Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

No Justice for Survivors: the Ched Evans Retrial

Thursday, May 26, 2016

On Friday 27th May footballer Ched Evans will begin proceedings for retrial over a quashed conviction of rape. In 2012 Evans was sentenced to five years imprisonment for the rape of a 19 year old woman at a Premier Inn in North Wales. Clayton MacDonald, also a footballer, had invited Evans into the room by texting that he had ‘got a bird’. MacDonald was accused but acquitted. The courts heard how two other men watched from a window, recording with their phones what was taking place. Evans left via an emergency exit. According to the sentencing statements of the Judge, the woman ‘was in no position to form a capacity to consent to sexual intercourse.’ Despite this, Evans was released having served only half of his sentence. He is now preparing for retrial and the possibility of reentering his high profile position. A number of football clubs have contemplated signing him.

When the sporting industry fails to take a strong stance against the perpetration of sexual violence from within its ranks it contributes to a context of contempt in which the credibility and character of survivors of sexual violence is itself interrogated and assumed to be at fault.

The survivor of Evans’ abuse has been forced to change her identity and move five times in under three years after her name was unlawfully circulated on social media and further threats made against her by relatives, friends and fans of her abuser. The new ‘evidence’ on which retrial is based is testimony from fourteen women and men who knew Evans’ victim: ‘Their accounts are believed to allege ‘significant inconsistencies’ about the lifestyle of the women he raped in the hotel bedroom’. Lifestyle choices, inconsistent or otherwise, should bear no relation to a woman’s freedom from sexual violence and her ability to seek justice against rape.

The Evans’ case highlights the disbelief and dismissal that survivors of sexual violence are subject to. Sisters Uncut counter this: consent cannot be assumed and acquittal does not equal innocence.

Around 90% of victims of rape are women raped by men. Often the victim will be known to the perpetrator: they may be partners or ex-partners. Often the victim is vulnerable or made to be: they might be young, suffering from a mental illness or, as in the Evans case, they might be drunk. Alcohol is a common substance used in instances of rape. Yet the law speaks only limitedly on the effect it has upon consent/capacity which allows, as in the Evans case, for the emergence of stereotypes and skepticism. Despite the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which requires defendants to show that they had taken steps to ascertain consent from someone with the capacity and freedom to properly provide it, research by Vanessa Munro at King’s College London found that some jurors nonetheless felt that ‘as long as a woman was conscious she’d have the capacity to consent or resist.’ Perpetrators exploit ambiguity over the meaning of consent by cultivating conditions in which consent cannot be refused or questions of capacity become confused, a form of coercion often ignored by the CJS. The quashing of Evans’ case plays this out horribly: targeting victims who will attract police pessimism allows for the emphasis of investigations to shift away from the crime of rape and onto the veracity of the victim’s claims.

The government estimates 85000 women are raped each year in England and Wales. This figure is a vast underestimate. In 2013 the ONS reported that just ‘0.5% of females report being a victim of the most serious offence of sexual assault by penetration in the previous 12 months.’ Similarly, only 35% of domestic violence incidents – which would include women sexually assaulted by a current or former partner – are reported to the police. The reports of rape that are made undergo high levels of attrition (referring to the rate at which the number of cases initially reported to police fail to proceed through the CJS because of withdrawal of victims claims or ‘no-criming’ of the offence by police). Women Against Rape have recorded a 40% attrition level in the Metropolitan area. As in the Evans case, victim-blaming and myth-making with regards false accusations of rape helps to explain why rape is such a radically underreported offence. Specialist research commissioned by the CPS shows that the three most common reasons leading victims of sexual violence to withdraw their claims are feeling disbelieved or judged (54%); giving evidence in court (47%); and a belief that the process will be too distressing (31%). As in cases of domestic violence where the perpetrator is known to the victim the risk of retaliation will be high and many women reporting rape fear they will not be fully protected. Indeed, despite the longterm psychological impact of sexual violence, victims who withdraw their claims run the risk of criminalisation and prosecution for ‘failing to co-operate’ with the police.

When criminal court proceedings constitute another act of assault upon survivors of sexual violence women are overwhelmingly deterred from seeking justice and subject to further harassment when they do.

The permissive attitude of the sporting industry over the Evans case is reflected at a governmental level: at only 5.7% the UK conviction rate for rape is shamefully – and statically – low. Given such low levels of conviction, compensation to survivors can function as the only official acknowledgement of crimes of sexual violence. Compensation can help survivors seek recovery and safety. But austerity-era cuts to criminal injuries compensation and legal aid disproportionately deprives survivors of sexual and domestic violence of the security they urgently require. This maps onto a broader political trend of welfare cuts working to deny women legal and social protection.

Sisters Uncut condemn the culture of contempt and disbelief that works to systematically silence survivors of sexual violence while implying immunity for its majority male perpetrators.

The equivocation of the footballing world on the issue of Evans’ re-admittance suggests that women who speak out against sexual violence will be met with suspicion rather than support, will be punished rather than protected. This can only exacerbate the already overwhelming effect of deterrence upon survivors of all kinds of sexual violence, including domestic violence.

Sisters Uncut stand in solidarity with the survivor of Ched Evans’ abuse and with all survivors of sexual violence.