On Friday, Ched Evans - a convicted rapist -- will be released from prison after serving half his prison sentence. In 2011, he raped a 19-year-old woman at a hotel in Rhyl, Denbighshire. The victim did not consent to sexual intercourse, and Evans' friends are said to have watched him rape her. If Evans were a lawyer, doctor or teacher, the prospect of resuming his former job would be out of the question. Yet, Ched Evans is a famous footballer, and his former club, Sheffield United, are rumoured to be considering reinstating Evans in his former position. The chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor, has stated that Evans should be allowed to play professional football again, and told the BBC: "I didn't know there was a law that said once you come out of prison you still can't do anything." However, over 140,000 people disagree with Taylor, and have added their signature to a petition urging the Chairman of Sheffield United, Kevin McCabe, to refuse to reinstate Ched Evans as a player.
High profile footballers are influential people; their actions receive a great deal of media attention; they are revered by fans; and they are role models. It goes without saying that they have the power to influence impressionable young people. If a convicted rapist is allowed to walk back into his former job after serving half his prison sentence, what kind of precedent are we setting? Furthermore, Evans' case will convey a clear and unambiguous message: rape is not a serious crime.
During my secondary education, I recall being counselled, along with my fellow students, by teachers and careers advisers that we must avoid at all cost getting a criminal record should we wish to go to university, and get a good job. If Evans walks back into his former job scot-free, the credence of teachers' advice will be called into question.
Judy Finnigan's comments earlier this week that "the rape was not violent, he didn't cause any bodily harm to the person" was, to say the very least, ill advised. Freedom of speech is a basic human right, and Finnigan has every right to express her opinion as part of a healthy, balanced discussion. However, in discussions about rape there is a danger of worsening the existing problem of victim blaming, and Finnigan's statement "she [the victim] had far too much to drink" certainly bolstered this victim blaming thread, regardless of her intentions. If someone is drunk when they are murdered, does it mean it's their fault? Rape is still rape regardless of how "drunk" the victim is. Furthermore, this victim blaming culture confuses and undermines the important moral lessons instilled by parents and teachers regarding consent and rape. And how will parents taking their children to Sheffield United matches explain the chants from the opposing crowd?
The backlash that ensued, and the deplorable trolling of Finnigan's daughter obscured the important issue here: we must not talk about rape in degrees. Rape is an absolute: one is not slightly raped, or very raped. Rape is an act of violence, and its primary driving force is violence. The dictionary defines rape as "forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will". The very act of forcing someone is a violation; a violent confiscation of someone's free will.
Asked if Evans should be allowed to return to professional football, Finnigan said: "Well I think everything depends basically on, of course, whether the club wants him back but more importantly perhaps whether the fans want him back." Finnigan's assertion that Evans has "served his time" was echoed by broadcaster Jonathan Maitland on Sky's Press Preview on Tuesday night. But, in reality, he has not "served his time"; he's served half of it. If Evans had stopped playing at half time, would he have still played a full match?
It has also been argued that Evans has been amply punished for his crime, and it is unfair to prevent him from returning to his former life. To those of you in favour of Evans' reinstatement, I ask you this: if a teacher were released after serving half their sentence for statutory rape, would we simply shrug and allow them to resume their position? When a doctor is convicted and struck off after years of study and training, does the nation scream "injustice" when his life is ruined? I see no outpourings of support, no outcries of sympathy when it comes to anyone else. So, why protest the fairness of this isolated case? This is a question of parity. Is it right that we make an exception for a famous footballer?
If Evans were guilty of murder, I sincerely doubt that his fans would be welcoming him back with open arms. Rape is a serious crime and it ruins lives. The take-home message should Evans be reinstated is that rape is not taken seriously as a crime. Approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year, with less than one rape victim in 30 seeing their attacker brought to justice. What hope does this case give to rape victims seeking justice?
It has also been argued that once a criminal has "served their time", they should not be further punished. But, what about the victim? Once Evans is released, will his victim forget and move on? The rape will most likely affect her for the rest of her life. Do not underestimate the damage caused to victims' lives.
No one feels good about ruining a young man's career, but unfortunately, he did it to himself.