By Sam Saunders
Last Friday, former Wales international striker and Chesterfield player Ched Evans was cleared of rape at Cardiff Crown Court. It was the end of a case that has stretched back to the 30th of May 2011, when Ched Evans was accused of raping a 19-year-old girl who was two and a half times over the drink-drive limit. In 2012, the jury deemed that the woman had been too drunk to give consent and therefore Mr Evans was convicted of rape and sentenced to five years in prison. The retrial last week heard new evidence which came from two ex-boyfriends of the woman that Evans allegedly assaulted which described the woman’s sexual history in court. It is important to stress that this legal action, whilst abhorrent to some, including myself, and very rare in sexual assault cases, was and is, entirely legal and permitted under section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act.
My job and the job of those people giving their opinions on Ched Evans and his case should is not to dispute the facts or discern whether he is guilty or not. Instead, I am of the opinion that we should be commenting on what the possible repercussions of this case could be and if it really changes anything in the lives of football players.
Firstly, I’ve found myself wondering if this case will change the power complex that seems to be symptomatic with some footballers these days, as Evans himself said at the time that he ‘could have any girl’ on the night of the allegation, and said that “footballers are rich, they have got money and that’s what girls like”. He has since retracted these comments but admitted to cheating on girlfriends in the past. This is dangerous as, for whatever ungodly reason, footballers are seen, incorrectly or not, as role models by some people.
This player, capped 13 times for the Welsh national team, should not be behaving in this way or making comments of this nature, particularly as these incidents have been publicised so heavily. As the then chairman of the FA, Greg Dyke, said, “the whole story was pretty sordid in the first place, whether or not it was a rape it was still pretty sordid”.
There are some glimmers of hope on this issue, as Brighton and Hove Albion and Reading football clubs have run sexual education classes to explain the laws on consent to players. On the other hand, the fact that Evans was with another footballer at the time of the incident (who was cleared in 2012) and the prosecution of ex-Sunderland player Adam Johnson earlier in the year for sexual activity with a girl aged 15, still show that there are problems with the way some players treat women and clearly lack a full understanding of the laws surrounding sexual activities.
Another worrying development was the abuse that targeted this woman on Twitter, as well as the fact that she was named on the social network, which lead to nine people being fined £614 under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 1992.
In my mind, this case has clearly highlighted the danger of Twitter when it is used to refer directly to court cases. This experience will be damaging for any woman who is thinking of reporting rape or sexual assault, as the torrent of abuse and public shaming that has been associated with this particular case has been simply disgusting.
The issue with social media in this case is that whilst you can fine people for giving out the name on Twitter, it is impossible to maintain the privacy of the accuser, as the public can easily find the person’s identity and this perhaps signals that there should be serious considerations taken into how this can be avoided in the future.
Ched Evans has been proven innocent of rape, that was the headline news, but the facts the case has brought to light; that this will discourage some women from the already traumatic task of reporting rape against someone in the public eye. The fact that Twitter is a dangerous and inflammatory tool when linked to a case in this way. And, the issues that still surround sexual activity and footballers shouldn’t be forgotten, as the various organisations take stock of all that has transpired over the last five years.