(Trigger warning: Rape, harassment, victim-blaming, rape culture generally)
The criminal system in England and Wales operates under the legal principle that a person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty; as anyone who’s ever publicly believed a rape survivor will know, because no doubt you’ve been told this a thousand times over by people who see it as a get-out-of-jail-free card (literally) for all those accused of a crime that really isn’t taken seriously enough as it is. Really, though, these people care more about maintaining the status quo of rape culture than any legal principle – otherwise, they wouldn’t be simultaneously presuming the accuser to be guilty of making a false accusation, and they’d join everyone else in condemning accused rapists if and when they are convicted.
In April 2012, Ched Evans was convicted of rape. Convicted. The very definition of “proven guilty”.
Evans himself maintains his innocence, as do his fans, and other people who are generally vocal about not believing rape survivors ever. “Miscarriage of justice” apparently. Whenever an acquittal of rape hits the headlines, or a case that never reaches trial, many of these same people don’t acknowledge that miscarriages of justice exist; he hasn’t been proven guilty in a court of law, they say, therefore he must be innocent (and by extension, the accuser must be lying) – this, despite the current shockingly poor conviction rate that so often discourages survivors from coming forward in the first place. So it’s telling that, when a guilty verdict happens, the world suddenly notices that the legal system is flawed. There’s a support website with the aim of clearing Evans’ name. “Judge for yourself” it implores, invoking the usual tropes about women generally and rape survivors in particular being irrational, liars or just plain wrong.
Proven guilty – but that didn’t stop people harassing the survivor. Accusing her of lying for money and attention, although in reality there’s no money coming from anywhere and the woman is anonymous; in fact, it’s those who accuse her of lying for attention that have tried to reveal her identity, to give her the attention she doesn’t actually want so they can use it against her. The sadly commonplace victim-blaming; she should take responsibility for being drunk (note that she feared her drink had been spiked), she shouldn’t have been alone at night, she shouldn’t feel entitled to exist whilst female in a public space, the works. The threats – some explicit, some more subtle about speaking out against a convicted rapist having “repercussions they could regret”. This woman – the victim of the crime, not the perpetrator – was eventually pushed to flee the country and change her identity.
Evans, having been found guilty, was sentenced to five years; last month he was released from prison after half of that sentence. Just to reiterate: Two and a half years, for rape. Apparently, he’s “learned his lesson” and so deserves to walk straight back into his professional football career. How someone can maintain their innocence and at the same time claim to have learned their lesson is beyond me. He’s apologised… but only to his girlfriend, for cheating on her. He has yet to apologise to the woman he raped (express language I still find difficult to use because, despite being convicted in court, the media continue to use words like “alleged” and “claimed” and put details of the crime in quotation marks), who in contrast has to spend the rest of her life living with the consequences of somebody else’s actions against her; not only the trauma of the rape itself, but the effects of the harassment and victim-blaming that followed.
Those constantly silenced by the manipulation of innocent-until-proven-guilty to defend accused rapists have found themselves having to carry out the same level of campaigning even when the situation involves a convicted rapist. Or, according to the rape apologists, “looking for attention”. Yes, we do want people to pay attention to us, because frankly the whole situation is just awful – others, on the other hand, would prefer this to just blow over, like so many other “isolated incidents” of sexual violence before it, because otherwise we’d have to start challenging current gender politics and we don’t want that, do we? There are claims – making national headlines – that Evans, the convicted rapist, is a “victim of feminists”. Let’s not forget that this isn’t some hypothetical debate, but a real incident of violent crime that happened, and Evans was the perpetrator, not the victim.
Today, Sheffield United indirectly referred to the change.org petition calling for the club to drop Evans as “mob justice”, despite taking no action whatsoever, not even so much as a statement, when a section of their fans harassed a rape survivor who dared speak out, revealed her identity online, and continue to send online abuse to anyone supporting her. But an online petition calling for a legally proven crime to be taken seriously? That’s mob justice. A letter to a local newspaper, published as the “Star Letter”, reduced this petition to “supporters of other clubs who have ‘clicked a mouse’ against him, not once but many times”. I’ll ignore the fact that you need to enter your details and an e-mail address to sign the petition and instead focus on this: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOUR FOOTBALL RIVALRIES. This is a pattern I’ve also noticed with the recent high-profile incidents of racial abuse; many fans decide who is and isn’t blameworthy in a way that conveniently has positive consequences for teams they like, and negative consequences for teams they don’t. It’s why my brother thinks the racial slurs by Luis Suarez were just blown out of proportion but John Terry deserved everything he got, whereas my dad thinks exactly the opposite. The oppressions behind the incidents – the very real, very damaging oppressions – are ignored entirely.
There are also claims that preventing Evans from return to his high-profile role, in which he and his colleagues are seen as role models by many, is the same as preventing him from integrating into society. Not so. Football is just one job. You wouldn’t re-employ a teacher, or a doctor, after being found guilty of rape, and besides, the media have happily called for the sacking of employees for much much less, and even for the deportation of immigrants they accuse of committing much lesser crimes; with Evans being white, male and famous, though, we are instead being asked to offer him a second chance even when he has been convicted of his crime.
It’s also worth noting at this point that being prevented from integrating into society is actually what’s happened to the woman who reported the crime against her, but I suppose her welfare won’t affect the League One table so maybe that’s why people don’t seem to care as much.
So, it looks increasingly likely that Ched Evans, found guilty of rape, will make a return to football. There are already terrace chants referring to the rape, mocking it, mocking the survivor. Aside from that, the focus will probably return to his actions on the pitch, his rape conviction will fade from the public eye, and the world will forget.
Imagine being the victim of sexual violence at the hands of a perpetrator who happened to be famous, reading the newspapers, knowing how these events have played out. Would you still report your rape? I highly doubt I would.
And this is what happens when the person accused of rape is proven guilty. Because these people aren’t really interested in innocent-until-proven-guilty at all, unless it suits their rape apologism.