Justice for Ched, justice for survivors
It's pretty rare that a celebrity accused of rape or violence against women and girls actually ends up in prison. In fact, it's pretty rare that anyone accused of rape ends up in prison full stop - after all the conviction rate has been static at 6.5% (http://www.cwasu.org/page_display.asp?pageid=STATS&pagekey=35&itemkey=39) for a good few years. That rate goes up to around 50% once the case reaches court, but the odds on a rape actually reaching court are pretty slim. Only 15% of rapes are reported (http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/130-rapes-per-month-operation-bluestone.html) and those that are might never make it past the reporting stage, being recorded as a 'no crime', reduced to assault or just thrown out all together. So for a woman to report a rape, and for that report to be picked up by the police and the CPS, and for that report to then develop into a man being charged, and for that charge to make it to court, and for that court jury to find the offender guilty - well, let's just say everything very firmly points to that rapist being unequivocally guilty.
And yet, even in the face of the evidence and the conviction, in the case of Ched Evans we have seen members of the public, and a few fellow football players, jumping onto social network sites to defend the indefensible, and to call his victim a liar, a slag and a gold digger. Many have even broken one of the key laws we have to protect victims and survivors of rape by naming her. A hashtag on Twitter, #justiceforched, quickly developed - a hashtag that very rapidly told us just what rape culture is, and just how far men and women will go to deny that rape happens.
#justiceforched is rape culture.
I wish that the reaction to Evans's conviction had come as a surprise. After all, surely by now we should have waved goodbye to an ugly victim-blaming culture that bends over backwards to accomodate the rapist, and engages in linguistic tongue twisters to blame the survivor. And yet we still see it. We still see utter disbelief that rape happens. We still see a refusal to accept that rapists rape. And we still see a lack of understanding that the whole and entire blame for the rape lies with the rapist, not with the victim.
Ched Evans' defenders have cited the fact that the woman he raped was drunk, in an attempt to blame her and not him. They argue that she apparently had consensual sex with another man on the same night. That she allegedly tweeted about wanting to go on holiday. But engaging in consensual sex with one man does not mean that you sign away your right to say no to sex with his friends, or the next guy you meet, or any other man ever. Having a drink with some men, even having a drink with them in a hotel room, does not signify consent. Consent is about meaningfully and knowledgeably and mutually engaging in sex or sexual contact that you want to have. It isn't accepting a drink. It isn't wearing a short skirt. It isn't something that doesn't matter because you've consented once. Sexual contact without consent is rape. Ched Evans is a rapist.
The key to the prosecution's case was that the woman Evans raped was too drunk to consent. This is a cornerstone to the law when it comes to sexual assault and rape, and it is based on the idea that consent needs to be meaningful and mutual - enthusiastic if you like. The law says:
“Section 74 defines consent as “if s/he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice”.
What this means is that if a woman or man is too drunk to consent, then she/he doesn't have the freedom or capacity to meaningfully consent for sex or sexual contact. The emphasis then is on the other person to not have sex or sexual contact with that man or woman. It doesn't matter if we've drank a gallon of wine and a litre of vodka. Because we should be allowed to drink a gallon of wine and a bottle of vodka without being raped. We should be able to have consensual sex with a man without subsequently being raped. We should be able to go out dancing all night long, go to work, go to school, walk down the street, stay at home, live with a man, get married, consensually sleep with 100 men and 100 women, consensually sleep with no men and no women, spend our evenings and days doing whatever the hell we like, without being raped.
And no-one has the right to take that right away from us.
Living in a rape culture means that our right to not be raped is not taken seriously. It means that our actions can be used to absolve the rapists, and blame the victim. It means that when a woman or girl has the courage and support to report the violence committed against her, then her reputation and character can be ripped to shreds and her safety can be further threatened. On the contrary, Ched Evans was named one of the players of the year (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/17818137) and at time of writing his team Sheffield United have not terminated his contract. On the contrary, Polanski is still enjoying full support from his industry peers. On the contrary, Chris Brown is winning Grammies. On the contrary, no-one talks about Michael Fassbender.
Feminists are sometimes accused of scaring women away from reporting rape, with our repeating that the conviction rate is 6.5% and with our expressions of concern about the ways in which women are hurt by rape culture. But I fundamentally disagree with this. We're just being honest. We're not creating or upholding the culture that refuses to believe women and that victimises women who speak out about rape. We're not creating the rape myths that keep the conviction rate low, and we're not the system that reports rape as 'no crime' or fails to see offences convicted. We're reporting back. And we're fighting back. We support the women who are victims and survivors. And we have to tell the truth, because without the truth we can't create change.
My final point about rape culture relates to the final aspect of the Ched Evans case - the sentence. Evans has been sent to jail for five years for raping a 19 year old woman, and I think we can anticipate that he will be out of jail before then. Evans' case was the 3rd one I heard about last week where a rapist was sentenced to 4, 5 and 6 years.
Let's remind ourselves of what Ken Clarke said last year regarding rape sentences:
‘Derbyshire: Under your plans that woman could find… that woman could find the rapist back on her street in a year and a bit. It’s an insult to her isn’t it?
Clarke: The rapist is going to be….very light sentence for a…a year and a bit?
Derbyshire: Yes. A rapist gets five years.
Clarke: Rapists don’t get… rapists get more than that.
Derbyshire: Hang on a minute. Five years on average, yes they do Mr Clarke, yes they do.
Clarke: That includes date rape, 17-year-olds having intercourse with 15-year-olds.’
The Ched Evans case gives us a stark example of the many things that prevent women and girls from coming forward and reporting the violence committed against them. When you see a woman disbelieved and dragged through the mud, to then become a victim of further crime and still, after everything she has been through, see her rapist sentenced for only 5 years, well, it isn't feminists who are at fault for low reporting rates. It's rape culture.