It’s the UK courtcase that has consumed people on both sides of the Irish sea. Was it innocence or ignorance or just a desperate need to be loved asks Suzanne Harrington
It does look ridiculous on paper,” said the complainant.
“Incredible, implausible, impossible,” agreed the defendant’s lawyers. Yet this week in Chester, a jury convicted a 25-year- old woman of three counts of sexual assault against another 25-year-old woman. It has become known as the Prosthetic Penis Case.
In case you missed it, here’s a recap. A young white woman, Gayle Newland, went online with an invented alter-ego, a young Asian man she named Kye Fortune. She did this, she says, because she was not at ease with her sexuality and preferred to chat to girls while pretending to be a male character. Online she met the complainant, and they began a two- and-a-half year relationship, of which at least 100 hours was offline and involved sexual contact – physical as well as virtual.
Here’s where it gets weird. For two and a half years, the complainant – who remains legally anonymous – says she genuinely believed that she was having sex with a man named Kye Fortune. This illusion was maintained by the defendant’s insistence that the complainant wore a blindfold – and not just when they were being sexually intimate, but all the time they were together. When they were driving in the defendant’s car, and watching movies.
Watching movies blindfolded?
Blindfolds in themselves are not weird, if that’s what you mutually enjoy. Role play, power play, whatever works as long as it’s consensual. This is the central idea on which the Prosthetic Penis Case rests – that the complainant had not consented to have a sexual relationship with Gayle Newland, but with a man named Kye Fortune, who was insecure about ‘his’ body after serious illness and requested that she remain masked while in ‘his’ company. Not some heavy duty gimp mask, just a sleeping mask or a scarf. She complied.
But here’s the thing. Was the complainant also wearing ear plugs, nose plugs, and gloves? Because the voice, scent and body surface of men and women – even Asian men, traditionally less hairy and whiffy than their caucasian and black counterparts – tend to be quite markedly different. Different lumps and bumps, and the difference between the physical sensation of human versus prosthetic.
The moment of revelation centred around this prosthetic (or strap-on, as they are more commonly known – in this case a £19.99 hot pink model), when the complainant stated that her suspicions were aroused as areas of the prosthetic – the testicles, seeing as you asked – felt anatomically incorrect. Or dermatologically. Whatever. She whipped off her mask and found herself having sex not with a man called Kye Fortune, but with her friend Gayle Newland, whom she had met through an introduction made by Fortune. Confused? Spare a thought for the jury.
The complainant, rather than acknowledging that the couple had been engaged in elaborate long-term role play, instead became distressed. She stated that she had been deceived, and therefore sexually assaulted with a prosthetic penis, rather than had been having sex with her girlfriend who was wearing a strap-on.
Obviously this case has been media cat-nip. I mean, I’m writing about it, and you’re reading about it. Who can resist a story involving watching films blindfolded and frank discussions about a pretend penis? But really, once you get past the sexual hoopla, this story is about denial and loneliness. Both parties stated that they wanted to be loved. At least one had serious issues around accepting her sexuality. The defendant was so upset at the complainant’s reaction that she tried to kill herself. “I loved her,” she told the court. “I didn’t want to be without her. I couldn’t imagine being without her.” We know far less about the complainant other than her lawyers described her as “vulnerable and naïve”.
She knew that both her lover, Kye Fortune, and her friend, Gayle Newland, had the same date of birth, the same taste in music, the same car, and both had a dog named Gypsy.
“I was so desperate to be loved,” she in turn told the court. “It’s pathetic, so desperate for love, so desperate.” Yet this unnamed woman took her former lover to court – knowing that the world would hear about the most intimate details of her private life – because she genuinely felt aggrieved. She genuinely felt assaulted. Despite a two-and-a-half year relationship, she felt violated enough to prosecute.
The defendant, horrified at being found guilty – like the rest of us, it sounds as though she too thought that the complainant was participating in a role play rather than dealing with her own lack of sexual self-acceptance – now faces sentencing in November. Her legal status is now criminal sex attacker.
Non consensual sex between anyone is criminal, irrespective of gender or sexuality. This is not about victim blaming. It’s just the length of time involved which is startling. The whole case is strange, and sad, and baffling, and sounds like a ton of therapy is needed for all involved.
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