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Ched Evans Rape Case: A Woman’s Sexual History on Trial

Ched Evans, the footballer who was previously found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room, has had his conviction overturned following a retrial that found him not guilty of the sexual assault. Evans, who followed his friend to a hotel after texts between the pair noted that he had got ‘a bird’, had sex with the complainant as his friend and half-brother filmed through the window.

Despite acknowledging to police that he did not speak to the woman before, during or after sex, Evans insisted that she consented to the encounter.

The woman was so drunk that she woke up in the morning with no memory of the encounter; much of the initial trial focused on whether she was too intoxicated to consent. The retrial, on the other hand, has provoked outrage and complaints due to its focus on the complainant’s own sexual history rather than the events of 30th May 2011, when the incident took place in Wales.

Sexual history and consent

During the retrial, two men were presented as witnesses whose interest in the case was that they were former sexual partners of the complainant. These days, a judge must agree that a victim’s sexual history is relevant to the case for it to be brought up, and judge Lady Justice Hallett believed that it was. This ‘relevance’ is highly spurious, because it relies on the idea that the two footballers’ accounts of their sex with the complainant contain similarities to the experiences of her previous, consensual sexual partners.

Those similarities? That they had sex in a ‘doggy style’ position and that she asked them to fuck her harder.

They are hardly circumstances that are unique to that one woman.

What’s more, for these arguments to be relevant in the case, surely Ched Evans would have had to know in advance how this young woman had behaved with other sexual partners. He didn’t, though, until the witnesses came forward at a later date.

Plus, as Rape Crisis Scotland explains, “Neither of the initial statements of these two men mentioned these supposed similarities, which only appeared in subsequent statements following Ched Evan’s conviction and the offer of a £50,000 reward for information by Evan’s team.” The prosecution in the case suggested this had the ‘air of a bribe’, but the judge disagreed.

Another ‘relevant’ area that Lady Justice Hallett ruled upon was that the woman had apparently had sex with one of the witnesses two weeks after the alleged rape had taken place. That, in itself, was seen as evidence that nothing had happened, as if every rape victim reacts in the same way to being assaulted.

The truth is that, while some victims have no desire for sex after being attacked, that does not mean that that is universally the case. There are any number of reasons why someone may want to go on to have consensual sex, and these do not cancel out the reality of an assault.

Consenting to sex with one person does not mean that consent with anybody else is implied. Just because she chose to have sex with the two witnesses does not mean she agreed to sex with anybody else. And just because she was judged able to consent to sex with Evans’ friend does not mean that anybody else was invited to walk in and take over.

Asking an alleged victim and her previous sexual partners to detail their sexual experience and preferences in front of a crowded courtroom is humiliating and embarrassing for a woman who has gone through a difficult experience. Rape Crisis Scotland confirms that “The Ched Evans case has highlighted that outdated notions about women’s sexuality are still being played out in courtrooms across the UK.  Women regularly tell Rape Crisis that they do not want to report their rape because of fear that their personal lives will be exposed in court”.

So, if the criminal justice system wants victims to continue to report their sexual assaults, something must change.

Complainant guaranteed anonymity; social media laughs at her rights

The complainant in the case is entitled to lifelong anonymity, regardless of the outcome of the trial. However, she has been named numerous times on social media and has had to move house and even change her name to escape bullies who attacked her in support of their favourite football player. Naming her is a criminal offence under Section 5 of the Sexual Offences Amendments Act and yet, following the retrial verdict, I saw her name being tweeted again with impunity.

Within an hour of last Friday’s verdict, Laura Bates reported that the complainant had also been called a bitch, a cunt and a whore and threatened with obscene physical violence.

This is another example of circumstances that will, without doubt, put assault victims off reporting their rapes. Can anonymity be truly guaranteed when punishments for revealing the name of the complainant in this case were paltry? Anonymity in the age of social media is an issue the police should be working to guarantee, to reassure victims that their legal rights will be upheld.

Not guilty

Evans and his millionaire father-in-law spent a lot of money on legal defences and private detectives over the course of this case. However, it is important to remember that a ‘not guilty’ verdict does not mean that the complainant lied. It does not even necessarily equate to ‘innocence’. Instead, it means that the jury decided that the prosecution team had not proven, beyond reasonable doubt, that the woman in question had not consented to sex with Evans that night.

It should no longer be acceptable that a high-profile case could be managed in a way that humiliated and exposed its complainant, and the impact on future victims remains to be seen. Nobody can blame someone who has been through an extreme trauma for not wanting to make their lives even worse as men in wigs pick over their consensual sexual encounters alongside their assaults in front of a watching crowd. And, if this is what we can expect from the justice system, it is no surprise that many are pledging to avoid it altogether.

Photo: Jon Candy/Flickr

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Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women's issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.

One thought on “Ched Evans Rape Case: A Woman’s Sexual History on Trial

  1. As a mother of two young girls, I am very distressed at how rape culture in the U.S. and abroad seems to be growing – thanks in part to the judicial wrist slaps which do more to shame the victim that punish the abuser.

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