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Five players in court for rape charges in France

NEWS: Five former players from leading French club Grenoble will stand trial from Monday over allegations that three of them gang-raped a student after a 2017 match.

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The trial in southwestern city Bordeaux, scene of the suspected rape, will turn on whether the young woman, now 27, was too drunk to consent to sex.

“What is consent? At what point is it diminished or even totally absent?” one of her lawyers, Anne Cadiot-Feidt, told AFP.

Named only as V., the plaintiff has opted for anonymity to protect her personal and professional lives, her lawyers say.

Irishman Denis Coulson, 30, New Zealander Rory Grice, 34, and French 29-year-old Loick Jammes are accused of raping the plaintiff.

Two fellow players, 31-year-old Irishman Chris Farrell – a member of Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning 2018 Six Nations squad – and New Zealander Dylan Hayes, 30, are being tried for failing to prevent a crime.

But just hours before its planned start, two defence lawyers said the proceedings could be deferred over the absence of one of the defendants, Irishman Denis Coulson.

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French sports publication L’Equipe reported Coulson had been hurt in a traffic accident last week.

A source close to the defence team told AFP that Coulson’s lawyer had requested that the trial be deferred or his case be treated separately at a later date.

V. and two friends encountered the rugby players in a Bordeaux bar after the Grenoble team played a Top 14 championship match on March 11, 2017 – a few months before the #MeToo movement was sparked in the United States.

The group guzzled cocktails including mojitos and Vodka-Red Bull as they moved on to a nightclub.

Ten times the limit

V. said she remembered nothing about how the night ended after leaving the nightclub.

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She boarded a taxi headed for the players’ hotel with Coulson around 4:00 am.

A toxicologist’s report found that V. had between 2.2 and 3.0 grams of alcohol per litre of blood at that point – well over 10 times the maximum allowed when driving in France.

Surveillance footage from her arrival at the hotel shows her struggling to stand as Coulson supports her.

He also appears to twice prevent her from re-boarding the taxi.

V. said she woke up naked on a bed with a crutch in her vagina at around 7:00 am alongside two naked men and others still wearing clothes.

Lawyer Cadiot-Feidt said arguments in the trial would likely focus on “the question of the victim’s responsibility in a situation where she voluntarily put herself in a state reducing or eliminating consent”.

“We often ask questions about the victim’s consent and not at all about how attackers judge their consent,” she added.

‘High level of tolerance’

Testimony from the defendants and witnesses, as well as a video Coulson filmed during a sex act, suggest the group engaged in oral sex with V. as well as penetrating her with objects including crutches.

Coulson, Jammes and Grice have all acknowledged engaging in sex acts with V., but insist they were consensual.

Jammes’s lawyer Denis Dreyfus said he too expected the hearings to turn on the difficulty of securing consent when “all parties are drunk”.

“What’s for sure is that it’s a tragedy for both sides,” he added.

“This isn’t the trial of rapist rugby players, it’s the trial of alcohol,” said Corinne Dreyfus-Schmidt, representing Coulson.

A “climate” around the #MeToo movement “was not favourable to understanding” in such cases, she added.

“All these young people drinking until they’re in an absolute state is the real problem in this case,” Dreyfus-Schmidt said.

Cadiot-Feidt charged that there is a “high level of tolerance” to alcohol-fuelled incidents among some French rugby clubs and supporters.

“A lot of people still think that the woman should just not have gone out, just shouldn’t have had anything to drink, just shouldn’t have put herself in that situation,” she said.

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