As a resident of Sheffield I am beginning to hear whispers concerning the Sheffield United player and convicted rapist Ched Evans rejoining the club upon his release from prison. The city of Sheffield, sometimes split in two by its two rival football teams, is apparently divided on this subject also. There are separate petitions doing the rounds on Facebook and other social media sites both to support him returning to the club and to show opposition to the club possibly signing him again.
I also find myself torn on what should be the footballer’s fate once he is released from prison. There is no doubt that he will fare better than many ex offenders after release from prison. Government figures show that 47% of offenders released from prison in 2008 were in receipt of out-of-work benefits within two years of release. Working with ex offenders myself I know first hand of the difficulties that can be faced by somebody who has served the sentence given to them and even taken steps to be rehabilitated, only to face endless obstacles when looking to rejoin and contribute to society. Often the young men that I have worked with have been disadvantaged from birth, growing up in socio-economic conditions and family structures which made doing something meaningful with their lives unlikely. In these cases is in not difficult to feel empathy and aim to help these ex offenders to maximize the life chances they have in the future.
However, in the case of Ched Evans my initial reaction was that a return to his highly paid, high profile job is somewhat of an insult; to his victim, to other rape victims and to any future victims who may feel disheartened about reporting attacks to the police. The reporting rate for sexual violence is already regrettably low and elevating convicted offenders into a role such as a professional footballer is surely sending out a message to rape victims: even if you are believed, even if your attacker is convicted, society will still welcome the rapist back with open arms once their short sentence is over.
My six-year-old son is an avid football fan, a season ticket holder at his local club and an admirer of many professional footballers. These men are his idols, he wants to emulate them and he looks up to them. How would I feel if my son was excitedly telling me he wants to be just like Ched Evans when he gets older? I feel that my duty then, as a mother, a woman, in fact as a human would be to discourage him from this.
This case highlighted to me the patriarchal world of professional football, where young men are given wealth, status and fame beyond their expectations and some appear to think this includes the right to use women as commodities also. Ched Evans still claims to be innocent and, after reading his website, it seems he has little regret about the events that took place that night – apart from that it resulted in a conviction. Even if the victim had consented, which a court of law ruled that she could not have, the act of having sex with a young girl so drunk she could hardly stand minutes after his friend had also had sex with her apparently presents no problem to this young man. Perhaps more worryingly, his girlfriend, family and a large number of football supporters have also accepted this behavior. As long as this remains a common attitude in society it is difficult to see progress being made. Many people have presented the victim in this case as the wrongdoing party, because of alleged tweets she made after the attack, and they paint Ched Evans as a man who has been wronged.
All these things considered, the fact still remains that Ched Evans will be released from prison this year and will continue to live his life, whether that be as a professional footballer or not. As unpalatable as it may seem, the alternatives to him returning to his former profession would be that he remains in prison, is prevented from working at all, or forced to take another form of employment against his will. This may not seem unthinkable when dealing with such a heinous crime as rape, but in reality none of these options are a viable possibility. Being able to rejoin society after imprisonment is a must for a civilized society. There will always be cases, such as this one, where this sits uncomfortably with a proportion of the public, but I believe that when looking at the bigger picture it is a value that must be upheld.
[The image is a photograph of Ched Evans, a white male footballer wearing a red shirt with the number 10 on it. It was taken by Dan Goddard and is in the Public Domain]