Hazel Croft responds to the disgraceful final verdict in the Ched Evans case, which cleared the footballer of all charges of rape
I am still feeling angry and nauseated by the response to the Ched Evans verdict. There is the vile abuse on twitter and other social media, which I can’t bring myself to look at – coming on top of the sexist abuse the survivor has already suffered for the last four years on social media, causing her to go on the run, moving home and changing her name several times. Then there is the more ‘reasoned’ response by those who ought to know better. On various threads on my Facebook feed I’ve seen it said that it is only ‘exceptional’ that her past sexual history was dragged up in court, that perhaps she did ‘consent’, even though he’s obviously a bastard; that legally he can’t be called a rapist.
This verdict has set things back 30 years, to a time when if you were viewed as the wrong kind of woman, if you had slept with ‘too many’ men or wore the wrong clothes, drank too much etc you were seen as ‘un-rapeable’ – just by being judged as a slut, a whore, a prostitute, too drunk, you were seen to be inviting sex, there for the taking. But we should be clear too that even in the past 30 years the law has not been there for the benefit and protection of survivors of rape and sexual assault – women are still made to feel they are to blame, that in some way they asked for it. Let’s not forget that rape in marriage only became criminalised in 1991. Let’s also not forget that only 15% of cases of sexual violence are reported to the police. And those that are reported, the majority don’t reach the courts, mainly because the CPS don’t think there is ‘enough evidence’, or because the woman doesn’t go ahead – not wanting to relive the trauma, thinking she won’t be believed – and of those that do reach the courts only 5.7% result in a conviction. Rape myths are still widespread – she asked for it, she lead him on, she shouldn’t have gone back to his flat, she’d slept with him before, and so the list goes on. According to Rape Crisis, for example, one-third of people think that women who ‘flirt’ (however that is interpreted) are partially responsible for the rape.
The women’s sexual past is irrelevant and whether she’s slept with the offender previously is also totally irrelevant, whether it’s years or months ago, the day before or on the same day – no means no. But even this is not enough, in my opinion. We should not stop our analysis at narrow legal definitions of consent. Let’s just remember – from the evidence of witnesses, including Evans’ friends who recorded the sex – that she was not in a fit state to consent to sex. She was drunk, and she was unconscious by the time Evans reached the hotel room, to do what he wanted with the ‘bird’ his friend had secured (his words).
Legally, a woman who is drunk is able to give consent, according to the judge in this case. But what kind of consent is that? He did not ask her if she wanted sex. According to reports he did not say one word to her before, during and after sex. Evans has refused to apologise. He had the gall to tell the press after the verdict that we need more education on consent. ‘The best thing is just to be educated. And when they are [too] drunk to think twice about it. How would it look in a court of law?’ he is reported as saying. Not warning against violating, hurting and abusing a woman, emotionally and physically, but about how it would look for the man if he got found out.
We also need to think a little more deeply about what we mean by ‘consent’ in my opinion. Most of the women I know have had some kind of unwanted sexual attention – ranging from verbal harassment, unwanted touching, to pressure to have sex, to violent assault. And how many of us have at some point ended up having sex with someone not because we really wanted to but because it was easier to go ahead than to fight (verbally and/or physically) to try to stop it happening? How many of us didn’t call it rape (as the title of one study put it). Sex shouldn’t just be something we have done to us or that we partake in grudgingly (although with formal consent) because it is expected of us, because the man is insistent, because it’s ‘easier’ (or so we think) not to say no.
In fact, I hate the way the idea of ‘consent’ has been constructed – with its implicit notion that we are consenting to have something done to us, not that we are actively seeking out and participating. Like many women (I’m talking about women here, but this is not to deny that a smaller number of men are also sexually assaulted), I was sexually assaulted by a family member when I was a teenager. I did nothing about it at the time, except to sob, tell one friend, and to think of all the ways I had ‘encouraged’ him – by smiling at the wrong point, laughing at his jokes, unconsciously flirting. It must have been my fault and anyway, I told myself, this is nothing exceptional, it’s what happens. When I later did tell some family members about it, one didn’t believe me and the other brushed it off as being trivial – confirming my fears of telling them in the first place. Yet that assault has reverberated through my life, so much so that I still feel sick and shake when I think or talk about it. It happens, I told myself. It happens too bloody often, and we need to be asking much bigger questions than the law – about the society we live in, about how the structures of power and oppression operate through our sexuality, our bodies, our relationships.