Rugby league’s twin pin-ups of the week, Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor, did nothing illegal in Port Macquarie. And yet they are guilty, certainly, of something. The NRL’s job is to find an appropriate punishment, but also, much more trickily, to find a ‘crime against league’ that fits.
There was no actual criminal act because their sexual partners in Port were of an age that the law slides around. There is no suggestion the sexual contact was not consensual, and indeed, to cast the girls as passive victims is to deny them sexual agency. This does not make them victims or the footballers predators, or vice versa; it simply leaves them as four heedless young people who followed their appetites into a world of adult consequence.
The transgression for which the players have been stood aside is a code of conduct breach at the Bulldogs club, which prohibits players bringing guests to their hotel rooms. If you’ll recall, two Wallabies players fell into similar strife a couple of years ago, when they were dropped for breaching team protocol by having female visitors in their hotel room after a Test match. Even though one of the females was her host’s sister-in-law, and nothing more transgressive than a game of pinochle took place. More took place in Port, but if you are a player, your clear take-away from this code of conduct breach is that if you meet a girl and the pair of you want to have sex, you ought to do it in a car, a park or a phone booth, up a tree or in a bathroom … anywhere in fact, so long as it is not the pure sacristy of the team hotel.
If there is a sub-sub-transgression, it is the lingering bad odour of ‘schoolgirls’ being predated upon. But what happened was a little more convoluted. One of the girls met one of the players during a school visit, but she had to send him a picture to remind him. The other girl did not meet the players during the visit. Nevertheless, the image of school uniforms, and the mere word ‘schoolgirls’, are enough to set off a moral panic; however long the bow that is drawn, however far apart the dots that must be joined, to make that narrative.