Ched Evans, rape and rehabilitation

Ched Evans playing for Sheffield UnitedTwo high-profile cases of men who have been convicted of rape, but who are now up for (or in) plum jobs, have been in the news recently. One is Ched Evans, a footballer who formerly played for Sheffield United (and who they are considering letting play for them again), the other is David Mason, who raped a 12 year-old when he was 19, and who is now a 24 year-old apprentice at Jamie Oliver’s “Fifteen” restaurant.

Both were convicted, and both have served some time in prison. You or I might think that they served too short a prison sentence – and maybe some readers might even think one or both of them innocent – but most of us have little option but to trust the court findings, both in respect of the conviction and the sentence. That’s what one needs to do, in cases of relative ignorance, because others have access to more information than we do.

The interesting issues now are the non-legal ones: should Jamie Oliver give Mason this prestigious job, or rather give it to some other person, found guilty of another crime (“Fifteen” was established on the premise of being a rehabilitative opportunity for people with troubled pasts)? Should a prestigious club, in a sport known for its laddish culture, involving countless instances of misogyny and fair numbers of rapes, allow Evans to represent them again?

I don’t believe that any crime is, in principle, something that one should be punished for for the rest of one’s days. This doesn’t mean forgiveness is necessarily merited, but simply that the punishment can be disproportionate to the crime if you end up never being able to ply your trade or hold a prestigious job.

Mason was 19 when he committed the act of child-abuse. He should have known better. But we also know that before the late 20’s, male brains are impulsive, and don’t assess risk well. I say this not to excuse him, but simply to make the point that I’m not sure how good a predictor a single act of child-abuse by a 19 year-old is of his future behaviour.

Because if we are not going to punish someone forever, and we reach some sort of agreement on how long they should be punished for, the most important issue seems to be whether he’s a continuing threat, or someone who regrets what he has done, and appears to be rehabilitated. If he does, then I can understand Oliver making the decision to employ him.

If we’re not going to allow people to resume normal lives after serving an appropriate sentence, we shouldn’t let them out of jail. There’s no comfort here for their victims, to be sure, but I don’t think that we should encourage victims, and society at large, to understand perpetual retribution as “comfort” either.

Evans is more problematic. According to The Telegraph, the “woman said throughout the trial that she had no memory of the incident. Evans maintains his innocence, claiming that the sex was consensual.” Yet, the court found him guilty, so as I say above, that’s the basis on which we need to proceed.

That’s also the basis on which Evans, his family, and Sheffield United need to proceed. And unfortunately, friends and one family member of Evans were among those to name the woman he raped, on social media, resulting in such abuse by supporters of Evans that she had to move home and change her identity.

In light of this, Evans certainly has something to apologise for, even if he thinks he’s innocent of rape. He should apologise for his role in having caused the abuse, and he should certainly urge his supporters to stop abusing the woman in question, who was certainly harmed after being outed, regardless of how much she was harmed on the night in question.

Yet Evans has apparently not apologised for anything, nor shown any remorse. Hadley Freeman tells us that he’s due to release a “profound and personal” statement next week – but even if this does amount to an apology, I’d imagine that many of us will consider it somewhat forced by circumstance and opportunity, rather than sincere.

Sheffield United are perhaps waiting to see what he says. But in the case of Evans, with the absence of any contrition, and in the context of football’s apparent misogyny (or at least its trivialising of a culture of fairly crude masculinity), I do think it’s inappropriate for him to resume business as usual, and that neither the club, nor the Football Association, should be perceived as supporting him in doing so.

We do need to hear what he says next week, though – and as I said at the top, I do think that we can’t justify punishing someone for ever.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.