Belfast Telegraph

Ched Evans is not alone in having warped opinions on rape

By Eamonn McCann

Ched Evans is not alone. The former Sheffield United striker appears genuinely to believe that what he did to a 19-year-old at a Premier Inn in his home town of Rhyl in May 2011 did not amount to rape. Almost all women and most men have been puzzled and angered by his acceptance of the evidence but adamant refusal to admit that he is a rapist.

Evans' understanding of rape may have seemed to him to have been validated by the evident fact that while his is a minority view, the minority isn't insignificant. This helps explain, too, the approach of those who argue the he should be allowed to play football again.

Sheffield United had paid Manchester City £3m for Evans in 2009. This was obviously a factor in co-chairman Kevin McCabe and manager Nigel Clough turning up for a visit at Wymott prison in April last year to discuss how they might co-ordinate a return to Bramall Lane. The club wanted its money's worth.

The theory that football "culture" played a role has been underpinned by the intervention last Thursday of the Professional Footballers' Association general secretary Gordon Taylor, who observed that: "He wouldn't be the first person to be found guilty, maintain his innocence and been proved right. We know what happened with Hillsborough."

Taylor is reputedly the highest-paid union official in the world, picking up a million pounds a year. Strangely, he is scarcely ever mentioned in media polemics against "union fat-cats". Football isn't ordinary life, and footballers and their representatives therefore not run-of-the-mill people, but special ones, not to be treated like common citizens.

That said, football on its own does not supply a complete explanation, either. Andy Ormerod-Cloke has no connection with the game. He's a civil servant employed as private secretary to treasury minister Vince Taylor. Last Thursday, during a discussion of the Evans affair on Question Time on BBC, he tweeted that: "I'd query how many have looked at the details rather than symbolism of rapist-footballer... On the facts of the case, probably not guilty."

Ormerod-Cloke subsequently deleted the tweets and apologised. But he, like Taylor, had offered the opinion off-the-cuff. It can hardly be seen as the opinion of the pair of them only and a few unrepresentative others.

Evidence comes from a survey of student attitudes to rape, published in the current edition of Newsweek. (Data on the subject is much more readily available in the US than in the UK.)

The survey arose from an investigation by Rolling Stone of an alleged gang rape at a “frat party” at the University of Virginia. The Rolling Stone report has since been discredited. But the controversy it generated refocused attention on a large-scale 2007 survey of sexual assault at two other major universities. The survey, funded by the US Department of Justice, involved more than 5,000 interviews. It found that “women at universities are at considerable risk for experiencing sexual assault."

As a result of the controversy - UVA is a prestigious institution - the findings of a 2007 survey of sexual assault at two major universities came back into focus. The survey, funded by the US Department of Justice, involved more than 5,000 interviews. It found that "women at universities are at considerable risk for experiencing sexual assault".

A follow-up two years later found that by the time of graduation, 20% of women had experienced sexual assault. (Some 4% of men also reported sexual assault.)

Close on 60% of the campus victims had been drunk or under the influence of drugs when attacked. The assailants were as likely as not to be known to the victims or moved in the same circles.

A separate investigation found that 32% of college men admitted that they'd rape a woman if they thought there'd be no consequences - but only 13% said that they had ever entertained the idea of raping someone. The discrepancy was explained by different understanding of "rape". Many men believed that rape required forced penetration.

Most of the attacks were one-on-one. Most did not involve penetration. These factors led to previous estimates of the prevalence of rape on campus being set at under 5%. Almost none of the incidents resulted in disciplinary action, much less criminal charges. The figures conform to the aggregate result of wider studies, revealing that 19% of women in the US report having been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, but negligible numbers of men are brought to book.

Evans' attitude to women, to rape, to the meaning of consent, while probably more common in all-male surroundings than elsewhere, is not confined to a tiny minority but is shared by a significant proportion of men. This is relevant to the interventions of Taylor and Ormerod-Cloke and to the willingness of clubs to re-sign Evans. They don't believe that the woman was raped at all.

The Evans case is a wake-up call, and not just for football.

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