One of the weirdest sexual assault cases in recent memory was finally resolved at Manchester Crown Court today.
Gayle Newland was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, and will remain on the sex offenders’ register for life after today’s verdict. This was a re-trial, after the original conviction (in 2015) was quashed last December in the Court of Appeal.
The judge said that ‘an outsider to this case might find the facts difficult to comprehend,’ and Newland’s crime was certainly an odd one. She created a male alter-ego online, which she used to talk to girls in chatrooms. Over time, this became more and more elaborate, or ‘disturbingly complex’, as the judge put it. Using this alter-ego, ‘Kye,’ she befriended and seduced a young woman, who believed she was male. Newland insisted that the woman was blindfolded during their sexual encounters, saying that she was undergoing treatment for cancer and was paranoid about her appearance. She bound her breasts, and spoke in a lower register. She used a prosthetic penis for sex, and the victim only realised she had been tricked when she noticed that Kye had long hair, at which point she took off her blindfold. By this point, they had had sex around 15 times.
In many ways, this feels like a welcome resolution to a frankly disturbing case. Here, we have a legal system taking a sexual assault case seriously, resulting in a conviction. However, a lot of the same tired tactics were tried by the defendant’s team, including reference to the victim’s sex life to discredit her as a victim. The court was shown a video of the victim partying and having a good time shortly after the assault was reported. The victim’s claims of PTSD, anxiety and depression were challenged using evidence of her promiscuity following the assault, to which she responded, quite brilliantly:
Part of it is because I felt so stupid that I had slept with this fake penis. Part of you wants to be reckless and sleep with men. Part of it is just being reckless. I also probably slept with 19 people during that time. I slept with a lot of guys. I got drunk. I did a lot of things when the bottom of your life caved in. (…) I was trying to have a good time after the crappy last two years. I am not going to apologise for having a good time and making the best of a bad situation.
Another reason that this doesn’t feel entirely satisfying as a conclusion to this strange and horrible case is that although she ‘sank to the floor in tears and screamed ‘No” as the verdict was read, Newland remains unrepentant.
Newland claimed both women were gay and struggling with their sexuality when they met up and had sex, with her as Kye, during role-play. She denied concealing her identity.
Something that particularly troubles me about this case is the potential conflation of gender identity issues and this incident of fraud. There is a clear and obvious difference between gender dysphoria and Newland’s adoption of a male alter-ego in order to pursue her victim, but this case risks being used as evidence for some of the more unsympathetic responses to transgender issues. It has the potential to feed some of the hysteria about trans people using toilets and changing rooms. This would be horribly unfair. This is the story of a disturbed individual, and I really hope that this case is only cited in reference to sexual assault and fraud, rather than used as ammunition by transphobic people.
The full story can be found here.