Answering fan mail and sexual assault – what’s the connection, again?

Australian rugby player Brett Stewart has been charged with sexual assault and indecent assault of a 17-year-old girl, leading to his suspension from the league. The case is currently in court, and this week the manager of Stewart’s club took to the stand to defend him. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Ms Lees, who has worked at the club for 12 years, said she had daily contact with the players.

When it came to answering fans’ correspondence, Stewart took more time than any other player to respond to every fan, she said.

“He’s the most consistent out of all of our players; he makes the effort every week.”

Not all players responded personally to fan mail, she added.

Lees called the allegations against Stewart “absolutely, totally unbelievable.”

Leaving aside the notorious culture of entitlement and exceptionalism found in the NRL, and the fact that this is far from the first time an NRL player has been accused of sexual violence,  can someone explain to me how answering fan mail and sexual assault are in any way related? Are we really supposed to believe that because this young man responds to letters from fans and gives his time to charities, he is somehow incapable of committing sexual assault? Ms Lees might be right when she says that Stewart “has never let her down,” but if Stewart is guilty, I hate to think that answering fan mail, of all things, could be his get-out-of-jail-free card.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • sergey

    i think you’ve vastly oversimplifying things.
    im almost positive they are not trying to contend that answering fan mail makes him “incapable” of committing sexual assault, but clearly more than mere capability is relevant.
    in trying to determine whether or not he actually DID commit the crime [a separate question from capability] character witnesses are not irrelevant – several authors of this blog have been quick to point out that sexual offenders tend [statistically] to exhibit certain behaviors, like repeat-offending for example. attempting to ascertain things about his character which might support or contradict that view is certainly a valid legal inquiry, and not the cheap, under-handed trick you’re making it out to be.
    if the prosectuion fails to prove their case, that would not make the ruling tantamount to him getting out of jail free by answering fan mail.
    and unless they do prove their case, the presumption is still that hes innocent, no?

  • tabloidscully

    Seriously? Her defense is, “He answers fan mail, so he can’t be a rapist?”

    Please. Sexual violence committed against a person is about entitlement driven by narcissism. If he is a rapist, I suspect answering those letters has more to do with basking in the admiration of countless fans that lack the insider knowledge of what an arrogant, self-absorbed jackass he really is. Wrong argument to use in redeeming his character, Lady Leeds.