackers due to recent social change, we can hope that the number of people who believe they can get away with sexual assault, will decrease. It is, of course, impossible to unpack all the complex issues around #MeToo, and the experience of the accuser and the accused, within a short blog post – I have merely scratched the surface. But I believe things are changing for the better. We just need to support those coming forward with stories – as well as help to build a society where victims feel comfortable sharing these stories – so we can hold everyone accountable for their actions.