Ched Evans playing for Sheffield United in 2012. Photo: Getty
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Ched Evans and Ma’lik Richmond: why should rapists get a second chance to be celebrated?

Sports stars who are convicted of rape get to return as heroes on the field. If there were justice for women, rape would be a crime that makes us all turn in disgust from the perpetrator.

Update, 14/10/16 : On 14 October 2016, Ched Evans was found not guilty of rape following a retrial. This article was published before this new verdict. 

Most rapists get their second chance. It’s worth remembering that as we argue over the rehabilitation of two sports stars and convicted perpetrators of sexual violence, Steubenville high school wide-receiver Ma’lik Richmond (convicted of rape in 2013 alongside teammate Trent Mays, released from juvenile detention in January this year and now training with his school team again) and Sheffield United’s former star striker Ched Evans (convicted of rape in 2012, due for release in October and apparently expectant of a return to Bramall Lane). As rapists, these men aren’t exceptional so much because of their talent or fame, but because they got caught at all.

Of 100 complaints of rape to the police in England and Wales, only 6 per cent will ultimately result in the accused being convicted of rape. There are ways of making this figure look less dreadful. For example, because some of the accused will be convicted of offences other than rape, the attrition rate is actually 12 per cent. Focus only on cases brought to trial, and things become even brighter: the conviction rate in 2014 was 60 per cent. But what about the victims who never even make it as far as the police desk? According to a 2004 study by Walby and Allen, only 20 per cent of rape victims report the crime at all.

Suddenly the denominator swells alarmingly. Crudely combining all this data produces the rather sickening possibility that for every 100 rapes, only one will lead to a man being convicted as a rapist. (And yes, 98 per cent of rape defendants are men. Rape, as if this needed to be repeated, is overwhelmingly a crime of male violence against female bodies.) That great majority of rapists who will never encounter justice are free to carry on with their lives: they go to work, they see their families, they go out with their friends. A significant number of them rape again, and again: when a backlog of abandoned sexual assault kits was tested in Detroit, 100 serial rapists were identified from the first 1,600 kits.

So when I resent the return of Richmond and Evans to their “normal” lives, maybe there’s an unfair sense in which I want the few convicted rapists to be punished for the all those crimes against women that will never be subject to the law. That, I know, is not justice, but then there’s a very strange public view of what “justice” is in both these cases anyway. Despite the laws that are supposed to protect their identities, the victims have been widely named and their photographs circulated; they’ve been abused as “stupid” and “sluts” and “liars” and worse, and threatened with further violence. Meanwhile the perpetrators have lost very little: they’re frequently referred to as though they were the wronged party in these cases, even though their lives seem to have been there, waiting for them to return (an unusual privilege for the imprisoned).

When Evans’ supporters talk about “Justice for Ched”, they mean exonerating their hero (Evans was refused leave to appeal in November 2012) and shaming the woman they see as responsible for his punishment. The attitude is a strangely contradictory one, although completely consistent with the warped public attitude we have to women’s bodies: of course no one doubts that rape is a terrible crime, it’s just that they don’t think that the terrible crime happened in this case (the jury was unanimous that it did), and even if they accept there was a rape, it probably wasn’t that bad anyway. A caller to Radio 2 on Thursday described Evans as “a naughty boy”, as if forcing one’s erect penis into an unconsenting woman were an act of mere childish mischief.

Richmond is infantilised into irresponsibility too, although given that he was only 16 when convicted, it’s more understandable: notoriously, a CNN reporter relaying the verdict in his trial told her audience that it was “incredibly difficult . . . to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their life fell apart”. And though I share the mass revulsion those words inspired, reading Ariel Levy’s detailed account of the case, I do understand how Richmond made a sympathetic figure, a tearaway kid turned good by football. That is understand, up to the point where Richmond says that he hasn’t broken any code by “fooling around with someone his friend had been involved with”. The victim, he says, was “community property”.

When we excuse rape, we condone the belief that women are things and not people, objects for penetration that should be careful how they comport themselves if they want to avoid getting penetrated. When Richmond and Evans return to the field, they will return as heroes – not just sporting heroes now, but heroes of masculine violence. When their fans chant for them, some of them will chant about rape, chants that glorify men for the assault on women while demeaning the idea that an assault on something as barely-human as a woman could count as a crime at all. And this, after all, is what I object to: not that criminals should have a second chance at life, but that rapists have a second chance to be celebrated.

If there were justice for women, rape would be a crime that makes us all turn in disgust from the perpetrator. We would see rapists as what they are – men who have committed one of the ultimate acts of denying female humanity, men who have performed an act of intimate savagery by penetrating the bounds of a woman’s body against her wishes. If there were justice for women, the shame, disbelief and misogyny that lead to the 6 per cent attrition rate for rape conviction would not exist. If there were justice for women, Richmond and Evans would be humbly recusing themselves from the world while they await forgiveness – they wouldn’t be gently settling back into the lives they had before. But there is no justice for women. And these two rapists, like so many other rapists, get to go on with their lives.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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