Jessica Ennis, Ched Evans & why standing up is important

EDIT: As of October 14th 2016, Ched Evans has been found not guilty of rape upon appeal. A court of law has found insufficient evidence to convict him of this crime. I still stand wholly with victims of rape & sexual assault, and the brave people who support them. I believe you.

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Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill has today announced she will request that Sheffield United rename The Jessica Ennis-Hill Stand if, as is rumoured, the club offer convicted rapist and former player Ched Evans a further contract. Evans played for Sheffield United on 113 occasions between 2009 and 2012, scoring 48 times. He was released from prison in October 2014 after serving half of a five-year sentence, and continues to protest hi…

BEEP-BEE-BE-BEEP-BEEP-BE-BEEEEEP-BE-BEEP!!!! BEEEEEP!!

Oh I’m sorry, you must excuse me. You see I have a little alarm that goes off whenever a violent crime reaches public attention, and our response is to talk about the person who did it. What have they done in the past/what can they do in the future? Are they guilty/are they innocent? Ched Evans, do tell us, what makes your perfect Sunday?! Enough. We HAVE to consider priorities here, and fast.

In the UK 1 in 5 women aged 16-59 has experienced sexual violence since they were 16. Around 85,000 women are raped & over 400,000 are sexually assaulted every year. Terrifyingly, 28% of the victims of the most violent offences NEVER TELL ANYONE. Consider something painful in your life that you cannot discuss with others. Now consider how many women have been raped or sexually assaulted and have felt unable to tell a single person, poisoning their spirit, their personality, their life from the inside. Do these figures cause you confusion, discomfort, anger? Imagine how the victims themselves must feel. Rape is winning, with the number of reported rapes at its highest ever level; victims are losing, suffering a tortuous silence. It is too lax to say we live in a rape culture; we are living in a rape crisis. It is a horrible phrase to read, but that is why we must read it and act upon it.

Enter Jessica Ennis-Hill. Britain’s athletic superhero (seriously, seven events? I can’t even lift a damn shot-put) hasn’t waited for Sheffield United to contractually rehouse the rapist in front of thousands of fans every week. She acted, she stepped forward and placed her influential voice with those victims who are so tragically underrepresented. In comparison Sheffield United, although offering a condemnation of rape (a ‘value judgement’ apparently shared by the rapist), listed three categories they considered before allowing Evans to train with them again:

  • The views of Staff, the Football League, and The PFA;
  • The views of SUFC supporters and the general public as expressed in numerous letters and emails, social media comments, editorials, supporter websites, public petitions and media coverage; and
  • The public statements of:
    • The PFA
    • Mr Evans

They did not, it appears, consider the emotions their acceptance of the rapist might cause in the victims of sexual assault, not to mention the millions who spend their lives under threat of such brutality. Remember, 1 in 5. Instead of Sheffield United’s cowardly self-protection and fucking ‘value judgements’, think about what even a few open, sympathetic words might mean to people who have suffered, who CONTINUE TO SUFFER, in silence. Just to know that even when you’re struggling to speak, someone is listening. Someone believes you. For a compassionate, understanding handling of this, see the blog I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault.

Does the possibility of Evans’ innocence matter? Of course, we should always be open to potential miscarriages of justice, whilst noting that rape is falsely reported as infrequently as other crimes. Should we be aware of rehabilitating criminals and re-integrating prisoners? Absolutely, it is a sign of a decent society. But these questions are currently a grain of sand compared to the swathes of agonising, silent desert that is our – yes, our – rape crisis. It is that desert we must engage with.

I have had heated debates with those who believe the best action we can take is inaction; we should stand back, not stand up, and not make what one person called ‘a song and dance’ about the issue. Fuck that. The possible space for voices is infinite, and words should be used to their fullest potential. One of the kindest, most excellent things any human can do is to stand up alongside those who, for whatever reason, cannot on their own; to try to represent their emotions and desires, or even better to create a culture where they can do for themselves. I’m standing up for the hundreds of thousands of rape and sexual assault victims who have no voice, and so should you. When we’re comfortable with the situation, when the crisis is over, then we can sit back down.

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