Ched Evans makes me wish ignorance was a crime. He makes me wish we could prosecute for stupidity, and for callous entitlement. I’m not usually one to hold a grudge, but if a sheer lack of decency were punishable by law, we could lock men like Evans up and lob the keys into the nearest lake.
I almost didn’t write this post, because I know I can’t add any more wisdom to what’s already been said about the case. But it lingers – people are still defending him on Twitter, and it emerged on Tuesday that his family may take legal action against Loose Women for discussing the new verdict. I have no idea what was said on Loose Women but funnily enough, I’m fresh out of sympathy for Evans. How nice to have the luxury of fretting over what’s being said about you on daytime television. Must be much nicer than trying to recover from having your most intimate moments used publicly to exonerate a sorry excuse for a man. Much nicer than living in constant fear that your identity will be revealed again, that you’ll have to try and find somewhere else to make your home again. (You can make a donation to the complainant and Rape Crisis here, should you wish to.)
In a depressing collision of fiction and fact, I finished Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It just as the verdict of Evans’ retrial was announced. Asking For It isn’t a light read, but it is an incredibly timely and important one. It tells the story of Emma, a teenage girl who is gang-raped at a party but crucially only finds out what’s happened to her when photos surface on social media. Like I said, it’s a heavy one, but it’s also a masterclass in using fiction to ask the questions we haven’t found the courage to ask ourselves in the real world. The way Emma’s life is destroyed beyond all recognition made my heart break for all the real Emmas, lives overturned by the actions of an entitled, unthinking man.
I don’t think Evans has any idea what he’s done – he may have been cleared of rape but he’s not innocent. It’s right there in front of us, facts so sharp they’re painful to read: the way his friend and fellow footballer Clayton McDonald phoned him and said: “I’ve got a girl”. That’s not how you talk about a fellow human being, that’s how you talk about a fish, or a cold. The way Evans lied to obtain the key to the hotel room, the way he didn’t speak to the victim once during the encounter. Who has sex with someone but doesn’t actually utter a word to them? What kind of a person acts like that? What he said to the police after being arrested: “Footballers are rich and they have money. That is what girls like”. What a strange, small world-view. The way he won’t apologise to the victim. The way the evidence that helped free him came about because of what was arguably a bribe – sorry, a £50,000 “reward” for information.
I wrote my MA dissertation on how rape is reported by the tabloid press. Those five months were exactly as joyful as you can imagine. I remember very distinctly reading about how a victim’s sexual history can no longer be used as evidence in court – and the palpable relief at knowing that. Thank God we no longer believe that “chaste women don’t get raped”. How old-fashioned to think that if a woman has consented once, she must have consented again. How strange to think that a woman’s behaviour during one sexual encounter has anything to do with her behaviour during another separate encounter.
I know the use of the victim’s previous sexual behaviour as evidence will not set a legal precedent – I understand that there are rare exceptions to Section 41, and it’s incredibly unfortunate that a high-profile case had to be one such exception. However, the problem is this: it doesn’t matter a jot that a legal precedent has not been set. The idea is enough. The fact that a victim’s sexual history has been used to help overturn a conviction cannot be erased from our minds. Every single woman who knows the new verdict now doubts the legal system’s capacity to get a conviction for rape even more than she already did. We thought we were a little bit safe – we thought that just because we’d consented before, it didn’t automatically mean we’d consented again, when the worst happened. And now, again, we are shifting the focus on to the victim, placing the responsibility with the attacked, not the attacker.
85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year. 1 woman in 5 aged 16-59 has experienced some kind of sexual violence. 90% of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. The World Health Organization has called violence against women “the most prevalent but least recognised human rights abuse” in the world. We’ve got a presidential candidate who’s had a host of assault allegations made about him yet is still allowed to remain in the running. Julian Assange is allowed to avoid facing up to rape charges made against him, and we’re letting men like Evans waltz back to their lives like nothing happened – it’s not too much of a reach to conclude we have something of a problem on our hands. And if sex and relationship education isn’t going to be compulsory in schools, we might just have to go for zero tolerance when it comes to men who don’t think. We need a “broken windows policy” but for violence against women.
I wouldn’t say I’m particularly vindictive, except when really bloody furious, but I have nothing but contempt for Evans. Which incidentally is the only thing he has shown for women the whole way through this sorry saga. Another man with money and power carries on with his life, thinking he is protected from ever having to face the full consequences of his actions. When are we going to stop proving these men right?