Ched Evans’ latest comments on rape have done little to suggest he has learned from his own experiences. However, more crucially, they will make it harder for others to learn… or to even want to learn.
As is now common knowledge, the Welsh footballer had his rape conviction quashed in April 2016 and was found not guilty in a new trial later that year (he was not ‘proven to be innocent’ – more on that here). Evans continued his professional football career after being released on licence having served half of his initial five-year sentence, and has since returned to Sheffield United, the club by whom he was employed before his 2012 trial.
Plenty has been written about the nuts and bolts of the legal proceedings, but this piece is not just about that. That more needs to be written on the subject is down to Evans’ comments to The Sunday Times that “women need to be made aware of the dangers they can put themselves in because there are genuine rapists out there who prey on girls who have been drinking”.
Evans’ assertions are both dangerous and wrong, and they would be dangerous and wrong regardless of his own past. By encouraging women to change the habits of their everyday life, he implicitly places blame onto the victims of rape rather than the perpetrators. It offers a moral get-out to those reluctant to confront their own actions and behaviours, where the onus should be on the opposite. The number of rapes which involve an intoxicated victim should be irrelevant to the discussion, given that 100% of rapes could be stopped by people not committing rape.
“A lot of work needs to be done in relation to consent because I definitely think that the police have an agenda to find ways to charge people and the easiest one is the drunk one," Evans also said in the same interview. Clearly he himself needs a whole lot of further education on the matter. His comments exercise an understanding that consent is required, but give no indication that he understands what the term actually means. The way he says “the drunk one”, almost casually, shows what feels like either a lack of understand of – or a disregard for – the law that someone who is drunk cannot give valid consent.
The above argument urges women to stop drinking because of the supposed consequences, while the supposed consequences of men drinking are – in his words – an area where “a lot of work needs to be done”. Note the passive voice when it comes to men’s actions and tendencies. The lack of ownership of one’s own actions.
According to Rape Crisis UK, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year, including assaults by penetration and attempts, and an estimated 90% of rapists are known to their victims. Consequently, Evans’ use of the phrase “genuine rapists” is both hugely dangerous and a fundamental misunderstanding of rape.
The continued characterisation of rapists as shady individuals in clubs or alleyways who set out to prey on “girls who have been drinking” not only wrongly shifts responsibility onto the victim, but also has the potential to pre-emptively absolve those who don’t characterise themselves in this way. It does so by ignoring existing patterns, and does nothing to consider why fewer than one in five women who have experienced sexual violence choose to report attacks to the police. It presents men as the protagonists of life, with women merely obstacles to men doing whatever they feel like, when he could and should be using his platform to encourage self-reflection among men. If he can offer men the assumption of innocence by semantically separating them from “genuine rapists”, why is he unable to afford women the same courtesy?
Arguing that work has to be done because women drink, or because the police prosecute offenders, is telling in what it omits. By Evans’ own admission, he lied to get a key to the hotel room, did not speak to the woman concerned before, during or after sexual intercourse, and left via a fire exit. By putting the focus on the behaviour of women or prosecuting authorities, such matters become secondary when they could and should form part of the discussion around consent. And not just consent, but enthusiastic consent. Evans’ acquittal followed the introduction of ‘new evidence’ pertaining to the sexual history of his alleged victim – perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he has come out with his latest comments, given that the story of his own actions remained constant throughout the legal proceedings, but that doesn’t mean we should not be disappointed.
The longer those in positions of influence continue to push the false “regular man” vs “genuine rapist” binary, the longer those who see themselves in the former category will be dissuaded from fully educating themselves about consent. This is especially the case when the supposed ‘advice’ neglects to define ‘consent’ beyond a nebulous thing that is important to include in the conversation.
Throughout Evans’ imprisonment, appeal and retrial, his focus was on protesting his own innocence in the matter rather than having a conversation around consent. With his latest comments, he is using the cloak of perceived altruism to shoot a hole in efforts to educate young men.
The Professional Footballers’ Association is taking steps to formalise education around sexual consent, with a PFA representative telling VICE Sports last year that sessions were on the verge of being introduced for younger players, but also for senior pros who might not have been afforded the same education when starting out in the game. As critical as this is, every time comments like Evans’ are made public, such efforts are unnecessarily knocked back.