a Toronto-based cruising website for men has become the subject of an Australian media frenzy following the murder of an eight-year-old girl.
On Jun 26 Sofia Rodrigez-Urrutia-Shu’s teenage brother discovered her naked body on the floor of a washroom stall just minutes after she had been separated from her family in the Livingstone Marketplace shopping mall in suburban Perth.
Police have arrested 21-year-old Dante Wyndham Arthurs on charges of willful murder, deprivation of liberty and two counts of sexual penetration. The crime has led to an outpouring of sadness and badly shaken the sense of security in the sleepy western capital.
About a week after Rodriguez-Urrutia-Shu’s body was laid to rest, The Australian newspaper reported that the scene of the crime had been listed as a cruising location for gay men on Squirt.org (owned by Pink Triangle Press, which also owns Xtra), but later removed by site administrators. Newswires circulated the item and all three major TV news broadcasts in Perth led with the story. Nightly news viewers watched as roving reporters drove around to cruisey toilets across the city and showed footage of the website.
The West Australian state attorney general has called for the Livingstone Marketplace washrooms to be closed. Local police have stated that Squirt.org has since been added to its Cyber Predator Team’s list of monitored sites.
Squirt’s editors say the Livingston Marketplace toilets were never listed on the site and have written The Australian demanding the paper print a retraction.
“They’re associating our site with the death of a young girl and they’re also associating gay men with this murder,” says Jerry Gaudet, director for Squirt’s connectivity division. “They’ve somehow linked gay men with murderous paedophilia and that’s completely irresponsible. Even if this listing did exist, what would it matter? What would it have to do with the death of this little girl?”
In a letter to Squirt, The Australian’s editorial legal counsel Gina McWilliams writes that the article, “expressly states that police found no connection between your website and the alleged murder. Further, the article clearly states that Squirt.org is for the reference of gay men: only a reader avid for scandal would equate such consensual sexual activity with paedophilia.”
Gaudet says McWilliams’ letter prompts the question: If police found no connection to the crime, why did The Australian publish the story in the first place?
A retired senator for Western Australia agrees. Brian Greig, who is openly gay, has lodged a complaint against The Australian with the Australian Press Council, a self-regulatory body that encourages media outlets to use press freedom ethically. Greig served in the federal senate for six years before losing his seat in an election last year.
“No one questioned the veracity of the claim or made any attempt to explain a link,” he says. “I can understand people being concerned and disturbed with the website, but that’s not the issue.”
Although he says news items linking homosexuality to sex crimes are uncommon in the Australian media, Greig believes the story is part of a larger agenda by the political right in the media to oppose same-sex marriage and civil unions. The Australian, known for its conservative bent, has published opinion pieces against same-sex marriage. The paper is part of Australian-born media baron Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
When contacted by Xtra, The Australian’s managing editor Martin Beesley said he has not yet responded to Greig’s complaint to the Australian Press Council and declined to comment. “I haven?t really got anything to say,” he says.
In the meantime, Gaudet says Squirt won’t be pursuing the matter any further. “This isn’t a [legal] battle we want to fight,” he says. “We want the Australian gay community to stand up for themselves and we want to inspire our own members to become more active and informed.”
Galvanizing the Australian gay community has proven difficult in the past, says Greig. Homos down under have only recently organized nationally around the federal issue of same-sex marriage; most equal rights battles in areas such as employment, antidiscrimination and age of consent have been fought at the state level.