As first days at work go, Judy Finnigan’s debut on the Loose Women panel was certainly remarkable. A discussion about the future career prospects of convicted rapist and former professional footballer Ched Evans contained her slightly benevolent opinions towards the man.
This wasn’t a “violent” rape, Finnigan said. It was in a hotel room and the victim was drunk. Evans has “served his time”. Evans may have to “brave” ill-feeling from crowds if he returned to work. Finnigan has since apologised unreservedly for these comments, saying they were “badly worded”.
It’s unhelpful, I feel, to condemn Finnigan any further for speaking clumsily and broadly on rape. Rape is rape: I believe that vehemently. However, I also accept that many women, myself included sometimes, are guilty of self-soothing our dark, daily fears of rape by dividing reports of attacks – and their often thwarted convictions – into subconscious grades of horror.
We might hear of the rapist in an alleyway who leaves a woman with a broken jaw, then hear of a 3am pizza-shop predator like Evans who takes advantage of a 19-year-old – whom he first met as she fell drunkenly on the floor – and somehow think the alleyway rapist seems “worse”. We’re almost saying, ludicrously, that the threat of an alleyway attack involving being chucked on to cold cement, makes the idea of a post-pizza attack, where the victim was assaulted in a hotel room, “a bit better”. Of course this is utter rubbish.
The young woman who was raped by Evans will not be remotely soothed by viewing her sexual assault “comparatively”. And more importantly, a man who sees a solo 19-year-old in a 3am pizza queue – one who is so drunk she will later ask a hotel reception for CCTV to ascertain how she even got there – and sees her as “prey” is just as sickening and prison-worthy as a man in a balaclava crouching behind a wheelie bin.
But while Loose Women discusses Evans’s hazy future as a footballer, one fact is absolutely clear: there is no contrition from Evans about his conviction as a sex offender. None. I have read the rather astounding “Ched Evans was wrongfully convicted” website, which is bankrolled by Karl Massey, his girlfriend’s millionaire businessman father. It is a long, stomach-churning, detailed explanation, condensed from trial notes, of the night in question.
It documents the moment the girl is spotted highly inebriated in the pizza shop twisting her ankle and falling on the floor, to her being cajoled into a taxi by Evans’s friend. It tells of the text from Evans’s friend to Evans announcing he had a girl. It denotes Evans diverting his taxi around to visit the hotel where the girl was and then Evans’s part in the sex attack, including other friends trying to film the event.
It tells of Evans leaving via a fire escape and the young victim’s mother picking her up from the hotel the next day. All the facts of the trial are here, with the underlying message from Evans’s supporters seeming to be: “Isn’t it awful this young man has been accused of nothing?” Plus a “significant” reward for any new information able to rubbish the victim’s claims.
If any “moving forward” could happen with the Ched Evans situation, surely he must first accept the crime he has been convicted of. Evans could show some remorse and use this experience to educate other young men on the thorny but vital issue of consent.
Here is a chance for a young sportsman to stand up publicly and say: “I was accused of rape, which at the time I did not think I had committed, but now I see I behaved heinously and in a predatory manner towards a woman. I saw a female who was unsteady on her feet and at that moment in time she was little more to me than a penetrable object, and this I know now is wrong. I know now that she was far too drunk to be consensual. I was convicted as this was a crime.”
Evans could work within sport and schools attempting to address the problem of rape culture. That would be “moving forward”. Instead, Evans and his supporters protest his innocence and plan his return to football. Their message is, it seems, that if a female has been drinking alcohol, then boys please help yourself. It’s not rape if she can’t quite remember.
Evans, to their mind, should be able to chase a football around a pitch, with the full support of big businesses such as Sky TV or BT Sport and no interference from football’s highest officials. Luckily for them, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor, agrees. “I didn’t know there was a law that said once you come out of prison you still can’t do anything,” he said.
There isn’t a law, Gordon. But perhaps when it comes to footballers convicted of serious sex offences, there should be.