I have thought long and hard about writing on this topic – so many newspapers, websites, news bulletins and chat shows have already reported the facts and offered their views. However the intention of my blog is to write about things that have affected me, whether those things are in the public domain or domestic. I am an enthusiastic football supporter and care about the game. I have also been raped in the past, and have had professional contact over the years with women who have been raped. Therefore the Ched Evans case has not been of just academic interest to me.
The facts of the case are clear and undisputed. Evans and his friend had sex with a girl in a hotel in the early hours of one morning and then left her there alone. She woke up much later and says that she had no memory of what had happened. Subsequently she went to the police, an investigation was carried out and a prosecution brought. Evans was convicted of rape. He served two and a half years of a five year sentence and following his release is seeking to return to professional football. The legal issues have been well summarised on the bbc website.
Evans maintains his innocence but has twice been refused leave to appeal – firstly by a single high court judge and then by a panel of three high court judges. His case is closed – he is a convicted rapist and will remain on the sex offenders register for life. He has asked for his case to be reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and the outcome of this review is expected in the autumn of 2015. About 2% cases reviewed by the CCRC have the conviction quashed. Needless to say, as he continues to say that he is innocent Evans refuses to accept any responsibility for his crime, or to express any remorse.
The saga of various league one football clubs contemplating and then deciding against allowing Evans to train/ signing with them may or may not continue. The virulent campaign to discredit his victim, coordinated through his professional website and presumably substantially funded by Evans’ fiancee’s father, undoubtedly will continue. His victim has reportedly had to change her identity more than once, effectively destroying her life.
I am fascinated by the opinions that have been expressed about this case – not surprisingly contradictory in many aspects. There are many things that could be discussed – whether or not professional footballers are/ are considered to be role models, whether they have the right to be treated ‘the same as everyone else’ (in which case I suspect that few people released from prison after being convicted of a serious crime have the right to return to their previous job), what the FA intends to do about the anomaly that bars managers, coaches and owners who have convictions for sex offences, but not players.
These are all interesting questions that have been discussed elsewhere. I am interested in the public reaction to a conviction of rape – is it really a serious crime? Are there different sorts of rape? What does rape mean? (The answers to the last two, in law at least, is clear. Rape is rape – oral, vaginal or anal penetration by a man of a woman or man that occurs without consent.)
Despite clear definitions there are still supposedly reputable newspapers publishing articles headed ‘Ched Evans: sorry, but all rapes are not the same’ written by a woman. Over recent years I have heard numerous people, mostly men, but sadly often older women too, make a clear distinction between violent rape, rape by a stranger, drunken rape, and rape by boyfriend or husband. I strongly suspect that a majority of men don’t really think that there is such a crime as rape by boyfriend or husband.
Judy Finnigan made headlines when she underplayed the importance of the rape in the Evans case, saying that ‘no bodily harm occurred’ – thus distinguishing between violent and non-violent (drunken) rape. Her comments seem mild in comparison to the misogynist bile recently published by Rod Liddle (although at least this is no surprise) who either wilfully or in genuine ignorance seems to think that rape is no different from burglary, being mugged, fraud or other crimes. In fact this opinion has been expressed by a variety of opinion writers and by media panelists, and I think that it is this complete misunderstanding about rape that has so upset me in this case and its aftermath.
Rape is unique. Other crimes such as burglary may violate one’s territory and leave you feeling vulnerable (I like many have experienced this), but usually it can be accepted and dismissed as ‘one of those things’ – especially if one lives in an area with high burglary rates. Many of us have been victims of petty car crimes – keying, broken car windows and so on. All these crimes – in fact possibly every crime except sex crimes – invite sympathy for the victim.
Being the victim of a sex offence is not something that you commiserate with your friends and neighbours about. It is a secret crime that by its very secrecy scars the victim. Uniquely it is a crime when everyone tends to seek reasons to blame the victim. Most rape victims do not report their rape. I have advised my own daughters that if they were ever raped, unless (god forbid) as part of a violent attack, they would be better not to report it. The vast majority of rapes are not violent, and are perpetrated by men known to the women. Many students used to be raped by their tutors and lecturers, and even gave ‘consent’. However, the validity of consent is dubious when a) the victim was not asked if she wanted to have sex, and b) successful outcome of various assignments might depend on whether or not the tutor was ‘happy’. I was raped in this way, I hope that it doesn’t still happen but I suspect that it does. Powerful men can put a positive slant on their sexual activities very convincingly. Why did I not report this? Quite simply because nobody would have believed me, and I knew that I was not the only one.
I have seen women who had been raped by their husbands because the husband refused to believe that no really meant no. Their wives took the path of least resistance, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t raped.
Evans’ victim really has had her life destroyed – she has had to shed her entire identity, apparently more than once. I suspect that she may well have felt close to suicide and can only hope that she is receiving good counselling.
Other women, the many many silent victims of unreported rape, do not in my experience just forget about it. The effects last a long time. Bethany Cleasby was raped by the friend of a friend and expresses eloquently the impact that ‘simple, non-violent rape’ has:
My attack has made me incredibly wary of men. I find it difficult to trust men’s intentions. I’m expecting my first child next month and I sometimes worry about the type of world I am bringing them into.
Because the effects of rape don’t just last the length of the attack. It lasts a lifetime for the victim.
It doesn’t matter how it happened, where it took place or whether it was a friend, a husband, relative or stranger.
Rape is rape, and it is always a violation, and it’s still a violent attack whether there are scars or not.
Sadly the publicity surrounding the Ched Evans case has not made me hopeful that we are becoming more informed and understanding about rape.