By George Caffrey
Despite serving two-and-a-half years of a five-year sentence following his conviction for rape, footballer Ched Evans has been acquitted of the charge after a successful appeal.
At this point when discussing this subject, it appears that the correct thing to do is to spend a few a moments condemning Evans, whether he is guilty or not, for his lewd and objectionable behaviour. All of this, I assume, is to make clear your disgust at the crime of rape and to publicly signal that you are not a ‘rape apologist’ as many will be quick to label anyone who they disagree with on this topic. I am not going to do this: it goes without saying and to do so would feed into and legitimise the narrative I object to below.
It has been suggested that Evans’ exoneration has ‘set us back 30 years’ because it ‘threatens women’s right to fair treatment in the courtroom’. The main reason for this is the admission of testimony from other sexual partners of the complainant as a comparison to the behaviour she exhibited during her tryst with Evans. The concern is that this will set a precedent of alleged victims of rape having to discuss their entire sexual past in court. As has been discussed elsewhere, this concern is unnecessary as the case does not set any legal precedent. However, it is my contention that this case is a big step forward in ensuring equal treatment for women under the law.
The issue at hand in the case of Ched Evans, as with all rape cases, is one of consent. One of the claims of the prosecution in this case was the complainant was too drunk to give consent. In fact, the complainant in this case, has never claimed she was raped, she has stated that she cannot remember. (This is just one of the reasons that her treatment by those who have leaked her name or abused her is nothing short of despicable.) It is others who have determined for her that she was raped because she was too drunk to consent. It is at this point that the first inequality between men and women arises. Can men be too drunk to consent? No one has ever questioned the woman’s behaviour during this encounter, she behaved as you would expect a willing participant to behave. This is not a case of woman being unconscious and being violated, the question is only whether she was of sufficiently sound mind to actively consent. If this is the case, had the conviction had stuck, would we have opened the floodgates to men being able to cry rape after a one-night stand on a heavy night of drinking? I suspect not: rightly so. But we should not be holding women to a different standard.
Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Evans’ and his acquittal, actually has very little to do with the particulars of this case. The problem is that it no so much ‘threatens women’s equal treatment’, but rather it threatens the narrative that is gradually being built. That narrative is that women are sexual victims and men are their victimisers. I would not deny that in vast majority of sexual crimes are perpetrated by men against women, but that is not to say that the answer to this problem is to demonise men and relieve women of their own sexual liberty and responsibility. (I realise at this point I will be accused of ‘blaming the victim’ but read the article again, I do not such thing. I might also remind readers that in this particular case, it was determined by a jury of my peers that there was no victim.) This growing narrative has led to universities, among other institutions, running compulsory consent classes in which men are taught how to know when they have gained consent from women; and women are taught how they know when they have been raped. If we work from the premise that all men are potential, or even probable, rapists that need to be stopped, and that women are victims in waiting, how can we ever hope to ensure women’s equal treatment? We must grant women, as well as men, autonomy over their own sexual liberty and the responsibility that comes with it. Thankfully, in this case, the jury did.