Jordan De Goey’s indictment illuminates the AFL’s approach to violence against women

Last week, AFL player Jordan De Goey was stopped indefinitely from Collingwood after being charged with violently touching a 35-year-old woman and assaulting a 37-year-old man at a rooftop bar in New York City.

The charge of forcible touching was later dropped, while De Goey is due to face court on December 8 on the second charge of assault, to which he pleaded not guilty.

It is the second time in the Magpie’s career that he has faced serious allegations of violence against women. Although both allegations relating to women were finally dropped – the first just months before the latest incident – De Goey has not, to date, been formally dismissed by his club or the AFL while being investigated.

It is a situation that has angered many in the community, including fans, commentators and advocates of domestic violence.

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“I think the sense of community is that that’s enough,” said Catherine Ordway, a lawyer and Associate Professor of Sports Integrity and Ethics at the University of Canberra.

“Whether it’s chatting to the referee, speeding offenses, drinking or breaking a curfew, these issues are explained, excused and brushed under the rug.

“It shows the divine, untouchable position that some of these men hold as members of the community … and they have not been held accountable.”

NRL’s “innocent removal” policy sends a clear message

The fact that De Goey played two seasons of AFL with serious allegations against him also led to unfavorable comparisons with rival code NRL.

In 2019, the NRL launched a policy of “innocent withdrawal” after a series of allegations were made against its players involving violence against women.

Under the policy, players are automatically suspended if they face serious charges that warrant a maximum prison sentence of 11 years or more.

NRL’s CEO and clubs also have the discretion to detain players when they are charged with criminal offenses involving violence against women and children – regardless of the duration of any possible punishment.

Former Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie (right) was an architect of the NRL’s “innocent withdrawal” policy.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

During implementation, former Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie said the policy was “not about being popular”:

“Our job is to rebuild the reputation and protect the game. That reputation has been damaged by recent events. This is a standard expected.”

The contrast between the approaches of the codes raises some uncomfortable questions for the AFL. These include whether it should implement a similar “automatic” withdrawal policy, and whether it – or Collingwood – should be exercising its own discretion to withstand De Goey in the face of the most recent alleged attack.

A decision to stop De Goey may be “too little too late”

On the back of De Goey’s current charge, the AFL supported Collingwood’s decision to dismiss him.

“The AFL takes seriously its commitment to building a safe and inclusive environment for women and a culture of respect, inclusion and equality,” an AFL spokesman told ABC Sports.

The spokesman added that in cases where behavior is supposed to fall below those standards, “we decide on appropriate action that includes the ability to eliminate players”.

According to Ordway, however, the fact that de Goey has been available to play so far may be a case of “too little too late”.

“I think you have to wonder what kind of message you are trying to send … on the one hand you can say, well the justice in Australia claims you are innocent until proven guilty.

“The AFL effectively says, this is a criminal matter, it’s not a field case, and the appropriate prosecutor is taking care of it. Once the decision is made, we will respect that and take action.

“The difficulty with that is when you’re also trying to send a message that you’re a family-friendly, inclusive sport that respects women.”

A large crowd watches during the women’s AFL match between Collingwood and Carlton at Ikon Park in 2017.
Through the competition of the AFL women in particular, the AFL sought to strengthen its reputation as a family-friendly, inclusive sport.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

This does not mean that the NRL policy is without its own difficulties. For example, Ordway pointed to the problem of relying on justice to provide adequate results for victims, given the established difficulty of prosecuting sexual assault charges.

“Women know they shouldn’t bring up these claims because they won’t be believed and won’t be heard.”

A related problem, she said, was that cases could drag through justice without a satisfactory outcome.

That was true in the case against Jack de Belin, who was suspended for more than two years while he defended six charges of alleged sexual assault.

One of those charges was dismissed, while two separate juries were unable to reach a judgment on the other five charges. This year, the Director of Public Prosecutions chose not to pursue a third lawsuit.

“That’s really unsatisfactory for all parties,” Ordway said. “No one would have said that was a good result. And it certainly didn’t serve society.”

Jack de Belin leaves court in a suit.
Jack de Belin has been suspended for more than two years by the NRL under its innocent withdrawal policy. (ABC: Joel Carrett)

Sport needs clear policies to deal with a nationwide crisis

Despite problems with both the NRL politics and justice, Ladies who League lawyer and founder Mary Konstantopoulos said it was important that sports organizations persisted with implementing policies to guide players’ retirement.

“One of the challenges for sports is, we have a lot of clubs that act in their own interest,” Konstantopoulos told ABC Sport.

“So if a club decides to block a player, it doesn’t really have an effect unless the other clubs also decide not to sign that player.

“That’s why I think it’s really important that the governing bodies like NRL and AFL have a consistent attitude and policy.”

Ms. Konstantopoulos said it is also important to recognize that sports are not alone in dealing with the scourge of violence against women.

“We have a national crisis in this country when it comes to domestic violence and violence against women. So it really doesn’t surprise me that we have these things in sport because sports are a microcosm of society.

“For me, when the policy of innocent dismissal appeared, it made me proud, because although it was certainly not perfect, it meant intention.

“I felt there was at least recognition from the NRL that these are serious offenses, and that they have an impact on people who watch the game.”

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