opinion

The equality siren is louder than ever, but young men still feel entitled to rape girls and film it.

Warning: this post deals with rape and may be triggering for some readers. 

There were banners and painted faces and women and men and children were dressed up in costumes and carrying placards. The march for International Women’s Day in Sydney’s Hyde Park earlier this month was a show of solidarity thrilling enough to give you goosebumps.

Three suburbs over and a 15-year-old Cranbrook School student, who allegedly raped an unconscious 15-year-old schoolgirl at a party in Bellevue Hill in Sydney the weekend before, was probably doing his homework and browsing Netflix and scrolling through Instagram.

The rape was allegedly filmed and shared on social media by another 15-year-old who attends Rose Bay Secondary College. On Monday, he faced the Children’s Court (yes, the Children’s Court) and pleaded not guilty to charges of filming a young person committing a sexual act on another young person without their consent, as well as producing child abuse material on his mobile phone and distributing it on ­social media.

A 15-year-old girl was allegedly raped at a Sydney house party. Image: iStock

She is 15 years old, and also goes to school in the Eastern Suburbs. She was probably feeling that excitement you feel when you're preparing for an event and picturing how the night might unfold. It was a Saturday night, March 4, and the party was in Bellevue Hill.

She might have bought a new outfit for the occasion, had long conversations with her girlfriends about the people who'd be there. The outfits they'd wear. How annoying their maths teacher is, and can you believe the extra homework this year?

By the end of the night this 15-year-old girl was unconscious and, as she lay passed out, the Cranbrook boy allegedly raped her while the Rose Bay boy allegedly filmed it. She didn't realise she'd been assaulted until she saw the footage online.

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The police reportedly weren't notified until 12 days after the attack, when teachers at Cranbrook stepped in. The footage had been circulated within a group of at least 50 teenagers. As of Friday, the alleged attacker no longer attends the $41,000-per-year high school.

The GIRLS episode about powerful men, and the women they lure. Post continues below.

Last week, we heard about Brandon Vandenburg a 23-year-old from the US who, when he was 19, allegedly filmed the gang rape of his unconscious girlfriend. She was 21 and passed out in Vandenburg's car when they returned to Vanderbilt University in Nashville where he was studying and playing football. They'd spent the day drinking and he called upon three of his football mates to help carry her to his dorm room. He knew them only as "Cory, ‘Tip’ and Brandon Banks".

"Cory Tip and Brandon Banks" took it in turns to rape Vandenburg's girlfriend while she slipped in and out of consciousness on his bed. What did the 19-year-old Vandenburg do? He dolled out condoms, laughed, and lamented the fact he "couldn't get an erection". We know all this because he filmed it on his mobile phone. “He’s giving instructions, encouraging, and then you’ll hear him laughing,” Deputy District Attorney General Tom Thurman told jurors. “He thinks it’s hilarious.”

Vandenburg's initial guilty verdict was thrown out. He's being retried this week for five counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of unlawful photography.

Brandon Vandenburg. Image via Facebook.

In February this year, police in Sweden detained three men, aged between 18 and 25, who allegedly raped a woman and live streamed it on Facebook. The 18-year-old alleged victim had her clothes ripped off, and was reportedly threatened with a gun. "Three against one," one Facebook commenter wrote.

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We have seen this too many times before. We saw the worst possible outcome in 2012 when 15-year-old Audrie Pott took her own life eight days after being sexually assaulted at a party in her hometown of California. "My life is over," Pott wrote on Facebook Messenger after images of her assault were circulated online.

These examples give rise to one glaring, horrifying question: why is it that young men think it's okay to not only violate a young woman, but to share it? Through shiny screens that light-up with comments and likes and emojis of self-congratulations? How is it that young, privileged, educated men even think about it at all?

Is it a "college culture" like Vandenbur's lawyers claim, now infiltrating elite private schools? Is it about the instant feedback and reinforcement that is social media? Is it down to the way we're raising boys?

Whatever it is, there is a stark contrast between the progress we think we're making in the fight for women's rights -- for human rights -- and the reality for these young female victims.

The alleged Cranbrook assault took place four days before International Women's Day.

Last year, as we were marching against the election of the US President Donald Trump and his "pussy grabbing", Year 11 boys at Brighton Grammar in Melbourne were posting photos of young girls on Instagram and inviting people to vote for "slut of the year".

Before that, when we were shaking our heads at the incredulity of Trump's nomination and discussing how many women are in boardrooms and the need for de-stigmatising paid paternity leave, a ring of teenage boys sharing sexual images of female students from more than 70 Australian schools was blown wide open. More than 2000 images had been shared and exchanged. Young men were using the site to name girls they were "hunting" and to nominate areas to target for more non-consensual photographs.

Who is the victim in all this?

She is invisible. Maybe unconscious and unaware. Definitely powerless, first during the attack, then as she watches it shared between screens, whispered about at the school lockers, talked about with buzzing white text on stark blue message backgrounds. Maybe she doesn't know anything at all until the police come knocking.

What is most shocking, is that she is the generation that should be benefiting from the marching and the placards and the loud discussions about women's rights and safety. Instead, she's is hurting and terrified and thinking awful thoughts. She even blames herself.

For all the progress we are making, there is one, vital piece of the puzzle we are so clearly missing: who is talking to the boys and young men?

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