George Hook has an obvious path to redemption. Whether he takes it will prove if his apology is as hollow as it sounds, writes Donal O’Keeffe.
“George Hook gives permission to the sexists and victim-blamers,” my friend said. “The underlying assumption is be on your guard, and if you aren’t, you’re asking for it”.
What she said next shocked me.
“Knowing the prevalence of that view, which goes far beyond aged rugby men, I wouldn’t report a rape.”
This was in the wake of Ireland’s best-paid rugby club bore being suspended last Friday by Newstalk for suggesting rape victims bear some personal responsibility.
Hook apologised, but – to me – it sounded forced, like it had been written by Newstalk management, and read with a metaphorical gun to his head.
Hook has considerable form here. In his autobiography, he reminisces fondly about plying a woman with drink. “Where I come from the only women who drink gin and tonic and wear eye shadow are fallen ones … I’ve struck gold … fill your boots! … I order tonic water for myself while pushing the G&Ts into her.”
More damning was Hook’s behaviour two years ago.
Magnus Meyer Hustveit repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted his then-girlfriend, Niamh Ní Dhomhnaill, while she slept. Shamefully, Hook asked if, because a woman shares a bed with a man, there is ‘implied consent’. Presumably Hook wasn’t aware Ireland outlawed marital rape in 1990.
Among those defending Hook’s honour last week were – predictably – David Quinn, Pat Kenny, Declan Ganley, Eddie Hobbs and Rónán Mullen. UCD academic Mary McAuliffe quipped it was a dinosaur full house of assorted male, pale and stale types.
The freedom-of-speech guffologists’ main point was that poor auld Hooky – they all agree he’s very decent – shouldn’t be sacked for something he said. Which was undermined somewhat by Joe Leogue posting “a video of George Hook, less than two weeks ago, calling for someone to be sacked for something they said”.
(That was another outrageously stupid Hook outburst, that time pandering to anti-vaccine scaremongers.)
Hook’s attitude toward rape is – as my friend suggested – not contrarian or reserved to elderly, privileged men.
Another friend, a very kind older woman, told me that of course it’s always the rapist’s fault, but “We all have to take personal responsibility. You don’t go putting yourself in danger, that’s just common sense.”
I told her about my friend Taryn De Vere, who wrote about showing up, drunk and wearing a short skirt, at a male friend’s house and asking for a bed for the night. Her friend put her to bed and then raped her.
“That poor woman!” was the immediate response. “What a complete bastard! And he was supposed to be her friend? Jesus Christ, men like that make me sick!”
“But,” I asked, “surely she bears some personal responsibility? Didn’t she place herself in danger by being drunk and wearing a short skirt?”
The angry and indignant reply to my (deliberately) stupid and heartless question was reassuring.
Anyway, of course, the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by trusted males, which makes a mockery of the notion of victims bearing ‘personal responsibility’. That said, much of the online reaction to Taryn’s article has been horrible, with victim-blaming alive and well in the comments section.
A week after Hook’s comments, following the loss of key advertisers Dalata and Tesco, and at the urging of some Newstalk employees, Newstalk suspended him. Media sources suggest he will soon learn his fate.
The friend I quoted at the start of this column feels Newstalk should fire Hook and he should never work again. I’m agnostic on that. I don’t listen to Hook, mainly because – like most people – I’ve never had much difficulty attracting the unsolicited opinions of superannuated, over-entitled elderly sexist blowhards. I don’t need them on my radio.
I take the point that Hook’s outdated top-of-the-head bluster enables sexists and victim-blamers, but perhaps some good could come of this, although admittedly only if Hook is more sincere than his apology sounded to my ears.
Hook was utterly wrong to suggest any blame attaches to victims. Even his staunchest supporters in Ireland’s serially-defeated conservative Catholic lobby agree – publicly, anyway. Hook has apologised, but I suspect he’ll need to do better when he comes back – of course he’ll be back – to satisfy advertisers that he is no longer toxic to their brands.
Hook – it could be argued doing exactly what Newstalk paid him for – has helped perpetuate an environment in which women feel that if they report a sexual assault, they will not be believed. He has also helped spread the notion that we don’t have a rape culture, while simultaneously helping to blame women for being raped.
As Emer O’Toole put it, “If you agree with Hook that it is women’s personal responsibility to be on constant guard against rapists yet refuse to concede that we live in a culture in which rape is a constant threat, you must be experiencing some intense cognitive dissonance.”
If Hook is to demonstrate that he is genuinely sorry and not just saying sorry because he was called out, then he needs to be willing to learn from this debacle.
If George Hook really is as decent a man as his pals say, then a first step might be to pick up the phone and talk with Niamh Ní Dhomhnaill about consent.
For anyone affected by the issues raises in this article, contact The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre helpline 1800 77 88 88.