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.
Everyone deserves a second chance. This maxim is particularly applicable to our justice system – and even more so to that of the United States, where, as a result of a series of racist laws and judgments, there are now more black men incarcerated by the penal system than had their liberty restricted by slavery. But second chances are not unconditional. We should ask those convicted of a crime to serve their sentence and demonstrate contrition before they are allowed to continue their lives. Neither of these conditions has been fulfilled in the case of the former Sheffield United and Wales footballer Chedwyn Michael “Ched” Evans, who has been seeking a new club since his release from Wymott prison in Lancashire after a conviction for rape.
The current club linked to Evans is Oldham Athletic of League One; it faces an online petition with more than 56,000 signatures and criticism from influential supporters and public figures. Despite this, it is reportedly poised to sign him, meaning that rape survivors could soon find themselves standing in a crowd cheering on a convicted rapist.
Initially, Evans’s old club, Sheffield United, had seemed likely to take him back on his release but it backed down in the face of huge public opposition and the resignation of several of its patrons. In a gruesome twist, when the Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill asked for her name to be removed from a stand at the Sheffield United stadium if Evans was re-signed, she was abused and threatened – with rape.
In support of Evans, it has been argued that we are witnessing “mob justice” against a man “who has served his time”. This is not quite correct. Evans was given a five-year prison sentence, of which he served half before being released on licence (this is why he cannot sign for any club which would require him to play abroad). Second, he is not contrite – indeed, he maintains his innocence. This is his prerogative – but what is not acceptable is the smear campaign that he and his girlfriend’s family have mounted against his victim. If you want to see the encouragement of mob justice, look no further.
A Google search of his name reveals a website dedicated to protesting his innocence, funded by his supporters. It offers “evidence” such as the CCTV footage of the 19-year-old victim arriving at the hotel near Rhyl, where the offence occurred in May 2011. This shows, according to the website, that the woman was not “too drunk to consent” to have sex with Evans and his co- defendant, a fellow footballer named Clayton McDonald, who was acquitted. The CCTV footage is mentioned by supporters of Evans as if it debunks the whole case against him, even though the jury knew of it and watched it. The difference is that the jurors had the benefit of hearing the rest of the evidence, which the legions of armchair detectives encouraged by the website have not. The Attorney General is now investigating the website.
It is telling that so many people feel energised over the plight of Ched Evans while his victim’s fate is largely ignored. While Evans was in prison, the young woman was repeatedly named on social media. In November 2012, nine people were convicted of breaching the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, which prohibits identifying rape victims, and fined them £624 each. The woman has now had to move house five times in order to escape harassment and her father has said that because of the website footage, she is, in effect, “on trial every day”. Amid all the talk of giving Ched Evans a second chance, we should ensure that his victim is given one.