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Recently, an article was published on Wessex Scene discussing whether rape allegations should ruin an athlete’s career, concluding that when found innocent in a court of law, ‘the woman in question should be the one who is judged for sending a man to jail for so long when he was innocent’ rather than passing judgement on the alleged rapist.
The article featured the story of Ched Evans (pictured below), who after two years in prison was found not guilty of rape. However, many have critiqued this ruling due to alleged bias in witnesses as well as the controversial inclusions of the survivors sexual history. Whether you believe that the ruling was fair, the blame should be placed on the judgement system that placed a man in prison, rather than denouncing the traumatised woman who bravely told her truth. The line of argument presented in the aforementioned article I believe aids the victim-blaming narrative of rape culture and further perpetuates dangerous ideas keeping women from coming forward in cases of sexual assault.
In April 2012, football player Ched Evans was convicted of raping a 19-year old woman, who had been too drunk to engage in consensual sex. It was also reported that two men tried to film the incident from outside the hotel room where the alleged rape took place. After the trial was reopened in 2016 Evans was found not guilty, yet the circumstances under which this ruling passed have been heavily criticised.
In the second trial, the woman was forced to reveal intimate details about her previous sexual encounters, as past partners described the language used and style in which they had sex. This inclusion of evidence is regarded as intrinsically misogynistic and victim blaming, as it continues the rhetoric of women asking to be raped by simply being sexual beings. Evans was even reported saying that he could have any girl, because obviously it can’t be rape if the perpetrator is handsome and successful; who wouldn’t want to have sex with him? Furthermore, friends and family of the footballer offered a £50,000 reward to anybody bringing forward evidence that helped his case, clearly creating a potential conflict of interest in the testimonies.
Some people still regard Ched Evans as a rapist because a surplus of evidence still suggests he is one. Had he been found innocent with compelling, non-offensive, non-biased evidence, it would have been another story. Like a wise friend told me, ‘a career is repairable with honesty and integrity, but a life is destroyed when one’s trust in people is taken away’.
Despite what is commonly believed, only an estimated 4% of sexual assault reports in the UK are false and the US Department of Justice has declared that ‘misconceptions about false reporting rates have direct, negative consequences and can contribute to why many victims don’t report sexual assault’. Arguing that Evans should not face judgement or be suffering the consequences of his actions promotes the narrative that women who report rape cannot be trusted, which directly keeps rapists on the street. The author not only mistrusts the victim, but continues to shame her for coming forward, and in doing so contributes to the already terrible environment for sexual assault survivors. Stepping forward with an experience as traumatic and intimate as rape is difficult enough as it is without the added pressure of being unsure if your story is going to be believed, or uncertain whether people are going to say it was your fault or that you asked for it.
When I went to the police to report my rape, I was asked what I was wearing and how much I’d been drinking. I spent the evening crying because I was terrified that instead of prosecuting my rapist, they were going to prosecute me for reporting a false rape, even though I, and the friend who held me for hours on end the night of my assault, knew terribly well that my account was far from false. When we continue to tell stories of the poor rapists who will never get a job again, we push survivors further back into the closet of shame where their stories will remain secret forever. Not being allowed the platform to tell one’s story is deadly, both to the people who have already been made into victims and those who are about to be due to the lack of rapist convictions.
Evans’ career may be in tatters, but he did that himself, and a ruined career hardly equates to a ruined life. What happened to him is nothing compared to his actions towards that young woman, who will never, ever be the same.