She has a name, the young woman on the other side of the infamous 2013 Luke Lazarus rape trial and its successive overturns and appeals. It is Saxon Mullins.
Now 23 years old, Mullins was 18 when she alleges Lazarus ordered her on her hands and knees in an alleyway behind the Kings Cross club Soho and had anal sex with her – sex that a jury and series of judges found Mullins did not give consent to.
Lazarus walked free, his initial sexual assault conviction overturned by a second judge on appeal. The appeal judge in Lazarus’s case found him not guilty of sexual assault, concluding that although Mullins had not given her consent, Lazarus had reasonable grounds for believing she was consenting.
If it sounds confusing, it is. This is the confounding, frequently devastating nature of NSW’s sexual consent laws; and they reflect a widely held belief that if a complainant cannot prove that consent was explicitly withheld before a sexual encounter, no crime can have been committed.
Last night the ABC aired a report conducted by journalist Louise Milligan and the Four Corners team into the complex, overwhelming Lazarus trail, centred on Saxon Mullins’ decision to waive her right as a sexual assault complainant to anonymity, and to speak publicly on her ordeal for the very first time. In the ABC’s online primer to the article, Milligan writes, “She has always called this encounter rape. The young man involved, Luke Lazarus, has always insisted it was a terrible misunderstanding which he bitterly regrets.
I feel the sheer exhaustion of having to actually live through every subsequent day after my rape – which happened almost exactly seven years ago – and that exhaustion makes a victim of me
“One way or the other,” Milligan concludes, “it’s been deeply traumatic for Saxon and ruinous for Lazarus.”
Mullins’ ordeal, and many of the details of her failed case against Lazarus, are all too familiar to me. Like many others who will find Mullins’ story familiar, I prefer the term “survivor” over “victim”. I am a rape survivor, but very often it feels as if I have not survived, will never survive. I feel the sheer exhaustion of having to actually live through every subsequent day after my rape – which happened almost exactly seven years ago – and that exhaustion makes a victim of me.
So I am fiercely proud of Saxon Mullins, this bright, tough woman with fight, integrity and gumption, who has stepped out of her protective shroud to encourage a conversation that we all desperately need to have: about how to radically re-educate our community on what respectful, consensual sex actually is.
We have been skirting around and tiptoeing up to these discussions for years – teaching sexual education, “enthusiastic consent” and “rape prevention” in our schools, to our daughters. We tell women to watch what they drink, where they walk at night. We teach them to thread their keys through their knuckles when they are nervous and alone. We explain to them how to give consent as though we’re speaking to a telemarketer on the phone. But whatever we’re doing, it’s not working. We are failing.
And we’re not just failing survivors, we’re failing men who do not understand – or do not care – that respectful, consensual sex is not only important but fantastic, life affirming and fun, where non-consensual sex is only destruction. Good sex moves you; bad sex desecrates you.
We are having the wrong conversations, and they are directed at the wrong people – all because we are bafflingly afraid of directing these discussions at those people who really need them: the boys and men who are ignorant (willfully or not) about their responsibility to ensure safe and respectful sex with their partners. But we can, and should, rescue these boys and men from the ruinous shame and criminality of ignorance.
We must think about the vitality and the pure joy of respectful, consensual sex. And then we must talk to our boys about it
We, all of us, need to think about consent, what it means and the ways (verbal, non-verbal, explicit, implicit) it can be communicated – and withdrawn – throughout a sexual encounter. Because silence is not consent, and all of us have been socialised to understand when someone is uncomfortable or afraid. We must think about the vitality and the pure joy of respectful, consensual sex. And then we must talk to our boys about it – children, charges, brothers, boyfriends, friends, whomever. Simply put: teach them not to rape.
“Enthusiastic consent is really easy to determine, and I think if you don’t have that, then you’re not good to go,” Mullins told Milligan during their interview.
This remarkable woman, who has already endured so much, has put herself on the line for our benefit, to get us to finally, finally have the right discussion about consent and assault. So let’s pay her back in kind by actually talking the talk, and making the changes. #MeToo has shown that we can evolve together as a community – however slowly, painfully and frustratingly that evolution may be. However exhausted it may make us feel.
I am so tired, and perhaps Saxon Mullins is tired too. But this rape culture we endure is killing us, and we need to keep fighting until it is torn down around us, until it disappears. And truly, this radical, empathetic education of our men is the only way.