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“I could’ve been a CEO” – Why we need to stop referring to the ‘lost promise’ of those accused of rape

It’s a sentiment reserved for young, high-achieving, white boys and it’s destroying their victims.

By Kate Wagner

You may have seen Four Corners' unnerving report on the Australian rape case that put consent on trial, but even if you didn't, it will no doubt be a familiar tale.

At 18, Saxon Mullins headed to the big city for a night out. Back in 2013, along with her best friend, she caught a train from the Central Coast to Sydney for their first night in the notorious Kings Cross clubbing district.

Just hours later, she was on all fours in the gravel behind a nightclub losing her virginity to anal sex. She has always described this traumatic experience as rape, while the man involved, Luke Lazarus, insists it was a misunderstanding.

In 2015, Lazarus was sentenced to five years in jail. Judge Sarah Huggett concluded that he "went ahead with that act, not caring one way or another as to whether she was consenting".

And how did Saxon react?

"There's a bit of relief — not only for, 'it's over', but 'they believed me'," she told ABC.

"And then there's the inevitable bit of guilt."

With that simple sentence, we're forced to confront ugly truths about the way we're socialised to treat "promising" perpetrators.

If they're high achieving, talented, young men, people often sigh and shake their heads at the lost potential of the accused. Some tut over the "silly mistake" made at an age when they "didn't know any better".

Saxon described her guilt over Lazarus' ruined future as "inevitable" — was his guilt just as inescapable? While Saxon took the following week off work, was Lazarus haunted by what he'd done?

For a week, Saxon sat in a bath. "I didn't want to see anyone. I was so humiliated. I didn't want to do anything. I just wanted to sleep," she told ABC.

Meanwhile, Lazarus texted his friend: "I honestly have zero recollection of calling you, was a sick night. Took a chick's virginity, lol."

"Bahahaha. Nice popping [those] cherries. Tight?" the friend replied, according to court documents.

"So tight ... It's a pretty gross story. Tell ya later," Lazarus wrote.

During his sentencing hearing, while Saxon was still battling shame and embarrassment — feelings almost synonymous with being a sexual assault victim — Lazarus lamented his damaged reputation.

"I essentially had the world at my feet ... I could have been a CEO," he said.

"Any ambition I had is destroyed ... I haven't been able to function at all without heavy sedation ... I still feel as though my life, at least in Australia, has been completely destroyed.

"And now I have to live my life knowing that every single person in Australia, or at least in Sydney, knows that I have been convicted of a sex offence."

The son of a multi-millionaire hotelier was indeed expected to be a CEO, but his Dad even mentioned a sobering solution: to move overseas and change his name.

On the other hand, Saxon will likely burden the harrowing psychological damage for the rest of her life; that can't be solved with a working visa in London.

The situation is sickeningly reminiscent of Brock Turner's case in 2015. The Stanford student sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster until he was chased away and restrained by two grad students.

Media coverage of the event detailed how "she was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal [sic] position", but it also mentioned Turner's swimming times.

Headlines referred to him as an Olympic hopeful first, a predator second. While articles about black men accused of rape featured mug shots, Turner's was a yearbook photo.

The Washington Post described him as "baby-faced" and called the sexual assault "a stunning fall from grace" as it detailed his record as a swimmer.

While the victim was reduced to ten syllables — "unconscious intoxicated woman" — Turner remained the "All-American swimmer at a top university, innocent until proven guilty, with so much at stake".

Turner's father released a statement arguing his son should receive probation, not jail time: "His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve," he claimed.

"That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."

Imagine hearing that a young woman was so drunk she couldn't stand; that she woke to hospital staff telling her to get retested for HIV because results don't always show up straight away; that she was covered in scratches, bruises and pine needles; that her vagina was bruised and sore from all the prodding; that she was found half naked behind a dumpster.

Imagine then learning your son had been the reason she was found completely exposed outside, her breasts groped, fingers jabbed inside her along with pine needles and debris. That her bare skin and head had been thumping against the ground behind a dumpster while an erect freshman humped her half naked, unconscious body.

Imagine even then dismissing that traumatic experience as a harmless 'seven minutes in heaven' type of teenage fun.

Just like Lazarus, Turner's father's concern lay firmly in lost potential. In both cases, there was the insistence they could learn from their mistakes.

"I was the wounded antelope of the herd, completely alone and vulnerable, physically unable to fend for myself, and he chose me," the unidentified woman read aloud to court in her stunning victim impact statement.

Could the same not be said for Saxon? We all remember what it's like clubbing as a fresh 18 year old; you're far from really understanding how much you can drink before crossing that point of no return. Some of us get lucky, laughing about how drunk we were the next day and cringing over cross-eyed club photos. Others don't.

Both women will likely carry their trauma for the rest of their lives, a sensation only intensified by the constant implication they were a part of their perpetrator's ruined future.

Lazarus' conviction was overturned after 11 months and he was acquitted last year.

Saxon hasn't slept a full night since the incident and now suffers anxiety.

Turner faced 14 years possible jail time. He served three months of his six month sentence.

The woman he attacked can't sleep alone at night without a light on because she has nightmares of being touched that she can't wake up from.

Turner moved back to Ohio with his parents and was forced to register as a sex offender.

"He is a lifetime sex registrant. That doesn't expire. Just like what he did to me doesn't expire, doesn't just go away after a set number of years," his victim said to court.

"It stays with me; it's part of my identity, it has forever changed the way I carry myself, the way I live the rest of my life."

Let's stop concerning ourselves with what 'promising' predators had to offer and start worrying about what their victims lost.