Not long ago, I told a friend of mine that she had ‘joined the Woman Club’ after she woke up in bed with a man she didn’t know very well, who had his fingers inside her. It was a second date, they’d been drinking together and ended up back at his. She told him she didn’t want to do anything and he waited until she fell asleep to decide that he knew better. She rang me crying the next day, furious, ashamed, and adamant she wasn’t going to do anything about it. Partly because she knew she would be blamed for being there at all, and partly because of what we have just seen done in the Ched Evans rape case.
On Friday 14th October, the footballer was found not guilty of rape, almost exactly two years after his release from prison for the crime. It’s the end of a very expensive campaign from the footballer to ‘clear his name’, and it’s included multiple private investigators and a £50,000 reward for anyone who could help lead to his acquittal. The ‘new evidence’, that allowed the case to be reopened, consisted of two men who came forward to describe casual sex they’d had with the 19-year-old waitress. As a consequence – and it is still very, very difficult to understand this – her sexual history was heard in court. Her sexual preferences grilled under oath.
After it was over, outside the court, Evans’ representative read out his statement, about the night that ‘changed my life… forever,’ saying, ‘My innocence has now been established.’
Legally, they found him not guilty – meaning the jurors couldn’t be certain beyond reasonable doubt that he did it – but morally innocent? Nothing about Evans’ actions in the early hours of 30 May 2011 were innocent. In case you’ve missed the horrible detail; after a night out in north Wales with his friend and fellow footballer, Clayton McDonald, Evans went to a kebab shop. CCTV footage shows him in there, pointing at the unnamed girl, who is falling over drunk inside the shop. McDonald later got in a taxi with her, texting Evans that he ‘got a bird’. Evans followed them back to the hotel shortly afterwards, lying to staff in order to get an extra room key. He sent his two friends round the side of the building, to watch from a window. Evans let himself in, had sex with the woman, and left via the fire exit, without – he admits – saying one single word to her before, during or afterwards.
The jury determined that the woman was conscious and coherent enough to give consent (although, just a reminder; the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is very clear that someone can only consent when they have ‘the freedom AND CAPACITY to make that choice.’ Those are my caps). But whatever went on, it’s clear that Evans’ intention was to have sex that night. He let himself into the room, knowing his friend was in there with a drunk girl. He wanted to hear a certain answer and he expected to get it. He said later, during police interviews, that as a footballer he ‘could have had any girl.’ Her consent – and she could’ve been anyone – was largely presumed before Evans entered that room. It's what a lifetime of yesses – with fame and money opening every door - does.
The woman woke up the next morning, naked, with no memory of what had happened. A friend described her arriving on her doorstep, saying, ‘When I opened the door she was crying hysterically. She was sobbing, trying to catch her breath.’ The girl didn’t claim to be raped – that was decided for her – but either way, she’s been living in a kind of awful hell since. She’s had to move house over and over, changed her name and identity at least five times, and a quick, soul-destroying look (that I wish I hadn’t taken) on Twitter shows the vile vitriol goes on and on and on. Calling for her to be ‘shot in the head live on Saturday evening tv’, labelling her a ‘slut’ and a ‘bitch’, naming her again and again, despite her legal right to anonymity. Even callers to a BBC radio show on Monday felt entitled to comment on her sexuality with one listener telling the host: ‘She wasn’t exactly a virgin, was she?’
With this oh-so public, horrifying reaction to a rape case, how do we continue to convince women to come forward? When I told my friend that she was now part of ‘the Woman Club’, I meant that just about every one of us has been subjected to some kind of sexual assault at some point in our life. It starts to feel like the disgusting, sleazy wallpaper that comes with being a woman. And with the degradation of the victim front and centre in this case, what woman out there – my friend included – will feel secure coming forward about their assault? Particularly given the latest rape figures from last week, showing reports have doubled in the last four years, but convictions have fallen again, from an already dismally low 5%.
Ched Evans may be not guilty of rape, but with his disturbing actions that night, and those since – bringing in a victim’s sexual history to a rape case – he has enabled and validated the idea that women who have one night stands are too ‘slutty’ to be raped, and that ‘most’ women lie about being raped (the stats there are more like 5%). He’s not guilty in law, but he’s also a long way from being innocent.