opinion

What we're not saying about the arrest of 'disgraced footballer' Dean Laidley.

On May 2, a famous person was arrested in a suburban Melbourne street.

You may have heard about it.

Dean Laidley will be a familiar name if you follow AFL. Laidley was once a big-star AFL player, and then a coach. He was known, during the time he played for West Coast Eagles and North Melbourne, by the nicknames ‘Junkyard Dog’ and ‘Tunnel’.

Even if you don’t recognise the name, you may recall seeing his photo because it was splashed on the front pages of the Herald Sun and the West Australian last week – a 53-year-old man wearing a dress, a wig and make-up being interrogated by police after his arrest.

But do you know what he was arrested for? Because that’s important. And in the entirely justified outrage about the fact that photos of him were taken secretly by a police officer on the night of his arrest, shared with others and then leaked and published in the media, the actual crime for which Dean Laidley was arrested and charged has been largely overshadowed.

Women And Violence: The Hidden Numbers. Post continues below. 

Video by MMC

So just in case you missed it:

Dean Laidley was arrested for stalking. In court on Monday, it was alleged that Laidley was arrested outside the home of a woman he had mounted a campaign of harassment against – including calling her 43 times in one day, staking out her house, taking multiple photos of her home and its entrance and threatening to run her over in his car.

The ABC reported: “Police informant Senior Constable James Maddock told the court the woman was worried about Mr Laidley being released into rehabilitation.

“The victim is in short petrified of the accused,” he said. “She details in one of her statements she is exhausted by this and it’s having a significant impact. She’s fearful of doing ordinary duties like going for shopping.”

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Among the other charges he faced, another was repeatedly breaching an intervention order in place to keep him away from his alleged victim. 

These are charges over which Dean Laidley will stand trial. He is innocent of them until proven guilty. Certainly, at the time of his arrest, they were considered serious enough that bail was denied. At Monday’s court hearing, after reading character references from several high-profile AFL players, Laidley was granted bail and, crucially, released on the understanding he receive urgent treatment for drug addiction and mental health issues. The AFL Players Association will pay for his drug treatment. 

The charges against Dean Laidley will go to court. But no-one is talking about that.

No-one is talking about the fact that he was charged with serious crimes, crimes that are committed against women by men all over Australia every day: stalking and breaching intervention orders; crimes whose victims live in constant fear and are often terrified for their lives.

Not every act of violence against a woman – and let’s be clear, Dean Laidley has not been charged with an act of physical violence – begins with the crimes for which Laidley has been charged: stalking and breaching an intervention order.

But many of them do.

As I write this at 4.39pm on a Tuesday, the police will likely have dealt with 502* domestic violence complaints TODAY (again, to be clear, Dean Laidley was not involved in any of these crimes).

Last week, Britney Watson’s body was found in a wheelie bin outside Newman Hospital in remote Western Australia. Britney was 18 years old and a boy known to her, only 17, has been charged with her murder.

Britney was the 16th woman to be murdered by a man in 2020. Seven of those deaths have been in the last six weeks, since Australians were told to go home, close the door, and shelter from danger in their homes.

But not all homes are safe.

Overwhelmingly, Australian women are harmed and sometimes murdered by men they know, men they perhaps once loved. Men they likely once trusted.

And also last week, Hannah Clarke’s family asked us all to light a candle and remember her, the woman who was brutally murdered by her former husband along with her three children in the street outside her Brisbane home. Hannah had a Civil Protection Order out against him at the time.

The law didn’t stop Hannah’s killer, Rowan Baxter. It doesn’t stop a lot of men. In NSW alone, the bureau of crime statistics reports that 44 per cent of AVOs are breached.

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They are breached and women are killed. And we don’t hear about the many, many women who are not killed, but assaulted and abused. There wouldn’t be enough room in the papers that carried those disgraceful Dean Laidley photographs for that level of reporting.

Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky, discusses violence against women means during COVID-19 lockdown. Post continues below. 

Why discuss those overwhelming stats and the very real women’s names and faces behind the numbers, when we can be sniggering about a man in a dress, a fallen hero, another ‘misbehaving’ ex-footballer.

The despicable breach of privacy and human dignity that led to Dean Laidley’s photo being taken, leaked and published was unquestionably an act of bigotry. Let’s laugh at the dude in the dress, it said. Let’s mock a man at his lowest moment. Let’s wring our hands over what went wrong with this “hard man of football” while having a little cackle at how all this looks.

Rightly, of course, there was outrage that an officer of the law would behave in such an immoral manner. Famous friends of Laidley’s weighed in hard, supporting their brother in the face of this injustice. The Deputy Police Commissioner called the distribution of the photos ‘unlawful, criminal conduct’ and the policeman responsible has been stood down and faces thousands in fines and the possible loss of his job, alongside any of his mates who also shared the photos.

There has never been a time for when it was okay to publicly humiliate a person wrestling with their gender identity, and it certainly isn’t now. 

However, in all that noise, you’d be forgiven for not noticing why Dean Laidley was arrested. What the charges against him are.

Two things can be true.

Dean Laidley should be treated with dignity and not be mocked or ridiculed for how he chooses to dress or identify.

And women should also be treated with dignity which should include the right to live free from stalking and harassment.

There is nothing okay about the way Dean Laidley was treated when he was arrested in St Kilda.

And there is nothing okay about dismissing the very real threat that troubled men pose to the women in their lives, even after those women have asked for protection.

Feature Image: Getty.

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