Yesterday, convicted rapist Ched Evans was blocked from moving overseas to play for a Maltese football club by the Ministry of Justice. Today, it was revealed that he is in talks with Oldham Athletic FC, a Division 1 team who appear to be willing to sign him. This is after Sheffield United decided not to sign him again upon his release from prison, under pressure from, among others, Jessica Ennis-Hill. Whilst ultimately successful, she suffered appalling rape threats on Twitter from fans of Evans.
But this, as we know by now, is par for the course when you go after high profile sportspeople who also happen to be rapists. It makes it even less surprising (but still incredibly depressing) that Evans’ victim has been abused so horrifically that she’s been forced to emigrate and to change her name, not once, but five times.
There’s currently a petition on change.org to ask Oldham Athletic FC not to sign Ched Evans, on the basis that unrepentant convicted rapists probably shouldn’t be given jobs where they are glamourised and looked up to as role models by thousands of young boys. It doesn’t seem like a particularly controversial claim. There’s nothing to say that Evans can’t work again – of course he can – but we shouldn’t be giving a convicted rapist the privilege of working in a position which, like it or not, gives him significant influence over the attitudes and lives of a large number of people.
Victim Blaming and Defending Convicted Rapists
Unfortunately, not everyone seems to think that this is the case. In an op-ed in the Sunday Times today, David Walsh gives Evans, putting it mildly, a sympathetic treatment. It’s behind a paywall, so if you’re unable to see it, you can read the full text here.
Frankly, the article is a disgrace. Walsh, who admits his bias at the beginning of the article, refuses to refer to Evans’ victim as anything other than ‘the complainant’ throughout. The majority of the article reads as a lament for the fall of a promising young footballer, highlighting his goal-scoring prowess as though that means that he definitely isn’t a rapist – or, if he is, we should all just forget about that and let the poor man get on with his job.
There’s some victim blaming in there too: his core argument seems to be that the victim had been more drunk in the past than she was that night, and therefore was obviously able to consent. He recites the accounts of Evans’ friend, who was also present, and his girlfriend, who still believes that he would never rape somebody. He even gives the account of the night porter at the hotel where they stayed – he heard them having sex through the door and thought that it didn’t sound like a struggle. Again, the message behind this seems to be ‘look, he definitely didn’t rape her, honest’.
This only serves to perpetuate the myth that rape can only happen in certain ways: that the victim has to struggle, that the perpetrator has to be fully aware that what they’re doing is rape. But that’s just not the case. Sometimes people are just too drunk to give meaningful consent, and a fairly good indicator of this is that they’re unable to remember it at all the next day. That was true of Evans’ victim. She was, as the judge said, ‘extremely intoxicated’ and ‘in no condition to have sexual intercourse’. Just because she’d been more drunk on other occasions, or she was physically capable of having sex, it doesn’t mean that she was in a state to be able to give consent. Consent is meaningless unless it is informed, and given by someone with the capacity to give it.
Rape Culture and the Athletic Blind Spot
This article, which essentially reads as a defence of Evans, a man who has been convicted and had that conviction upheld on appeal, is a prime example of rape culture. Rape is one of the only crimes where, even after someone has been convicted, people will continue to defend their innocence and refuse to acknowledge that they actually did it. Nobody would write an op-ed in The Sunday Times defending the honour of a convicted paedophile. But in this case, as in so many other rape cases, it is the perpetrator who is portrayed as the victim, a young star whose light has been blotted out by a bad mistake they made (or may not have made). We see it time and again, with one of the most heinous recent examples being the Steubenville case.
Moreover, it demonstrates that our priorities are all wrong when it comes to athletes who commit crimes. As we saw with Oscar Pistorious, if a promising athlete is accused of a crime, then the media will invariably paint them as the victim, with their career ‘ruined’, as though their sporting skill nullifies their capacity to do wrong, or is too important to be put in jeopardy by little things like criminal acts. But the fact is that there is no correlation between athletic prowess and moral goodness. Lots of incredibly good sportspeople have been, and are, terrible people. We’re generally quite good at recognising this is the case if they’re actually convicted – see the lack of sympathy for Oscar Pistorious once he was found guilty – but we have a blindspot for convicted rapists who are talented sportspeople. There are a large number of people in society who think that, because of their talents, they cannot do any wrong – or at least that they should be forgiven and allowed to return to their previous position.
That shouldn’t be the case. Rape is a heinous crime, and Ched Evans shows no signs of remorse. It’s precisely because so many people still don’t seem to see what’s so wrong with having sex with someone who is unable to consent that we shouldn’t allow him to be given a lucrative contract in a job where he is seen as a role model, someone to aspire to be. We can’t risk more people thinking that what he did is in any way acceptable. We can’t let anyone else think that rape has any place in society. He’s done his time, but we shouldn’t forget what else he’s done.