On Friday former Sheffield United forward Ched Evans was released from Wymott Prison amidst public debate regarding his future. Following reports of conversations with Sheffield chairman Kevin McCabe and manager Nigel Clough, which the club have since denied and labelled “speculative”, critics have vociferously questioned whether Evan might be allowed to return to the sport.
The incident in question, which took place in May of 2011 and involved Evans’ then-teammate Clayton McDonald, occurred when McDonald visited a Premier Inn in Rhuddlan, North Wales, in the company of a 19 year old woman. It seemed the pair had sex, after which Evans’ was, according to reports, invited by McDonald to join them and also engaged in sexual intercourse with the woman. The two footballers were reprimanded the following day after the woman in question approached the police asserting that she had been taken advantage of; due to her alcohol induced state she claimed to have little memory of the incident, and stated that what had taken place in the hotel room had been was far from consensual. At the ensuing trial McDonald, who had been viewed on CCTV entering the hotel with the woman was acquitted of all charges while Evans, who claimed to have expected a quick acquittal for himself as well, was received a 5 year sentence. A subsequent hearing at the Court of Appeals upheld the initial verdict, while upon his release Evans’ case has been fast tracked through the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which hopes to return its own verdict “within the next few weeks”.
Evans, who was released having served half of his 5 year sentence, has proclaimed his innocence throughout his conviction. Given that he was found culpable by a jury of his peers, his claims of innocence draw attention to what constitutes the legal (and moral) standards for consent. Evans has always claimed that what happened between himself and the woman in question was consensual, and so the case has prompted the public to question what is considered consent. Excessive alcohol consumption may impair the ability to properly give consent, meaning that in cases of heavy intoxication it is the responsibility of the sober party to take the mental state of the other party into consideration before acting.
Katie Russell, a spokesperson for Rape Crisis, said “football now has an opportunity to send clear messages” over what conduct they find tolerable. The case is also increasing attention for organisations such as hers, yielding both awareness and increased support for such movements.
In purely footballing terms, much has been made of the ethical and moral implications of allowing Evans’ the high pay and significant public profile afforded to footballers. Given the influence Evans’ might have if returned to professional football, particularly over young children, the appropriateness of allowing someone with his personal history such a platform has been questioned, with more than 150,000 people signing an online petition for Sheffield United to refrain from re-signing their former player.
Others, though, have suggested that after fulfilling his legal sentence to the satisfaction of the law, Evans should be allowed to return to work, given that the function of the correctional process is to rehabilitate. Those calling for Evans to be prevented from returning football have, however, pointed out that the rehabilitation central to the correctional process is dependent on accepting responsibility. Webster stated “rehabilitation means accepting you were responsible for what you have done and showing remorse”, suggesting that Evans’ maintaining that his actions were permissible and that consent was provided limit the extent to which he might be considered rehabilitated, thereby influencing the debate over his prospective return to football.
As debate around Evans continues, this footballer does bring light to rape awareness and increased consideration over the meaning of consent may yet provide a constructive end.
How is a case like this able to bring more awareness to non-consensual sex acts?