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The Mitchell Pearce video isn't just about the poor dog.

“He tried to have sex with a dog. There’s no coming back from that.”

That was one of the comments on talkback radio this morning about Mitchell Pearce, the NRL Roosters’ player who has been caught on video committing a series of revolting acts on Australia Day.

And the radio talk-back guy is probably right. People will not soon forget that Mitchell Pearce grabbed a dog and simulated sex with it. Certainly not if the headlines and the cartoons are anything to go by:

Without a doubt, tormenting a dog is repulsive. It’s morally reprehensible. People are right to be angry about it.

But I wonder whether this video would have triggered the same outrage, the same vehemence, the same calls for the players’ sacking, if Mitchell Pearce hadn’t touched the dog?

Because, while the dog appears to be all people want to talk about, the incident contains some truly revolting acts that we’re not seeing mentioned much.

Pearce attempted to kiss a woman without her consent. When she pushed him away, he grabbed her dog and tormented it. She asked him repeatedly to leave, to go and to get out – but he didn’t.

He made racist and homophobic slurs. There is an allegation that he urinated on the woman’s couch.

during the First NRL Semi Final match between the Sydney Roosters and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Allianz Stadium on September 18, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.
Mitchell Pearce. Image via Getty.

Yes, he simulated sex with a dog, but in this context, it is clear that Pearce’s attack on the dog was to distress the woman who had rejected him. The dog was used to upset the woman. The dog in this case is very much part of the abuse of the female victim.

Sexual assault, hate speech and animal cruelty: There’s a lot going on here – and yet the dog is all people are talking about.

I’ve read comments this morning saying that Pearce was “set up”, and that the video was taken in a private residence without consent, so everyone should just leave him alone. Hey, nobody got hurt! And, besides, haven’t we all got a little crazy while we were wasted?

Last week, I wrote in defence of four AFL players who had sent nude photos and videos to women and those images and videos were published by a magazine. Those players had sent intimate pictures in an apparently consensual context – and those private images were shared with the world without their consent. The players were victims, and they deserve our sympathy.

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Unlike these footballers, Pearce isn’t the victim of a crime. Image via Woman’s Day.

But in the case of Mitchell Pearce, this isn’t an intimate video that he recorded and sent to a lover. This isn’t a recording of a bit of fun between mates where Pearce put a lampshade on his head or tried to pee into his own mouth.

This video is footage of a crime. Potentially a number of crimes. It doesn’t matter if you commit a crime in your own backyard, there is no defence that says: Hey, I was doing that in private! Hey, I got caught on a camera that I didn’t know was there! Regardless of how or why the video came to be shown in prime time on the television, we can’t escape that.

People will continue to talk about the dog. They will continue to be grossed out by the act and feel deep pity for the pet that did not ask to be at a party with a bunch of drunken footy players. That is all fair. Animal cruelty is a crime, and it doesn’t matter that the dog didn’t sustain any obvious or ongoing physical damage. Distressing and tormenting an animal falls within animal welfare legislation in all States in Australia.

But there are other acts here that are gross. Other acts that should offend us just as deeply. Other acts that Mitchell Pearce will need to atone for if he wants to save his career:

He committed sexual violence against a woman. He used hate speech against Indigenous people and gay people.

Violence against women and football have been close neighbours for many years – and it usually gets played off as “Boys being boys”, “What did those women expect?”. Racism and homophobia have also long been a part of football culture.

As the talkback caller said this morning, there may be no coming back from pretending to have sex with a dog – but violence against women, homophobia and racism? Football players have definitely come back from that. They’ve been welcomed back onto the field and back into fans’ hearts without ongoing stigma (and even with some pity for their ordeal.)

The fact that a dog has turned up in this case means that it’s made the front pages. It’s got people fired up and baying for Pearce’s sacking.

That’s fine. Tormenting a dog is disgusting, but we need to remember: This isn’t just about the dog.

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