'Not guilty' is not 'she lied': the issue with Luke Lazarus' interview
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'Not guilty' is not 'she lied': the issue with Luke Lazarus' interview

I found it sickening to listen to Luke Lazarus split hairs of the details of his court case on Ben Fordham’s 2GB radio show on Thursday.

100 per cent: Luke Lazarus says everything that occurred in the alleyway was consensual.

100 per cent: Luke Lazarus says everything that occurred in the alleyway was consensual.

After playing audio of some of Saxon Mullins’ account on Four Corners, Fordham told his audience that a representative for Lazarus had reached out to him to tell his version of events. Lazarus wasn’t happy with the Four Corners report because, “overall, they painted [him] as the guilty man getting away with a crime”.

Over the next thirty minutes, Lazarus engaged in a process of gaslighting to discredit both Saxon Mullins and the work of Four Corners’ Louise Milligan and her team of researchers.

He accused Four Corners of failing to fact check some of Saxon’s claims, incorrectly dismissing them as “things that have been proven not to be true” (more on that later). He bickered with Fordham over the specifics of a conversation, as if it really matters whether he said, “Turn around and put your f---ing hands on the wall” or “Turn around and put your hands on the fence.”

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(For the record, he agrees that he said the latter. As he said, “I thought it was something that was going to help facilitate sex.”) He repeatedly made the legally inaccurate claim that he was “found innocent”, but failed to reference the fact that, during a second appeal, Judge Robyn Tupman was found to have failed to properly consider the steps taken by Lazarus “to understand whether [Saxon] was consenting”.

Saxon Mullins, the woman at the centre of the rape trial of Luke Lazarus, spoke to Four Corners last week and triggered a debate about NSW consent laws.

Saxon Mullins, the woman at the centre of the rape trial of Luke Lazarus, spoke to Four Corners last week and triggered a debate about NSW consent laws.Credit:Four Corners

But most frustrating, perhaps, was that Fordham didn’t properly challenge his guest on these matters.

As reassuring as it might have been to hear him describe being “horrified and sickened” by Lazarus’ behaviour, he also focused on whether or not Saxon said "no" or "stop" and allowed the repeated claims of having been “found innocent” to pass without comment. I believe his intentions and support for Saxon were sound, but without a framework for consent dialogues and sex education, a lot of Lazarus’ dog whistling about "unreliable" testimony and rape apologism just went straight through to the keeper. Already, news reports covering the interview read like "his side" is a legitimate one.

Here’s why it’s not.

1. You cannot be “found innocent” in a court of law

Prosecutors are asked to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and a judge or jury is called upon to decide if that has been done. A verdict of not guilty means that, in the eyes of the judge or jury determining the outcome of the case, it is decided that the prosecution has failed to prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt.

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There is a chasm of difference between being the legal ruling of not guilty and the idea of innocence. Even in Lazarus’ re-trial, Judge Tupman agreed with the prosecution’s argument that Saxon hadn’t consented. Where she thought there was reasonable doubt was in whether or not Lazarus believed consent was present. "Not guilty" doesn’t mean "she lied". You’d think after all the time Lazarus has spent in a courtroom, he would know that. After all, he was found guilty the first time.

2. Lazarus omitted details about stripping Saxon

Early on in the interview, Fordham plays audio of Saxon recounting the moment Lazarus pulled her stockings and underwear down. Lazarus disputes how this happened, and says it didn’t even come up in her evidence. Saxon’s a liar, you see. She’s unreliable. She can’t even keep her story straight.

During the first trial, the one in which Lazarus was found guilty, he testified to the court, “At that point I tried to pull her stockings down and her underwear down. I did pull her stockings and underwear down, not down to her ankles, but down below her buttocks. I tried to put my penis in her.”

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This is information that should have been mentioned in an interview undoubtedly heard by thousands and thousands of people, many of whom need little convincing to believe that a man has been stitched up by a false rape accusation.

3. Relenting isn’t consenting

Lazarus repeatedly states that Saxon’s “physicality” was what indicated to him that she wanted to have sex. On her knees. In a dirty alleyway. For the first time in her life. Up her butt. Despite the fact she told him she was a virgin, despite the fact she said more than once that she wanted to go back to her friends and that she should go back to her friends, her body was telling him yes and that’s apparently all the consent he needed.

Leaving aside the contempt he inspires in anyone with even half a working moral compass, it’s downright scary to hear him say to Fordham, “I witnessed in front of me a woman participating in sex, so if I’m a man assessing the situation and I’m watching partici- not only consent, but participation as she has admitted then I’d ask you how’s a man to know that a woman’s not consenting when she’s participating?”

Frightened people "participate" in sex acts all the time. They do it when they’re scared of being hurt or of being even more violently forced. They do it when they’re experiencing a freeze response, which is a common reaction to sexual assault. They do it when they feel they’ve exhausted all the avenues available to them to get out of a situation safely, and they reason that the path that will pose the least immediate risk to them is to "participate" in whatever’s being forced upon them.

This whole mess is why it’s so imperative that people have conversations about ongoing and enthusiastic consent. It’s why we need to challenge rape culture. It’s also why we need to insist that people leading these conversations know the complexities of what they’re talking about. It was gross to give Lazarus a platform in the first place. But it was beyond harmful to allow his version of the narrative to be so weakly challenged, no matter how much that might not have been the intention.

If there’s anything we can learn from listening to Luke Lazarus speak about an incident that significantly altered the course of a young woman’s life, it’s that we have so much more to do when it comes to teaching young men about sex, consent and basic respect.

Clementine Ford is a best-selling author and feminist commentator. Her book, 'Boys Will Be Boys', is out now.

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