An ACT Supreme Court jury has acquitted former ANU Law student Alexander Matters of sexual assault and indecency charges. Matters was formerly a resident at both Burgmann College and Fenner Hall.
The trial, which began on Monday the 3rd of April, concerned alleged accounts of rape, and an act of indecency without consent by Matters against a fellow ANU student on the ANU campus in May 2021.
Matters had been previously charged with alleged sexual assault of another ANU student. Although this charge was ultimately dropped by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions before the commencement of this trial, it cost Matters his job as a Labor Staffer for Federal MP, David Smith.
In the now concluded case, a Supreme Court jury heard how the complainant, who initially came forward following the publication of the first charge, was in an ongoing sexual relationship with Matters previous to and following the alleged assault. This sexual relationship has been described as a “friends with benefits” arrangement.
The complainant alleged she and the defendant were having consensual sex when she told him to stop – withdrawing her consent – but he continued anyway. She later complained to the defendant of pain as a result of his forcefulness.
The complainant’s statement of this incident formed the basis for the prosecution’s case. The prosecution emphasised her physical pain, using traces of her blood forensically detected on the complainant’s bed, as evidence. The statement noted that the complainant took multiple showers after the incident, and was emotionally traumatised.
The complainant has been a campaign officer for the #MeToo movement and has spoken on campus for the rights and protection of SASH victims.
The defence argued that her allegations were in part an attempt to protect her self-image, since she only came forward after the discovery of the initial charges against Mr Matters.
Further action by the defence to cast doubt on the reputability of the complainant’s claims included scrutiny of text messages between the complainant and her peers, her godmother and the defendant.
These messages included conversations about the complainant’s physical injuries, the continued sexual relationship between the two individuals, the complainant discovering the first charge of the defendant, her responses to various individuals about the discovery, and her lack of allegation before the discovery.
The defence argued the exchanges were not indicative of sexual assault. None of the individuals communicating through the text messages were called as witnesses to explain the exchanges, while Mr Matters exercised his legal right to silence.
During her cross-examination, the complainant explained she had said “no” during intercourse but “begrudgingly” agreed to the act of indecency. The defence argued that this does not equate to a non-consensual sexual action, and both the defence and prosecution agreed that the intercourse was a separate issue. It was claimed by the defence that Mr Matters had done ANU consent training and was thus qualified to understand consent.
Matters likely completed the Consent Matters Module. This program has been criticized for being outdated–demonstrating a lack of inclusive language for survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment (SASH) and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The module has also been accused of inadequately addressing rape culture; requiring participants to only passively click through infographics. In light of these limitations, the module has since been replaced by the Rights, Relationship and Respect Program.
After a short deliberation the verdict was delivered.
At the delivery, Matters was seen sighing and placing his face in his palms. His barrister, Steven Whybrow SC, expressed that this had been a traumatic experience for him and that he planned now to move forward with his life. The complainant expressed a similar sentiment during her statements and cross-examination.
If the contents of this article have disturbed or upset you, please reach out to the following resources:
ANU Student Safety and Wellbeing
(02) 6125 2211
ANU Respectful Relationships Unit
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Crisis Line
(02) 6247 2525
(02) 6125 2442
1800 737 732
ANU Disabilities Students Association
ANU BIPOC Department
ANU Indigenous Department
ANU Women’s Department
ANU Queer* Department
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