On Wednesday, five days after being released from prison having served half of a five-year sentence for rape, former footballer Ched Evans released a video statement. In it, he once again insisted that he's not guilty of “that”, and chose instead to focus on repenting his crimes of "infidelity". In the process, he ends up apologising to everyone but the girl he raped.
It's impossible to watch the statement and not imagine at least three PR people stood behind the camera, mouthing the words out to him. It's classic image-management-on-a-budget: the dull, glazed-eye delivery; the doting, dutiful girlfriend, holding his arm, occasionally lifting her big eyes in a gesture of forgiveness; the muted black-stripes-with-a-black-tie outfit.
But let’s be real here. This isn’t an MP being accused of having an affair, wheeling out his wife and children for an impromptu press conference at the bottom of his gravel driveway – “I did not know that man and that woman and those two other men and all those melting candles were part of a Sun sting, and I love my wife very dearly. Sorry about that thing you all saw me do with an aubergine” – this is a convicted criminal trying to stage-manage his prison exit in a way that transitions him, as smoothly as possible, back into a highly paid footballing gig.
That’s just Evans’ endgame, though. And at the moment, the PR machine he’s whirring into life to help him get back to the top is working against him.
Take a look at the video statement again. It’s meticulously worded. He refers to his “act of infidelity” as “an incredibly foolish decision”: “By cheating on my partner Natasha, I hurt the woman I love with all my heart. Since that night I’ve constantly regretted my act of infidelity, and the damage that has been done – on so many fronts – because of it […] It can’t have been an easy thing to have stood by someone who the courts found guilty of such a destructive act.”
Yes, that destructive act. We are talking about rape. Evans is tiptoeing around the crime that a jury found him unanimously guilty of and there’s a complete absence of ownership or condemnation. All possible guilt is dusted off his hands. The video closes with 40 seconds about how he’s pretty good at kicking footballs, then a couple of promises of humility and a thank you. Fin.
Crucially, though, much of Evans’ attempts at name-clearing still come at the expense of his victim. The website chedevans.com – carefully maintained by his girlfriend, Natasha Massey, throughout the duration of his sentence – takes advantage of a Ministry of Justice loophole that allows prisoners who maintain their innocence to represent their case online through a third-party. Which would be fine, if the crux of his defence didn't rest on how the victim’s account of the evening is, basically, bullshit.
Alongside a video of CCTV footage taken from the Premier Inn where the event took place, the website questions the victims’ ability to walk in heels and remember pizza. “Somebody incapable drunk would find it incredibly difficult to walk in them,” the website asserts. “Never mind having the cognitive ability of remembering the pizza.” For me, remembering I left a pizza on a pavement is one of my most primitive, base functions. Remembering pizza doesn’t make you ready for sex. It makes you human.
Ched’s supporters have also gone to great lengths to dispute the victim’s story based on a bunch of since-deleted and out-of-context tweets about how she’d spent the money after “winning big”. The quiet subtext to this – and to demanding to see her deleted Facebook messages, sent on the night – seems to be, "How dare she use social media, doesn’t she know she’s ruined a man’s life?"
It raises the question: Are rape victims suddenly transformed at the moment of the attack? Should they, thereafter, live their lives with their heads down, not causing any trouble, dimming all urges to want to go on holiday to Barbados or in any way enjoy some small outcome from the trial? Should they just stay at home in their pyjamas and think constantly about what has happened to them? Because the unwritten message behind chedevans.com is: We don’t believe you.
This plays into one of the biggest fears women have about their reporting of sexual assaults being taken seriously. There are an estimated 78,000 rapes in the UK each year. Of those, just 16,041 are reported. Of those reported, an astonishing 13,168 (82 percent) are not prosecuted. Of the 2,873 cases that make it to court, 1,026 will be found not guilty. 694 will just fall by the wayside and be discontinued. Just 1,153 will actually end up with a conviction.
The odds of being convicted for rape (70/1) are, if it helps put it in perspective, about the same as the odds for Arsenal winning 4-0 against Sunderland this weekend, with Danny Welbeck the first scorer. They are long and remote, dependent on myriad variables going in the court’s favour. It’s possible, but not in any way definite. A long shot. A punt.
Ched Evans managed to get a conviction, though. Before a jury of his peers, he unanimously managed it. He put four past Sunderland and Welbz was first scorer. Fast forward two and a half years, and his victim has felt the need to move away from her friends and family to assume a new identity. A relentless campaign to muddy your version of – frightening, life-staining – events will do that to a person. And he keeps on kicking, keeps denying a crime happened.
There’s still the business of whether or not Ched Evans should be allowed to play football again. No club has yet moved to sign the striker, although Nigel Clough, the manager of his former club Sheffield United, has confirmed that his higher-ups are certainly thinking about it. But despite the PFA weighing in, and the fact that Lee Hughes (three years, dangerous driving), Marlon King (nine months, stolen goods; 18 months, sexual assault and ABH; 18 months, hit-and-run) and Joey Barton (71 days, assault) have been allowed to play after serving time in the recent past, we’re no closer to answering the question: Just because you’re good at football, should you actually be allowed to play football? Evans’ case may be polarising, but his return to the sport seems grimly inevitable.
Which makes his post-prison conduct all the more puzzling. With the video statement, he’s saying: “I want to clear my name.” With the website, he’s saying, "The victim’s story is questionable." At no point does he say: “I’m going to own this conviction and become a role model for young men.”
Evans’ is an exercise in self-preservation that comes at the victim’s expense. It doesn’t matter that he put a muted shirt on and sat his girlfriend down next to him, because his return to football may well be a foregone conclusion. In his reluctance to apologise, he’s denying his victim – who already has to live a totally new and alien life, constantly worrying she may be re-exposed – any kind of closure. And now he wants to score sympathy points by reading aloud, very slowly, about how he’s sorry he cheated on his girlfriend.
If Evans believes he has been wrongly convicted, fine – there’s the appeal system in place for just that. But his post-prison conduct isn’t winning anyone over. If Ched can deal with playing football again – the chanting, the booing, the fact that if Lee Hughes and Marlon King are anything to go by, you’ll never really find top-level form again – then he’ll surely find a club. But until that happens he needs to shut up and stop making it worse.
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