We Can Only Wish Teen at Heart of Dikileaks Scandal Our Best

We are now entering the second year of the DikiLeaks scandal. The story began in February last year when St Kilda AFL player Sam Gilbert and other players attended a school clinic in Melbourne where they met a 16-year-old student. A month later, in another city while competing in an athletics competition, the girl hooked up with the players at a hotel. She had sex with one player and soon became Gilbert’s girlfriend.

In May the teen told her school principal that she was pregnant with twins by Gilbert. He reported it but by the end of the month both the AFL and police investigations concluded that no inappropriate or illegal activity occurred.

In September the teen began meeting agent Ricky Nixon at his office. About this time the girl began spruiking the nude photos of St Kilda players but, finding no takers, uploaded the images to Facebook. Gilbert launched a lawsuit and St Kilda vice-president Ross Levin vowed to make her pay.

After a text message correspondence Nixon visited the teen in a city hotel. She alleged drug-taking and an affair. A QC investigation was begun but the findings were pre-empted by Nixon’s admission of a substance abuse problem and his recent decision to step down.

Some good-hearted commentators have been worrying about the girl, who they see as a vulnerable child unable to make informed and voluntary choices. They assume her actions to date have been mistakes and express dread about “permanent consequences”.

Part of their worry is the intersection of the age-old tale of boy-humiliates-girl, girl-goes-for-jugular, with new media platforms that reveal, amplify and archive every indiscretion. I worry, too, but also wonder whether based on the evidence to date, might we be catastrophising a bit? Could sexist ideas about reputation and risk-taking be clouding our judgment?

The teen does appear to have been victimized by several men in positions of authority, but she’s also claimed some scalps. While vengeance is never edifying, it occupies a prominent place in the moral landscape of most teens, offering a means to overcome humiliation and save face. On a scorecard of her own making, she’s arguably one up.

Yes, this girl is taking risks – lots of them. Worse, she’s doing it in a world changing so fast that the full dimensions of a worst-case outcome can’t really be fully assessed.

But teens have always been risk-takers and society always less forgiving of the risks young women tend to take (often with sex, risking unwanted pregnancy, sexual assault) compared with those taken by young men (drinking too much, driving too fast).

Interestingly, just as more young women embrace “male” risks, social tolerance for such risk-taking is declining. That’s OK, but we need to be gender-equitable in our opprobrium, and realistic about the capacity of the adolescent brain to make the assessments fundamental to prudent choice.

This is the precise point of the worriers. But the truth is that the law deems most seventeen year olds competent to authorize their own medical treatment because they have the ability to understand that there is a choice, and that all choices have consequences. From that we might conclude she’s like mature enough to make choices and wear responsibility for them in other areas of life, too.

The St Kilda teen has flown the nest. I wish her the best.

Publication history

Teen boys lose their licences, girls their reputations  Sydney Sun-Herald