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.