It was inevitable that the Professional Football Association would ask Sheffield United if convicted rapist Ched Evans could return to train with them whilst they ponder his 'future' with the team. It was inevitable that they would say yes, despite 157 000 people signing a petition asking them not to - despite three patrons resigning in protest and sponsors making it clear they would withdraw support if Evans returns to play for the Blades.
It was inevitable because we live in a culture, which doesn't view women as human; where sexual violence is the fault of the victim and rarely the perpetrator. Not only has Ched Evans continued to claim innocence based entirely on a (deliberate) misunderstanding of the law on consent but he has sat by and allowed his fans and supporters to abuse, harass and intimidate his victim without comment. These are not the actions of a man who has been rehabilitated. The media has continued to give Evans and his supporters a platform to spout rape myths, frequently with no redress for those working in the field. His victim has been forced into hiding.
Media discussions since Evan's release on license have focused on his 'right' to employment, as if Evans will be consigned to a lifetime on income support if he isn't allowed to pay professional football. Frustratingly, these suggestions have become lore, including the theory that banning Evans would make footballers a special class of people denied the rights of all other former convicts. This conveniently ignores the fact that there are a number of crimes that will prohibit perpetrators from gaining employment: we hardly allow bankers who have committed fraud to return to the employment where they perpetrated the fraud. Violent offenders are not allowed to work with vulnerable people - and I've yet to see men convicted for GBH being allowed to work for the police once they've completed their sentence. Banning a convicted rapist from playing professional football isn't out with the law - it's simply stating that convicted rapists have no right to employment in an industry that will render them heroes to young children.
Protests have focused on specifically on Ched Evans and Sheffield United, but, let's be very clear here: this could be about any professional footballer for any club in the UK. I have signed the petition asking Sheffield United refuse to rehire Evans. I support the campaigns demanding that a convicted rapist be held accountable for perpetrating rape and all of the consequences therein. But, this isn't enough. It cannot just be a campaign about Ched Evans and Sheffield United.
Professional football has a problem with misogyny - as it does with racism and homophobia. Women's Aid have a campaign called Football United Against Domestic Violence, which works with the various national football associations, clubs, players and fans.This needs to be expanded to sexual violence and the Football Association needs to make it clear they do not support male violence against women and girls. They need to create a policy, which prohibits the signing of any player with convictions for domestic and sexual violence and abuse. Frankly, a club which genuinely cared about domestic and sexual violence and abuse would not need to be told this. They would not need a debate over whether or not to rehire a convicted rapist.
The Football Association and all the football clubs in the UK are in a uniquely powerful position - they can help end violence against women and girls. They simply need to take a stance by refusing refusing to hire players and management who have convictions for domestic and sexual violence and abuse. Refusing to have patrons with convictions for domestic violence is a start. Accessing specialist training for all their players, coaches and management teams is also necessary so they understand precisely what rape culture actually entails - and that it doesn't ruin the lives of convicted men and that false allegations are reported less than any other crime.
This isn't just about asking Sheffield United to take a stand on violence against women and girls. This is about demanding that every single football club stand up for victims of sexual violence and refuse to work with players who commit rape and condemn those who harass, abuse and stalk a victim of sexual violence.