Rape allegations against Jarryd Hayne were part of the “horror off-season” that prompted the NRL to draw a line in the sand with regard to player behaviour.
Over two years later, Hayne has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman on the night of the 2018 grand final.
The 33-year-old was charged in November of that year, one of the first in a spate of damaging headlines during the 2018/19 off-season.
It prompted the NRL to introduce its no-fault standdown policy, whereby any player charged with a criminal offence that carries a maximum jail time of 11 years or more is immediately sidelined.
Hayne had just come off contract at the time of the offence, so the policy didn’t apply to him, but considering he was only 30 years old at the time of his arrest, without the policy he may have been able to play on if he secured a new deal with a club.
White Ribbon — one of Australia’s peak bodies for the prevention of violence against women — believes his conviction highlights why the policy must be in place.
“The conviction of Jarryd Hayne for sexually assaulting a woman vindicates the ARL Commission’s decision to maintain its strong stance on the no-fault standdown policy, sending a clear message that violence against women and children will not be tolerated within the NRL,” White Ribbon executive director Brad Chilcott said.
“As the events of Parliament House have highlighted, we’ve still got a long journey ahead of us to change the culture of male entitlement that preferences men’s desires, ambitions and opinions over women’s.”
The organisation believes more needs to be done.
“It’s not good enough that we still live in a society where women can be rightly afraid of men’s harassment, violence and abuse,” Mr Chilcott said.
“It’s men who need to stop raping and sexually harassing women. It’s men who need to speak out, act and demonstrate accountability, in order to keep women safe.”
No To Violence works with men who commit acts of family violence and the sector that supports them to change their abusive and violent behaviour.
“This conviction marks a significant shift, given so many cases haven’t led to a conviction,” No To Violence chief executive Jacqui Watt said.
“Data shows only 10 per cent of rape is actually reported and only 7 per cent results in convictions.”
Ms Watt said cases like Hayne’s proved the policy was necessary and was working, despite having received some pushback from people who argue it presumes guilt before a court finds anyone guilty.
“It’s definitely needed, and I back the NRL CEO to the hilt on keeping it,” she said.
“Change has to come from the top down, from the boardroom, and I think they [the NRL] are on the right track. This should not be a polarising issue.”
Removing policy would be a step back for NRL
Dragons star Jack de Belin has not played a game since early 2019, although he has been seen training with the team up until this season.
He has a criminal case remaining before the courts, prompting calls to remove the standdown policy.
Ms Watt said that would send a damaging message.
“By saying this is unfair because of how it affects the player or the club – what about the effects on the person? What about their family, their life? It’s such a serious accusation you can’t just pretend everything is normal – there has to be an impact.”
Ms Watt said like it or not, children looked up to footballers and they had to take that responsibility seriously.
“Players need to realise they are role models, we actually do expect the best of you , because kids grow up wanting to be you, so we expect and need better,” she said.
“What does it take for a man, any man who’s been found guilty of harming others, for them to shift their thinking to realise what they did was wrong?”
She believes the consequences for sexual assault or violence against women need to be tougher.
“This [standing a player down] is the start towards holding the player accountable for their actions, but there needs to be a more comprehensive understanding of what leads to gendered violence.
“The policy still allows these players to hang around and contribute to the team’s culture, so change can only ever go part of the way.”
She said it was not about shunning or admonishing perpetrators, but keeping men engaged.
“Guys will listen to men far more than women. I don’t like that, but it’s what we see. So that could be very powerful, particularly among younger men.
“Today I asked a group of women, ‘Do you like NRL?’ They said yes, but when I asked, ‘Would you go to a match on your own?’ everybody said, universally, ‘I wouldn’t.’
“Men challenging each other is a hard space but it needs to be changing all the time, we have to keep going at this because we are certainly not there yet.”
Hayne has been released on bail on a $50,000 surety and will be sentenced in early May. He is appealing against the guilty verdict.