I have felt anger many times in my life but this weekend as I read the headline that Ched Evans had been cleared of rape, I felt an overwhelming sense of rage. The kind of rage that makes you want to walk into the middle of the road, stop the traffic, lie down on the ground and scream.
And keep screaming until the whole world is listening to you. Rage dances through my veins, pulsating and getting stronger as more news comes in throughout the week. The rage I feel curses throughout my body. I can’t stop questioning how and why this is happening. Nothing makes sense and it all feels so unfair.
Ched Evans is a Welsh footballer who was 22 when he was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman who was too intoxicated to consent to having sex. Evans was later found guilty of the crime in 2012 and sentenced to five years in prison. He served two years of his sentence before being released, vowing that he was going to clear his name after maintaining his innocence and that is exactly what he has just done. After winning the right to a retrial, on Friday, Ched Evans was found not guilty of rape.
Looking at images from the CCTV footage released after the original trial, of a girl who was so drunk she could barely stand, being lured away into a car by a predatory man – footballer and friend to Evans, Clayton McDonald – there was no doubt that this girl could not have consented to sex just moments later. You can read more about the case and come to your own conclusions but really, our beliefs about Ched Evans’s guilt is of no real importance because the jury has decided that he is not.
I am angry that someone who I believed committed rape has been let off and I feel sickened every time I hear Evans speak about wanting to ‘educate’ other young players so they don’t end up in his unfortunate position. There’s something similar about his actions to the post-trial events of the Brock Turner case. Turner sexually assaulted a girl on a university campus earlier this year. Somehow, these athletes who have committed some of the most abhorrent crimes aim to repent by saving other poor boys from meeting a similar fate, citing the perils of alcohol consumption.
I am not sure most young men need advice from convicted, or controversially cleared rapists, to know that if a girl is unconscious, it is probably best not to have sex with her.
Most young men would not be interested in having sex with a lifeless body, I am not sure that is the kind of passion they are looking for.
Back in 2012, media narrative painted the claimant as a pathological liar, trying to thwart the promising career of an idolised footballer. People who hadn’t really looked into the case or listened to the details didn’t understand what the fuss was about – the girl was just drunk wasn’t she? It wasn’t really rape though, was it? Back in 2011 when the offence was committed, the law was very clear and it remains so today. If a person is too intoxicated to consent, by having sex with them, you are committing rape.
Every part of the Ched Evans case made me angry, but this anger had a short reprieve when a jury found him guilty. I thought some kind of justice had been served. And when he was released from prison, there was quiet satisfaction in seeing his football career suffer, after Sheffield United fans called for his contract not to be renewed and an 170,000-signature strong petition was published supporting this notion.
Pressure was mounted on the club by high profile individuals such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, who asked for her name to be removed from a stand at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium if Evans was given a new contract.
But perhaps public opinion had changed since then.
There are two injustices surrounding the clearance of Evans at his retrial. One: Ched Evans has gotten away with a crime a jury found him guilty of five years ago. Two: our justice system has failed the victim of a hideous crime by allowing Ched Evans’s defence team to put forward evidence which was based on the victim’s sexual behaviour – something which legislation imposed severe restrictions on in 1999, due to the ridiculous assumption that if a woman has previously had sex with numerous partners, a jury would find her less credible as a rape victim.
For seventeen years this legislation has been in place and throughout this time we have been encouraged relentlessly by police campaigns to report rape. Even though rape convictions remain horribly low, we live in the hope that legal proceedings have evolved beyond courtroom batterings from defence solicitors, accusing claimants of having too many sexual partners, too many sexual encounters and no self respect in a bid to undermine their story. We have been led to believe that this simply does not happen anymore – it cannot happen anymore because of this legislation.
The retrial of Ched Evans shows that this legislation isn’t as far reaching as we would like to believe and that in fact, the smearing, undemocratic courtroom tactics are a lot closer to home than that of developing countries where women are robbed of human rights and opressed as second class citizens. In fact, many applications made by the defence in rape cases to use previous sexual history as evidence, are successful. There are exemptions to the use of this evidence but according to the Judge hearing the retrial of Evans, this case did in fact warrant the exposure of this private information to the jury.
Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act states that ‘If the issue is one of consent, the behaviour to which they relate is either alleged to have taken place at or about the same time as the alleged offence or is so similar to the complainant’s behaviour at that time that it cannot reasonably be explained as coincidence,’… then it would be acceptable to use the claimant’s sexual behaviour as evidence in a trial.
The new witnesses, who were key to proving the innocence of Evans, were used by the defence to show that the victim’s behaviour was inconsistent with her accusation towards Evans. One of the witnesses stated that she’d had sex with him a fortnight after the night she had reported Evans to the police, and the other said she had used language during sex with him which was very similar to the language she used when having sex with Evans, according to Ched himself. These key witnesses’ two testimonials are the reason Ched Evans was found not guilty.
I am struggling to understand why this case was any different to any other rape trial. Why was this evidence so compelling? Two witnesses came forward after being offered a £50,000 reward by a hefty, powerful defence legal team and told some stories about the behaviour of the victim. Because she had sex two weeks after being raped, does this suggest she wasn’t raped? I don’t think so. It is impossible to homogenise the experience of all rape victims and expect them to display the same behaviour as each other, weeks after an assault.
Many victims are in denial for weeks, months, or years after their attack. Everyday life continues, and not everyone breaks down and cannot function.
I was raped on a Saturday night at a friend’s house, and got picked up by my Dad on the following Sunday morning and talked to him about what a great night I’d had. I then went for Sunday lunch with my Grandma and chatted freely about school and my friends. I went to bed on Sunday questioning what had really happened on Saturday and struggled to sleep, but on Monday I went to school. I can assure you that I was raped. My ‘behaviour’ doesn’t take away the truth of what happened on that night.
When something awful happens that is too traumatic for you to understand, sometimes it is easier to carry on as normal. Sometimes, it is not even a conscious decision.
As for questioning the victim for hours about her sexual preferences, how many partners she’d had, what sexual positions she favoured, and how she liked to have sex, I’m at a loss on how to even rationalise the Judge’s decision to allow this line of questioning to continue. Because it is completely irrelevant. In any rape case it is irrelevant.
Every case of sexual assault is different. Rape can happen between a husband and a wife; it can happen between two strangers, or friends; it can happen between a parent and a child. Every outcome and consequence of rape is different, but what remains the same is the pain that every victim feels. Whether you were conscious or unconscious when you were being raped, the feeling of gut-wrenching sadness and desperation will still live deep in your soul.
We don’t need to compare the atrocities of different rape cases to each other. Each case is awful in its own right.
In the same way, the criminal justice system should not be able to determine whether one case of rape should be treated differently to another when considering Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act.
There should be no circumstances when a woman’s previous sexual history should be used against her by the defence. If this is allowed to happen, the myth that some rapes are more serious than others, will continue. If Ched Evans wasn’t a famous footballer who had a girlfriend with a multi-millionaire father who funded a very expensive legal appeal to clear his name, he would still be guilty of rape.
Justice has not been served in this case and unfortunately will have a great impact on the likeliness of women reporting serious sexual assault committed against them. Rape is humiliating enough without having to endure someone questioning your sexual history in a courtroom full of people, doubting your integrity.
I have always believed that if I was raped now, I would most certainly report it to the police. What has just happened in our country within a supposedly first-class criminal justice system, has made me reexamine whether I really would. I have experienced the painful consequences of rape, I am not sure if I could withstand more trauma in a courtroom. This is not the way it should be in twenty first century Britain.