The media furore surrounding the release of convicted rapist and former professional footballer Ched Evans has highlighted frighteningly pervasive attitudes surrounding sexual violence. If, like me, you occasionally put yourself through the torture of reading the comments section under articles which discuss gender issues, abortion, domestic violence, rape, pay inequality, music videos, video games, or anything which in any way attempts to report or otherwise comment on issues which highlight disparities between the male and female spheres, you’ll understand the blood boiling frustration of reading the sheer ignorance of quite a significant amount of people. I don’t even mean the types of tabloid rags where you would expect to find blatant misogyny (I may read the comments sections but I am not a total glutton for punishment), but on any forum where such an article is published, there will always follow comments which make you want to rub the screen to make sure it’s actually a real post, then throw something at it when you realise it is.
Unfortunately, this high profile case has brought more rape apologists out of the woodwork than usual. Namely Evan’s family, girlfriend, fans, and Judy Finnegan (obviously). Recently, we have been lucky enough to have been bestowed with the upside-down wisdom of one half of TV presenting duo Richard and Judy. To make matters worse, she’s not even the most annoying half. When discussing Evan’s potential return to his career in professional football on Loose Women recently, Judy decided to take the opportunity to fight poor Ched’s corner. According to Judy, while rape which is indeed an “unpleasant” affair, it isn’t actually a violent crime. That’s right folks, we have been looking at this all wrong this whole time; rape isn’t actually a physically violent crime. I know, I know, you may be thinking that someone physically using your body for their own sexual gratification (i.e. penetrating it with a part of their own body) without your consent, is in fact a bit of a humdinger when it comes to being physically violated. Alas, you would be wrong according to Finnegan, who also took great pains to emphasise that the girl had “far too much to drink”, with no other explanation about the relevance of the alcohol situation than that, as if that was enough. Because we all know what she meant didn’t we? That when you are female, and you have had too much to drink, you are complicit in your own inevitable rape. To be fair to Judy, she’s not the first person to come out with such medieval sentiments. Unfortunately, due to the limited airtime of Loose Woman, Judy didn’t get a chance to teach us all about how the girl’s outfit that night, number of previous sexual partners, socioeconomic status, or flirtatious personality were also reasons why she got raped. I assume it will all be explained, along with guidelines on how much you are actually allowed to drink before getting yourself raped, in her new upcoming book “Misogyny in Practice: A Beginners Guide”. Give me the comments sections any day…
To be clear, the main problem with Judy’s opinion was not that she was advocating that a person who has served their sentence for a crime should be allowed their job back. On the surface this seems like a reasonable thing to assume. I believe in rehabilitation, I believe that people who come out of prison should be supported in gaining employment so that they can contribute to society. But essentially, rehabilitation must involve acceptance of the wrong you have done, admittance of the crime you have committed, the hurt you have caused, and potentially, the life you have destroyed. Evans has never admitted to his crime, he continues to protest his innocence, and his friends and family continue to portray him as a victim, most recently of “feminism” apparently. That ideology arguing that women should be afforded equal opportunities to men, that one, seriously? Ok then, if you mean that your son has fallen victim to the idea the some people believe that women should have the same opportunities to men so much that they are prepared to imprison people found guilty of raping them, then yes, yes your son is a victim of feminism. As well as some pretty horrific parenting.
As an intelligent, rational person, I am aware that the criminal justice system is not infallible. I am aware that there exist instances of wrongful conviction. I am also aware that there are processes which attempt to address this, such as an appeals process. Just like the appeal Evan’s case was subjected to and subsequently failed at the hands of not one, not two, but three judges. This, after a unanimous guilty verdict was previously delivered by a jury. Could it be that Evans is one of a small percentage of people who have actually been wrongfully accused of rape? This seems unlikely as he wasn’t just accused, he was charged after an investigation, the case was put to a fair trial and he was convicted by a unanimous verdict.
If you’ve ever watched TV or read the Daily Mail, some of you may at this point be thinking “But people get falsely accused of rape all the time!” And you would be wrong. According to Rape Crisis, incidences of false accusations of rape are fortunately really rather low. Couple this with the knowledge that the majority of rapes are not even reported at all, and you find yourself with a number of false accusations of rape equivalent to the number of times Judy will be asked to volunteer for a Rape Crisis helpline. To be clear, false accusations of rape do happen, they are wrong and extremely damaging to the person accused, and to the many real victims of this crime, but it is a fallacy to believe that they are a common occurrence.
Ched Evans protests his innocence. He recently published a video of himself talking of regret for his actions, but no apology to his victim. Which makes one wonder what it is he regrets? Does he think he was in prison just for cheating on his girlfriend? I do not doubt that Ched Evans may actually believe he is innocent. Not because he actually is, but more likely because he is amongst a shockingly high percentage of people who believe seriously damaging myths surrounding rape and sexual violence. According to a recent Home Office survey, 36% of people who were included thought that a woman should be held wholly or partly responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped if she was drunk. According to a survey by Rape Crisis Scotland, 18% of people who were included thought that a woman was wholly or partly responsible for her own rape if she had a lot of previous sexual partners. So even after a unanimous guilty verdict by a jury, a failed appeal, and over two years in prison, Evan’s beliefs that he has done nothing wrong are maintained because of these commonly held myths and because of a society that allows misconceptions surrounding women as distrustful, sneaky, inferior, and ultimately up-for-grabs to perpetuate, and because of people like Judy bloody Finnegan.
Evan’s may be one of many who cling to the notion that rapists are criminally insane, big ugly men who skulk around alleyways late at night and wait for their unsuspecting female victims walking by to sexually attack. Rapes have indeed occurred in alleyways at night, but not nearly as often as they have happened in a house, in halls of residence, in a hotel, where the victim lives, and at the hands of someone they know. The opportunistic young man who has sex with his classmate who got drunk and fell asleep after a fresher’s party, the husband whose wife is saying no but has said yes a thousand times before, the man who has treated a date to an expensive night out so he feels entitled to sex – these men might not look in the mirror and see a rapist, but that is the name given to someone who has sex with another person without their consent. It is time we started recognising them. It is time they started recognising themselves.
There is no law against Sheffield United hiring Ched Evans as a professional footballer in their club. He would not be only footballer on the pitch to have been found guilty of a crime. But it is time for those with a voice to debunk myths surrounding sexual violence and rape, and to send out a message that this is a serious crime in which the victim is in no way culpable. Young people who follow football need to be shown that rape is not a minor offence with few consequences. They deserve much better role models than this. There has been much discussion of what the club says, what the fans think, what Evans’ friends and family spew, but what of the victim? Now that those who would protest Evan’s innocence have thrice broken the law to publish her identity and whereabouts online, why doesn’t somebody just ask her? She is the only victim in this case. There has been too much focus on this man and how his life will now pan out, as if he has been the unlucky victim of a provocative female, a tired fallacy we too often are subjected to. What of the future for his victim and the thousands of other survivors of sexual violence and rape who find the courage to report their crime only to find themselves vilified in a society which goes to great lengths to rationalise this most heinous and barbaric of crimes. It is the responsibility of those who now have the chance, to send a clear message that sexual violence will not be tolerated under any circumstances. The devil has enough advocates.