By Elizabeth Butterworth (this article also appears in Solidarity and the Workers Liberty website)
Last week, the footballer Ched Evans was cleared of rape after appealing against his 2012 conviction. This does not mean that he did not rape victim X, or has “proved his innocence”, but that the jury had “reasonable doubt” about whether he had raped X or if she had consented to sex.
Reports of the trial’s proceedings suggest that the events were as such: X was engaged in sexual activity with Clayton McDonald, another professional footballer, who was acquitted of rape in the original trial. Evans then proceeded to have sex with X without having spoken to her, while Evans’s younger brother looked on from a window.
X has testified that she cannot remember any of these events due to being too drunk. Evans’s lawyers claimed that she had “directed” events by saying things like “fuck me harder”. The evidence in this re-trial apparently hinged on the testimony of two men who had had sex with the victim on other occasions, and attested that she had said similar things to them as what Evans had claimed in the original trial.
It is difficult to “prove” rape, in terms of being able to show a jury that the victim was not consenting and the defendant was aware that (s)he could not or did not consent, which is what this case rested upon. However, it is difficult to see why the Court of Appeal deemed that this evidence was compelling enough for a re-trial.
It is worrying that the victim’s sexual history was brought into the trial. The implication is obvious: that, because she’d had casual sex or drunken sex on other occasions and said things that suggested she liked having sex, it was simply a case of her having done that again. Which raises the question, do women need to police themselves to the point of not being able to have casual sex or not being able to drink, in order for men not to rape us? To which the answer is, no, men should know to leave drunk women alone and that each time someone has sex, consent must be sought first.
What I’ve read about the Ched Evans case from the perspective of criminal lawyers does not suggest wide legal implications in terms of setting new precedent. This trial, and other rape trials where there is some level of “victim blaming”, do set a cultural tone, however. In the Daily Star, their columnist Helen Wood rants, “These silly bitches who need a good slap of reality should stop and think…
“We’re all meant to get our violins out because they’ve had to change their names five times, if she’s stuck on a new name for in future, C*** would be a good one…. Hope this case has set a lesson for all the ladies out there trying to scar people for a dollar, if you drop your kecks, deal with the walk of shame, quit trying to frame.”
X has had to change her name five times and is, according to some sources, considering moving abroad due to the harassment and abuse she has suffered both on and off-line. The abuse, like Wood’s disgusting tirade (which, let’s not forget, was published by a newspaper with about 430,000 readers), centres around X being labelled a slut, a bitch, money-hungry and a liar: all classic misogynist tropes.
The simple fact is that pretty much every woman I know has been a victim of sexual assault or rape. And has been sexually harassed countless times.
I’ve reported being assaulted to the police and had to deal with total incompetence, inertia and non-existence of resources. I went to the police after a friend was assaulted with a knife and, after hours of painful interviews, the assailant was slapped with a fifty quid fine and no criminal record. I’ve been raped, twice, by two different boyfriends. I’ve also walked down the street and been grabbed. When I shrank away and asked them to leave me alone, I was followed and called a bitch and a cunt. I’ve changed my mind and not gone through with sex, at which point the man I was seeing got extremely aggressive and I had to literally run away.
In fact, any time I have challenged men — even “nice men” — over their behaviour, they become aggressive and sometimes violent. They believe they are entitled to make lecherous comments, to look up women’s skirts, to stare down our tops and to intimidate us. And despite having had relationships with both men and women, and having been dancing in many gay clubs as well as straight, I’ve only once felt that a woman was going “too far”. The hundreds of other times have all been men.
We have a huge problem of misogyny in society. I mean actual women-hating, not just sexism. What else is it when you don’t think someone has a right to ownership over their own body and what happens to it? This is perpetrated by lots of men, who seek to show their dominance, and exert power.
And it is backed up by the internal misogyny of women like Helen Wood, who try to differentiate their womanhood from that of the “silly bitches”.
Rape is on the books as a crime. And the word and idea of “rape” is sensationalised. Yet, the reality of women’s lives is that rape is pretty “normal” and common. And due to the inertia of the police, the brutality of the courts system and the cultural bias of juries, many of us don’t see the point of reporting, let alone pursuing the case and taking rapists to court.
The victim in the Ched Evans case is my hero for reporting and taking the case to court. In the end, Evans may have been cleared, but at least this has drawn attention to the very real problems we face as a society.
Until the women are free, the people cannot be free. Until men realise that women need to be empowered at every level, we will not be successful as a movement or as a class.