The afternoon I have scheduled to interview writer Anna Krien has suddenly turned into a busy one for her. St Kilda footballer Stephen Milne has been arrested and charged with four counts of rape from 2004, after the original investigation was found to be insufficient.
‘You suddenly become the go-to person for these things,’ she says, apologising for our delayed discussion. ‘It’s how the news works but I always find it a bit scary, because obviously I’ve got a lot to say about it but you just become this sound-bite person.’
Krien has become this go-to person because of her second book, Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, published in May. Sitting in on the trial of a minor league footballer accused of rape, Krien goes on to explore the power dynamics that exist in the AFL and how these interact with women: from reporters and board members, and, in particular, through victims of sexual assault.
There is a sense of urgency and currency to the text, only highlighted by Milne’s arrest, and Krien says she’s ‘surprised it hadn’t been written.’
The cycle surrounding these events, she says, ‘seems to be a big news splash, moral outrage, and then amnesia kicks in until it happens again. I really wanted to get beyond stereotypes and understand why these things are happening and the nuances of these encounters.’
Exploration of these themes has lead to a book that is frequently uncomfortable, and I wondered if Krien needed breaks from the material in developing the work. ‘You just kind of wade into it’, she replies.
‘I can’t get out of it. There is no real point in taking a break from it because it kind of consumes me, so no. You just go into that dark place and dig your way out.’
Night Games was developed from an essay Krien wrote for The Monthly in 2011, focusing on Kimberly Duthie, also known as the ‘St Kilda schoolgirl.’
‘A lot of people really responded to me talking about Duthie as being an athlete,’ says Krien, ‘and her surprise at discovering that she wasn’t an equal to these guys. I think a lot of women really resonated with that.’
This resonance has extended to the book itself. I became aware of Night Games after the large online response to it, particularly on twitter where many were touting it as a must read. When I ask Krien’s reaction to this, ‘I’m not even on twitter,’ she laughs. ‘I guess it’s just a matter of it’s pertinent, it’s timely, and it seems to be received well.’
Night Games is a wide-ranging factual exploration, but Krien injects herself grappling with these issues into the book. There is a sensitivity to the way she engages with the notion of a ‘grey area’ in sexual assault cases, which she describes in the book as the ‘gulf of uncertainty between consent and rape.’
On the reception to the discussion of the grey area, she says there has been ‘a bit of disgruntlement from people working against sexual assault in that area and some feminists about me even expressing that there is this grey zone. And I really understand. […] I can see why people are reluctant to talk about this area of the grey zone because it can get hijacked by people who want to exploit it.’
Despite this, she says, ‘I think it’s important because I think it speaks to a lot of women’s experience, and at the moment I get the sense that many women lack a language to explore really disturbing encounters.’
‘I think it’s good that there is criticism and that’s the whole point: to have a discussion.’
Anna Krien received the Creative Australia Book 2 grant from the Literature Board as part of the Australian Governments Creative Australia Program. Night Games is the first book to be published with this funding.