Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Case of Ched Evans

A post on this particular subject has been brewing for a while, so I thought I'd finally give it some air.

I imagine most people are familiar with this sorry tale, but I'll give a brief summary for those who aren't. Ched Evans is a former professional football player who was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman. He appealed against this conviction, but the conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal. He was sentenced to five years in prison in April 2012, and was released on parole in October 2014 after serving half of his sentence.

Evans was accused of raping the victim along with another footballer, Clayton McDonald. They both admitted having sex with the woman, but testified that it was consensual. The prosecution argued that the victim was too intoxicated at the time to consent. McDonald was acquitted. Evans was convicted. Evans continues to maintain his innocence - he argues that he had sex with the woman, but that it was consensual, the same grounds on which McDonald was acquitted. His conviction is currently under review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice.

As the matter stands at the current time, Evans was duly convicted by fair trial in a court of law. Beyond reasonable doubt, he is guilty of the rape of a 19-year-old woman. Until the outcome of the CCRC investigation is known, these have to be taken as facts.

Following his release from prison, Evans has once more been seeking employment as a professional football player. He entered discussions with Sheffield United, his former club, to discuss the potential for a re-signing. Many people argued that it would be inexcusable for the club to sign a convicted rapist, and significant public pressure was brought to bear on the club from members of the public, sponsors and celebrities. Eventually the club stated that it would not be signing Evans.

Subsequent interest has also been expressed from Hartlepool United and Oldham Athletic, with the same public outcry. Both have now backtracked from their offer of work to Evans.

That is a cold statement of the facts thus far. Here's my opinion.

Rape is a despicable crime for which there is no excuse. It is a deplorable and unjustifiable physical violation, and it is absolutely correct that it carries with it a significant criminal sanction. Evans was found guilty of this crime, sentenced, and lawfully released under parole conditions. Notwithstanding the outcome of the CCRC investigation, he thoroughly deserved his sentence.

However, Evans has now been released on parole. In order for this to have happened, The Parole Board must have been convinced that he no longer represents a danger to the community, i.e. he is highly unlikely to rape anyone else. In other words, he has been punished for the crime he has committed, and is now at least partially rehabilitated.

The next phase of his rehabilitation is his re-integration into the community. This has to happen to ensure that he becomes and remains a law-abiding, contributing member of society. An essential part of that re-integration is being gainfully employed. However, because of the understandable social stigma attached to his crime, Evans is being presented with significant obstacles to this.

There are those that argue that he should be barred from professional football. They argue that because he is unrepentant, he should be shunned at every turn, blocked from any occupation that could allow him to contribute to society in any meaningful way, and effectively reduced to a capacity of a menial labourer, as he has no other real skills.

This kind of civil death is a mild form of outlawry. People propose, not that Evans is put beyond the protection of the law, but that he is permanently excluded from society, and treated as an outcast for the rest of his life. This was often the social treatment of convicts in Victorian times, which forced them into perpetual poverty. Their only recourse was to therefore further their life of crime in order to survive.

As the facts currently stand, Evans has committed a despicable crime. He was duly convicted for that crime, and has served the sentence required by the authorities. He has now been deemed fit to return to society, and he wishes to contribute to that society in the only manner which he knows how, i.e. playing professional football. He is unrepentant precisely because he does not feel he has anything to apologise for - he disputes his conviction, and maintains that the accusations were malicious, and that he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Those who apply pressure to clubs looking to potentially employ him, targeting them with boycotts and so on, are of course perfectly free to do so. I would like to ask them to consider the logic of what they are doing. They maintain that they are boycotting organisations who condone rape, but employing someone who has committed a crime does not mean that you condone that crime. It means that you are prepared to look past it and give them a second chance. Should an attitude of forgiveness be punished? Do we want to live in a society which ostracises people for their past acts in perpetuity, or do we want to live in a society that is firm but forgiving?

If we purport to be a society which is rehabilitative and forgiving, then we must try to rehabilitate and forgive people who have committed any crime - even rape or murder. That doesn't mean we refrain from punishing those who have done wrong, but it does mean that once the punishment is over, we must try to help them put their past behind them and move on. Constantly reminding them of their previous actions, and continuing to shun them on the basis of past actions already dealt with, is wrong.

What Ched Evans did was morally reprehensible, and without justification or excuse. However, under the laws of this land, he has been punished for that crime, and thus should not be subject to any further punishments. He should be allowed to work, subject the conditions of his parole and the requirements of the Sex Offenders Register. And people who decry those prepared to give him a second chance should think very carefully about punishing forgiveness.