He ruined her life. So should this footballer get a second chance at glory?

He indecently assaulted a young woman – so is he entitled to another chance at fame?

Trigger Warning: This post deals with issues of sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.

Essendon Football Club have had a troublesome year.  Heavy legal proceedings and drug investigations have damaged the club’s reputation, cost them a shit-ton of money and tested the loyalty of the devoted Bomber fans.

You’d think they’d be wise to just put their heads down and shun any more controversy. Right?

Wrong.  Because rumours abound that the club are looking to recruit former St Kilda player, Stephen Milne.

Read more: A beginners guide to the Essendon shitstorm

Milne, you may remember, was committed to stand trial in 2013 for four counts of rape of a teenager in 2004. It was alleged that Milne had sex with the student while she thought he was another player (who she had slept with previously). She says that she repeatedly asked him to stop, but he continued. Milne denied these allegations at the time.

AFL player Stephen Milne and his wife Melissa Rudling leaving Melbourne Magistrates Court (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

It took an entire decade for this case to come to trial, including a lengthy Office of Police Integrity investigation into claims that police officers had tried to derail the investigation.

Ultimately, Milne pleaded guilty to indecent assault and was fined $15,000. The judge decided not to record a conviction, taking into account plea of guilty, good character, youth at the time and the significant delay in being brought to justice.

In sentencing, the judge referred to the impact of the assault on the victim, including ongoing nightmares. He said, “she continues to have feelings of being withdrawn and isolated. She has felt judged by others, she has been abused, she has felt a sense of injustice.’’

While he said that it was difficult to assess the impact on her because the accused had pleaded guilty to indecent assault, rather than rape, the judge was clear that the media attention focused on the case had exacerbated the victim’s pain.

With the pre-season NAB Challenge looming, Essendon don’t have enough players to field a side. The club is without 25 of its players while the AFL Tribunal deliberates over the 2012 drug scandal.

But the AFL Commission have ruled that the Bombers must take part in the fixture regardless – and is allowing them to top up the list by adding in temporary players.
Enter Milne.

The Essendon Football Club has not confirmed the rumour that he is under consideration – but the prospect has been raised by the Herald Sun and other news sources, with speculation on social media fuelling the story.

The fact is he COULD play. He retired after pleading guilty last year, but he has been kicking about for a team in the Northern Territory.

But SHOULD he play?

Some fans are ardent that under no circumstances should the club sign Milne. A man who has pleaded guilty of indecent assault should not be championed.

Despite his talent, Milne indecently assaulted someone he met in the course of his profession and his return to the game will see him welcomed back by commentators as “one of the all time greats”. He’ll be put in front of a televised audience and potentially worshiped by kids across the country. This may exacerbate his victim’s suffering – and she has no opportunity for further recourse.

That said, Stephen Milne has paid his fine and no conviction was recorded by the court. Milne has reportedly also suffered from the heavily publicized nature of the proceedings, which had devastating impacts on his family and job opportunities. Undoubtedly, things have not gone well for him over the past ten years.

There are calls for the AFL governing body to step in and take a hard-lined stance against player behaviour and show that violence against women has no place in their sport.

So where does fairness lie? With the player, who has accepted his punishment – or with his victim?

If you have experienced, or are at risk of domestic violence or sexual assault, you can receive help by calling 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732. If you, a child or anyone is in immediate danger please call the police on 000.