This post discusses rape, rape culture and the behaviour of a convicted rapist as part of a conversation about rehabilitation. It is important to take care of yourself and so please be aware that some of this post may be triggering. Whilst joining our voices with other victims is important, sometimes the best thing we can do is step back put self first. Never be ashamed to do that. And, as always – I believe you.
In the conversation around convicted rapist Ched Evans, and around whether or not he should be allowed to play professional football again, one theme crops up with predictable regularity: that Ched Evans should be allowed to play ‘if we believe in rehabilitation’.
There are three elements to the premise of this narrative. First, that in Evans case there is an assumption that rehabilitation is a return to the same life as was being lived previously – that rehabilitation is somehow analogous to playing professional football. Second, that to oppose his return to the professional game is to be ‘opposed’ to rehabilitation. And third, and most crucially perhaps, that we as a society share a commonly held concept of what rehabilitation looks like, and that those who question the notion that Evans return to football is the best response in this case are ‘rocking the boat’; trouble makers if you will, who don’t like what the community have decided and are making things difficult for everybody else.
So let us start with that last point – that as a society we have a shared understanding of what rehabilitation means. Because it is very apparent to me that we don’t.
This was highlighted again during the brief flurry of interest over the possibility of Evans being signed to Maltese football club Hibernians FC (which in any event Evans is unable to do due to the terms of his license, as confirmed by the Ministry of Justice). Owen Bonnici, Malta’s Minister of Justice, was very clear what his understanding of rehabilitation meant in this case:
What is rehabilitation? In the simplest terms, it is the re-introduction and integration back in to society of someone who has been convicted of a crime and who has served some sort of custodial sentence; that the person concerned does not re-offend, and is able to lead a healthy and productive life.
I think it is important that we first acknowledge this definition is of rehabilitation in the simplest terms; that it is baseline from which we start. I note this because it seems to be treated as the high watermark – that this is all we should expect from Evans and no more. I have a problem with that: rehabilitation is important, far too important, to be treated in such a shoddy fashion. Because in this particular case – and on the basis that every case should be treated individually – there is something else we need to know, something else we need reassurance of:
That Ched Evans will not go out and rape again.
Recidivism: We know that around 1 in 7 rapes or sexual assaults will be committed by someone who has previously offended – and bear in mind that these figures are based on reported cases which have secured a conviction. That’s approximately 400 cases of rape over three years committed by an offender who has been freed after serving approximately half of his sentence. When we also take in to account both the low reporting rates, and low conviction rates, those numbers are the mere tip of the iceberg.
So we need to be sure that Evans not only understands why he was convicted, but that he has shown at least some progress in his understanding of – for example – what consent from someone with whom he wants to have sex looks like. We need to be certain that he recognises why he did not have consent from his victim that evening, and therefore why he was judged to be a rapist. We need to know that he understands why the filming of his victim fell well outside the boundaries of consent, and he has never addressed the issue of persuading his bother and friend to film his victim. (And that’s leaving aside the questions around his behaviour prior to his entering the hotel that evening).
He has only ever referred to what happened that night as a single act of infidelity. In other words, he does not judge what he did to be a crime of violence against a woman: he asks us only to frame it as an act of betrayal against his now fiancée.
We therefore do not know if he is being rehabilitated in that sense. We don’t know this because he refuses to accept that there was no consent – he refuses to understand, or worse is unable to understand, why there was no consent. He insists that what happened was consensual. In short, he has shown no grasp of the issue of consent and as a result, we have no reassurance that he has, or is being, rehabilitated of his crime.
On this basis then, there is no evidence of – or reason to suppose – that any rehabilitation is occurring. How, then, might Evans be re-integrated in to society if we have no reassurance that recidivism will not occur in this case?
Reintegration. In theory at least, making sure that someone who has served a custodial sentence is able to acquire gainful employment is beneficial to society. And yet unemployment rates are high for ex-offenders, and as the campaign Ban the Box points out, the financial cost of that to society, especially given how positively it reduces re-offending rates, is high. But in Evans case, does that automatically mean re-joining the ranks of professional football? We know that football is not Evans only option – he learned new skills in prison, and could be gainfully re-employed with the assistance of his Father in Law.
However, reintegration is about more than just finding gainful employment: there is a wider issue of responsibility to the community. In the immediate aftermath of the initial guilty verdict, in the intervening years between Evans entering custodial custody and his release on license last October – Evans own family, fans and supporters have all engaged in the extreme bullying and doxxing of his victim resulting in 5 changes of identity and address. There are very serious concerns about the use of the campaign website for Evans – set up and paid for by Evans future Father in Law. As Jane Fae noted extensively last October, (and I strongly recommend those articles to you) the website has become ‘the principle vehicle’ for the bullying of the victim by Evans campaign. The concern about the effect of this website is serious – the victims father is waiting for the Attorney General to investigate material which contributes to what he calls ‘trial by website’: that it feeds a belief amongst supporters of Evans that his victim has potentially committed crimes even though she has engaged in no criminal behaviour.
In such a context, then, on what basis do we understand Evans to be ‘reintegrating’ back in to society?
What then is the basis for the assertion that Evans is ‘being’ rehabilitated? What evidence is there that, given the all of the above factors, returning to professional football would be the appropriate manner by which any rehabilitation could be continued or completed? Because if all of the above factors are to be considered acceptable, where does that leave our understanding of rehabilitation as a society?
And if all of the above factors are to ignored – do we even have any reassurance that our society is able to offer rehabilitation to those who want it?
Of course those who support Evans return to professional football because this alone somehow evidences rehabilitation, will also tell you that none of the issues raised above count because Evans maintains his innocence and ‘has a right to do so’.
In which case, why are they even talking about rehabilitation when they don’t believe it is required?