My enjoyment of the summer of cricket (I’d even been following the tests, for goodness sake) came to a crashing halt just before 7 o’clock last Friday. Scott Kuggeleijn was debuting for the Black Caps.
Kuggeleijn was on trial for rape in 2016, and again in 2017 after a hung jury in the first trial. He was not convicted of rape. But the evidence presented in court about the behaviour leading to his arrest makes it difficult for those of us working on sexual violence prevention to sweep the whole thing under the rug.
We need to talk about Scott Kuggeleijn, and New Zealand Cricket’s mute handling of the whole affair.
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A brief recap from media reports of the trials: According to the woman’s evidence, she told Kuggeleijn “no” dozens of times, tried to push him off her, and had to keep trying to hold up her underwear until she couldn’t any longer. He then held her arms above her head and allegedly raped her while she looked at the ceiling with tears coming down her face. The court also heard that he’d boasted to a witness just after the reported rape that “he had been trying for a while and that he had finally cracked it.” Kuggeleijn denied using the worded “cracked”; instead, according to his defense lawyer, he [said he] “had been trying for a while and she said no but in the morning it was all good”. What?
As the Crown prosecutor said, the woman had no reason to lie. But Kuggeleijn and his lawyer mobilized all the old rape myths to discredit her word, and breathe new life into mid-twentieth century ideas of women as sexual provocateurs dangerously igniting men’s uncontrollable sexual drives. Kuggeleijn said this “sex” with a struggling, tearful woman was consensual; he said she was “dressed very provocatively” and “very flirty” and “touchy feely” the evening before.
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On Friday night during the cricket, no-one was talking about this elephant in the room. I scoured twitter and found a small handful of men (thank you) sharing my disbelief and dismay. But of course, the cricket commentaries were silent on the shadow of Kuggeleijn’s past. What was New Zealand Cricket thinking? And what about the team itself? Do the other players know? Do they care? Do they feel uncomfortable? Are we, the fans, just supposed to pretend nothing happened?
I lost all interest in the game itself, but kept it running in the background, hoping Sri Lanka would win. When I did look at the screen, I found myself scanning New Zealand players’ body language, hoping for signs they would rather not be up close under the spotlights with this guy (especially the old guard, who can enjoy their successes without those off-putting air-fisting glares). Was Southee’s smile in congratulating Kuggeleijn for a catch or wicket a little shorter than you might expect and his glove bump on the pitch a bit more perfunctory than usual? Luckily Boult and Williamson weren’t playing.
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The salt in the wound of this story is New Zealand Cricket’s wall of silence.
When Kuggeleijn was nearly selected for the national team just after the second trial in 2017, New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said they “respected the court process and [were] not in the business of relitigating past events”. That, he said, “would be manifestly unfair on all parties involved. [The court is] the most appropriate forum for judging matters as serious as this.”
In the wake of MeToo, this position seems strikingly tone deaf to wide global concerns about sexism, sexual harassment and sexual violence. We see the interconnections. We know that the criminal justice process is a blunt instrument. And that a not guilty verdict does not mean there is nothing to account for. No-one is asking for “relitigation”. But doing nothing is not a neutral position. When Kuggeleijn appears on the field and the commentators talk up his glory with bat and ball, it’s as if his actions off the field have been forgiven and forgotten by the cricketing fraternity.
For me and like-minded fans of New Zealand men’s cricket, that’s a loss of entertainment. It taints the simple pleasure of watching the game. On the scale of world problems, that’s no big deal. But the issue is more serious than this. For some cricket followers, perhaps like the brave woman who courageously reported Kuggeleijn’s behaviour through the criminal justice system, his welcome into the national squad would surely add insult to the injury of sexual violence.
But I worry too, about what this particular high profile silence – this de facto minimization of sexual violence – means for the wider agenda of rape prevention. What does it say in response to the widely recognized need to counter gender norms that contribute to sexual violence? What messages does it give boys and young men who see their sport and their role models turning a blind eye to what Kuggeleijn has done?
The Board of Control for Cricket in India seems to know the importance of this question. They have just suspended players KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya, and sent them home from the tour of Australia, for having made sexist and racist comments on a TV show. The Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli has publicly stated that the team “do not support views like that”, and at least one of the players has publicly apologised. This counts for something.
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I’m not saying that Kuggeleijn should never represent his country, or that he can never rise above this. But when a man represents New Zealand in a high profile sport like cricket or rugby he is automatically elevated to a position of unique status and potential influence in New Zealand society. And for that reason, the position carries a reasonable burden of expectation for decent behaviour. And an expectation of public accountability when he falls short.
New Zealand Cricket has a responsibility to approach their team selections with this bigger picture in view. It now has a choice to make. Does it act the dinosaur with its head in the sand, putting winning the game ahead of doing the right thing? Or, does it take a bold and socially responsible stance, stepping up to address the issue head on, acknowledging that even though Kuggeleijn was not convicted, what we’ve seen and heard about his behaviour and attitudes toward women doesn’t live up to modern standards expected by socially responsible organisations and employers?
The first path of minimization and silence contributes to rape culture. (I think of it as the 1970s route.) As Judith Herman, renowned Harvard psychiatrist, says, “denial, repression, and dissociation operate on a social as well as an individual level. … All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil.” And when we do and say nothing, society stays stuck in a groove that lets violence happen.
The second path comes with challenges for an elite sporting body. But it is the route that we now expect from organisations facing sexual violence within their ranks. It involves facing up and proactively countering any hint that it condones such behaviour. It might end up meaning that it is not the right time for Kuggeleijn to put on the black cap. More work needs to be done to explicitly distance the organisation and the team from the kinds of values he has embodied. And they need to front up to the public to explain how they are working with him and the team to dissociate from that kind of ‘toxic masculinity’.
But the second path also represents an opportunity. A chance to show leadership and model positive values affirming gender equality and nonviolence. The importance of transforming harmful gender norms is where the future lies in preventing gender-based violence – according to international bodies like the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, and local organisations like White Ribbon.
In the sporting arena, there are inspiring models for how this can look. Around the world, a handful of high profile male sportsmen use their public platform to stand up for equality, inclusion and nonviolence. Scottish tennis champion, Andy Murray has attracted kudos for his support of equality for women in professional tennis, and calling out sexism in media interviews. Former NFL football star Colin Kaepernick is not only an inspiring campaigner against racist violence in the US; he is also a well-read proponent of Black feminists, who amplifies their insights against sexism and racism. And closer to home, Australian Wallaby David Pocock promotes equality and inclusion on lots of social and environmental issues. He is also “interested in the idea of challenging patriarchy”.
I’d love to think New Zealand Cricket could become the sort of organisation that would produce and support inspiring players like this rather than closing ranks to hibernate a culture of silence around violence against women.
16 January 2019