1. Introduction


[1] Feminist philosopher Claudia Card (2002, 2000, 1999) has recently applied Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi’s concept of the ‘grey zone’ to the complex issue of whether women can be considered complicit in patriarchy. Given dominant discourses that so often position women as blameworthy for their own mistreatment and abuse, the question of whether or not women can and should be held accountable in certain situations is particularly fraught. Taking Card’s controversial writings as a point of departure, we engage with the issue of how ‘complicity’ might be understood in a rape culture. How can ‘compromise’ in such a culture be discussed without passing unwarranted judgements? Can one be held accountable for actions in circumstances where one must also be positioned as a victim?

[2] This paper explores these questions in relation to the sexual culture of elite football in Australia – one in which women are reportedly treated with disdain, positioned as objects to be used and discarded – in light of a spate of alleged sexual assaults committed by players over the past decade. At least twenty distinct cases, involving more than fifty-five players and staff, have been reported in the media, the majority of these incidents involving multiple players. Reports indicate that such group sexual encounters are commonplace for footballers (Waterhouse-Watson 2009). The women who participate in sexual practices are commonly judged as ‘groupies’ and ‘sluts’ who are therefore responsible for anything that happens to them (Waterhouse-Watson 2010) – including rape – even within the sports scholarship.

[3] The analysis focuses particularly on the figure of Charmayne Palavi, who appeared on the television program Code of Silence (2009), which exposed an abusive group sex culture within Australia’s National Rugby League. While Palavi claimed to have been raped by a prominent footballer, she described her practice of setting up footballers and women for casual sexual encounters through her Facebook webpage, continuing to pursue such encounters herself. We address the question of whether Palavi can be deemed blameworthy or complicit in upholding a rape culture. We situate women such as Palavi within a ‘grey zone’ of moral ambiguity, as although they cannot be held responsible if footballers rape a woman, neither can they be considered as apart from the culture that endorses it. In this light, we will consider what means are appropriate to represent women such as Palavi, arguing that a self-reflexive discourse that interrogates language as it is used enables the issue to be negotiated in a nuanced manner.

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