THE case of Gayle Newland is almost too weird to get your head round. This is the 25-year-old who duped her friend into having sex by pretending to be a man for two years.
Now you might reasonably wonder how such a thing could be possible. Blindfolds and a prosthetic penis provide the answer to the question you had never thought to ask.
Newland disguised her appearance and voice and persuaded a woman to put on a blindfold when they met. The women had sex about ten times until the complainant, also 25, took off her mask and saw the strap-on penis.
Newland went on trial at Chester crown court in September and was yesterday sentenced to eight years in prison by Judge Roger Dutton, who described her as “an intelligent, obsessional, highly manipulative, deceitful, scheming and thoroughly determined young woman”.
For her part, Newland claimed her accuser was aware of the pretence and that they were engaging in role play while struggling with their sexuality.
Unsurprisingly, this court case and now the sentencing have created a lot of media interest – for the harsh but simple reason that most of us had never heard of such sexual behaviour.
Perhaps I have led a simple life, but my first thought was that the details of this case were almost too bizarre and outlandish to believe. If a novelist had written such a story, the plot would have been rejected out of hand for simply not being believable.
This case has stirred a great deal of prurient speculation: human nature cannot be granted such a glimpse in the land of otherness without wanting to ponder at length on the details.
A number of obvious questions arise. Can a blindfolded woman not tell the difference between a woman and a man? Does a pretend penis feel at all like a real one attached to a real sweaty man? How could such a deception continue for so long? Why didn’t the complainant remove her blindfold long before the tenth encounter? Or was this just part of the sexual roleplay?
There are other questions we could be asking once we have given up tutting and tittering. Perhaps a good starting point is to look at the photograph of Gayle Newland published today as she is led away handcuffed to a security officer. In this court snatch photograph the young woman looks up at the photographer. Often in such situations the defendants express anger or spit fury at the lens. Newland does none of this. Instead she just looks utterly miserable, wretched and perplexed.
The next question to ask is why this young woman has been given such a long sentence. Judge Dutton took into account Newland’s various personality disorders and associated problems, but said: ‘As an aspect of mercy, I do not increase the starting point beyond eight years.” Sometimes mercy wears a hard face.
The judge also condemned her cruel deception and pointed to the psychological harm it had done to the complainant. Concern for the damage done to the complainant is certainly an important consideration. But does it make sense to send this woman to prison for so long? Although Newland was clearly the dominant partner in this strange relationship, it is also possible to see the case as one which features two damaged or sexually confused women.
According to the Prison Reform Trust, ten per cent of men and 30 per cent of women have had a previous psychiatric admission before they enter prison, while 26 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men say they have received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody.
Personality disorders are “particularly prevalent among people in prison” the Trust reports, with 62 per cent of male and 57 per cent of female sentenced prisoners having a personality disorder. Maybe this isn’t surprising as having a personality disorder perhaps predisposes one to committing crimes.
But it still makes you wonder if Gayle Newland should be in prison at all or if she just needs some serious psychiatric help.