Will Ched Evans telling women how to avoid rape be the turning point in victim blaming?

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Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
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Ask a Feminist is our regular column tackling issues on sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. This week, Ask a Feminist contributor, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, despairs at the latest comments from footballer, Ched Evans. 

So here we go again. Another day, another man wading in to offer women advice on what they should do to to avoid being raped.  

And this time, not just any man. This time, former Sheffield United player Ched Evans is having his turn at telling women what to do, warning that drunk women are “putting themselves in danger” because there are “genuine rapists” out there.

The footballer, who was sentenced to five years in prison for raping a 19-year-old woman after a night out, and then acquitted in October last year, has now returned to Sheffield United. And, in an interview with The Times, he claimed that police have an “agenda” when it comes to consent, and that “the easiest one was the drunk one.”

“[I] think that women need to be made aware of the dangers they can put themselves in because there are genuine rapists out there who prey on girls who have been drinking,” he said, before adding:

“A lot of work needs to be done in relation to consent,” and this gem: “I definitely think that the police have an agenda to find ways to charge people and the easiest one is the drunk one.”

Let’s just take a proper look at these sentences for a moment.

Women are “putting themselves in danger”, Ched bemoans, In other words, there is an element of personal responsibility here, and that responsibility lies with the victim. If a “genuine rapist” (I think he means a stranger in a dark alley, a predator, because that is what they always mean) happens to come across you when you are incapacitated, then the fault lies with you. You should have looked after yourself.

The rapist, on the other hand, well. His tendencies are fixed, immutable. How can help but try to possess what is dangled before him, weak and vulnerable and unable to fight back?

Then there is the arrogance of Evans believing that women need to be “made aware” of the dangers of rape. As though we don’t spend every day of our lives since childhood knowing that there are men out there who wish to do us harm, to use and violate and discard our bodies as though they are nothing. As though we don’t cross the street at the sound of footsteps, clutching our keys between our knuckles are we hurry to the safety of home. And for good reason. A recent YouGov poll found that a third of women have been groped in public, and another, that 28% of women feel unsafe on public transport.

Of course, the men who rape women are, in the main part, men who know the victim, making Evans’ tip about “genuine rapists” all the more idiotic.

The entire case was an ugly example of the prejudices that are still held about women who make rape accusations

Unsurprisingly, Evans’ comments have angered those of us who speak out against victim blaming. A court of law may have decided that he is not a rapist (though it must be noted that a conviction of “not guilty” does not strictly mean “innocent” – merely that it cannot be proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the offence was committed), but when it comes to intoxicated women, Evans certainly has form.

The facts are these: he had sex with a very drunk woman, and allowed his friends to watch (they also attempted to film what was happening). He is hardly a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Who is he to be opining on how women should “protect” themselves from rape when the respect that he has shown them in the past has been shockingly absent? Evidence from the re-trail revealed that he did not speak to the woman before, during or after their encounter. He left via a fire exit.

Not only this, but during the course of the whole saga, did Evans do his best to discredit the woman who claimed that he raped her, and he turned a blind eye when she was repeatedly abused as a gold-digger and a slag by his fans. Her right to anonymity was trodden into the dirt when she was repeatedly named – over 6,000 times in fact – by trolls on Twitter. She was forced to change her name and move house. During the re-trial, the woman’s sexual history and behaviour was trawled over in court, setting what women’s rights activists called a dangerous precedent.

The entire case was an ugly example of the prejudices that are still held about women who make rape accusations. We are told that “false accusations” ruin men’s lives, though as Evans has been recently awarded a fee of £500,000, that is hardly the case. It is also worth mentioning that a not guilty verdict does not automatically mean that a false accusation has taken place, merely that the accusation could not be proven. Whether or not his accuser’s life has been ruined we are not to know.

 Conservative commentators often confuse victim blaming with what they see as “basic safety advice”. It isn’t.

When will people tire of advising women on how not to get raped? The attitude is revealed in the phrasing; to “get raped” implies a degree of involvement in the process, a seed of responsibility. Men are never told not to rape; instead the onus falls on women to not “get themselves” into a situation that may lead to it. Conservative commentators often confuse victim blaming with what they see as “basic safety advice”. It isn’t. There isn’t anything wrong with following safety advice by walking home with a friend or not leaving your drinks unattended, carrying a rape alarm or making note of a taxi’s numberplate. But it doesn’t mean that if you do all these things that you essentially had it coming. And this line of thinking fails to acknowledge that this safety advice always seems to revolve around notions about female drunkenness and promiscuity that have their roots in deeply sexist ideas about what constitutes acceptable behaviour for women.

If a man is mugged while he is drunk, he is rarely, if ever, condemned for somehow having “allowed” it to happen.

These comments have come during a week when the BBC’s dramatization of the horrific Rochdale abuse was made with the very aim of highlighting the widespread damage that can be caused by victim stereotyping and victim blaming.

Furthermore, just to be clear on the nature of the majority of rape scenarios,  90% of rapes are committed by men who the victims already know and many of these occur when the victim is sober. So the idea that the vast majority of rape victims are wandering the street drunk is pure fiction. And yet the “safety advice” never seems to be “girls, avoid all the men in your acquaintance, in case they rape you.”

As our dismally low rape conviction rate (5.7% of reported rapes ending in a conviction) proves, rape can be extraordinarily hard to prove, especially when there is alcohol involved. Drunkenness has implications when it comes to juries trying and establish witness testimony. But Evans lacks the intelligence to say this. I doubt he has even given it a second thought. The main purpose of his comments seems to be to distance himself from all these “genuine rapists.” I do not believe for a second that his heart is in the right place

Send your feminist dilemmas to Ask a Feminist editor harriet.hall@stylist.co.uk and she'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand.