Archive for October, 2014

Ched Evans has Served his Sentence for Rape – Should he Play Football Again?

Posted in Non-fiction with tags , , , , on October 17, 2014 by becciseaborne

In her comments on 15th October, (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/15/ched-evans-sentence-rape), Clare Carlisle encapsulated, to my mind, the essence of the dilemma around this issue for us as a society in our current cultural framework. She identifies our need to find forgiveness (there is so much literature on the healing powers of forgiveness, try http://theforgivenessproject.com/ for information and resources), alongside our desire to set an example and send a message that sexual violence is harmful and wrong. In agreeing with her, I do not mean that victims or survivors should have to find forgiveness towards their assailants; this cannot and should not ever be an expectation placed on those who have experienced sexual abuse. However, no human behaviour occurs outside of or distinct from the culture of the community in which it takes place. As a society we have a duty to understand what has happened in order to find a response that reduces the likelihood of it happening again.

I have worked professionally with survivors of sexual and domestic abuse, and I’ve worked with sex offenders who have served long prison sentences and been through heavy-duty therapy and treatment programmes, who make a genuine commitment to an offending-free life. I have family and friends who have been affected by sexual violence. My thoughts and beliefs here are neither routed solely in the personal or professional (though they partly spring from that place of course), nor are they overly abstract and idealistic. My experiences inform my practice, which informs my thinking, and the same in reverse.

If all we can do as a community is hate, then what can we expect in return but resentment and hatred (however unjustified we might feel that is)? These feelings fuel the sort of permission-giving thinking that leads to sexual violence. Who wants that? Isolation disconnects people from positive influences and the reinforcement of pro-social beliefs and values. What we need is for people to take responsibility for what they’ve done and understand the harm they’ve caused; admitting to these things is difficult for any kind of transgression, let alone something of this magnitude. No one in their right mind is going to do that if they think they’re going to be met with both barrels. That’s human nature, and nearly all of us will have denied something or minimised it to avoid the consequences and the associated emotional stress. We all fear hatred, disgust and stigma. Creating a safe space, by promoting meaningful reintegration into society whilst at the same time not letting anyone off the hook, can go a long way to achieving this sort of shift for people who have offended sexually.

The even better news is that this often delivers things that survivors of sexual violence need too – to be listened to, understood, validated, vindicated. We don’t have to exclude people to deliver these goals and send a strong message to society (and other past, present or future survivors). The message can be, you need to be fully accountable and commit to a new life that will not create any more victims (…survivors).

In the case of Ched Evans, my feeling is that whatever happens should be informed by the extent to which he accepts responsibility and intends to alter his behaviour accordingly. He pled not guilty at court, and put his victim/survivor through the pain and exposure of a trial. This should not be forgotten or left unaddressed. However, there is, in my professional and personal experience, a world of difference between what someone will admit to within in a criminal justice process, and what they may come to explore and acknowledge outside that process, given the appropriate context. The extent to which Ched Evans is able and likely to do this will, almost certainly, depend on the space and support he is given by being allowed to rebuild a life which is connected with his community. This doesn’t mean letting him off the hook; it means seeing the behaviour as distinct from the person and reflecting back to him the hope and belief that he can change and become accepted once more into society.

Katie Russell of Rape Crisis England, rightly highlighted the need for a strong public message that sexual violence will not be tolerated in football (or more broadly); surely nothing could be more powerful than supporting Mr Evans to make a commitment to behaviour change through a full understanding of the damage he has caused? Whilst we must recognise the extent of the damage – on a societal and an individual basis – and respond to the needs of survivors, it does not seem possible to find a sustainable and satisfactory response to sexual harm without engaging meaningfully with all affected parties. I hope Sheffield United consider such issues very carefully, and consult with professionals when considering whether to re-sign him.

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