On Monday night, we learned through an exceptionally produced episode of Four Corners that in Australia a woman can be raped by a man who is not a rapist.
Saxon Mullins was barely 18 years old when she visited Sydney’s Kings Cross with her best friend, Brittany Watts.
A self-described “late bloomer”, Mullins had grown up on the Central Coast, experiencing her first kiss only a year prior.
She was a virgin – a detail that should not matter – but ultimately does when we consider that there exists a socially determined image of the ‘perfect’ rape victim, and Mullins was it.
The ABC described her as a “bright but a mostly unsophisticated teenager.” It was 2013, she had only been clubbing a handful of times, and what was about to happen was something she could never have predicted.
The Mamamia Out Loud team unpack the case of Luke Lazarus. Post continues after audio…
Mullins and Watts visited Kings Cross McDonalds and pre-drank – something virtually all young people in Sydney do to avoid paying $14 for a vodka lemonade.
They shared a bottle of bourbon, and by the time Mullins left she’d consumed seven standard drinks.
The pair visited World Bar and shared a cocktail teapot; a drink most Sydneysiders will be familiar with.
At 4am, they entered Soho, a club that was somewhat hidden from the rest of Kings Cross. My own recollection of Soho can be summarised in one word; dark.
She met a 21-year-old who told her he co-owned the club, a statement which was not at all true. Luke Lazarus was a promoter, his father the owner.
When he offered to show her the V.I.P. area she dutifully followed, Lazarus holding her hand.
There was no V.I.P. area, but instead a dark alleyway – the kind your mother tells you to stay away from. When Mullins realised she was in an alleyway with a stranger, she says she tried to leave, but Lazarus wouldn’t let her.
When this moment was revisited on Four Corners it was impossible not to think: “That could have been me”.
The pre-drinks. The dark nightclub. The man who claimed to be someone he wasn’t, and offered to show you somewhere most people were not allowed.
And then you’re stuck.
And you’re feeling stupid for getting yourself into this mess, with no script to get you out of it.
You do what you’re told because you’ve never been spoken to like that. Why is a stranger who was perfectly nice a few moments ago, being so mean? He has already tricked you – will he hurt you if you try to fight back? The irony, in hindsight, is that he was hurting you anyway.
Lazarus attempted to have vaginal sex with Mullins, but commented she was “too tight”. He then penetrated her anally.
That could have been any of us. And that’s part of the reason why the story, five years on, still holds such significance.
Mullins’ status as the ‘perfect’ victim did not stop that night. She went to the police the next morning, an act that often takes victims days or weeks to muster the courage to do.
As an 18-year-old she detailed the horrific incident to policemen and doctors. She was examined. She pressed charges.
The trial began in 2015. Lazarus would be convicted and sent to jail, until his legal team predictably appealed.
He spent a total of 11 months in prison, before being acquitted by Judge Robyn Tupman.
“Whether or not she consented is but one matter,” Judge Tupman said in her judgement. “Whether or not the accused knew that she was not consenting is another.”
Judge Tupman did not accept that Mullins ‘meant’ to consent, and “in her own mind was not consenting to sexual intercourse”.
By that statement, one might deduce that a ‘rape’ did occur in Kings Cross that night, but there was no rapist.
It is difficult to imagine another crime where such a paradox is possible.
To think that Mullins, you or I, could experience such unequivocal trauma – a case which in many ways presents as textbook rape – and be left without a perpetrator might be the most terrifying detail of all.
On Monday night’s episode of Four Corners, Saxon Mullins said: “I am that girl.”
But ‘that girl’ could have been any of us.