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The parable of the “rapist footballer”

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

Ched Evans

I no sooner had one foot in the door when she shouted: “Did you hear about the rapist footballer?”

It was as if she couldn’t contain herself and wanted to share what she thought was the news of the day.

“No”, I said, “go on.”

I knew immediately that she was talking about Ched Evans, the Welsh international footballer, as the story of his conviction for rape had been on the radio throughout the day. But, I feigned ignorance so that she could tell me more.

“Ched Evans”, she said. “He raped a girl who was drunk and has been given a five-year jail sentence”.

“Did he?”, I asked.

“I don’t think that five years is enough”, she went on.

“I think that rapists are vile and should get life or we should even bring back capital punishment for them”, she said.

The only thing that I will say about who ‘she’ is in the conversation just cited is that she is a woman in her early 20s. But, it really doesn’t matter who ‘she’ is as this kind of response is a prevalent form of garrulous chatter, in the media, in radio debates, in cafes and pubs and around dinner tables up and down the country, when an allegation of rape or a conviction for an alleged rape is widely publicised.

It is as though the conviction determines that the allegation of rape was truthful; as though the trial verdict was, and is, always correct, which takes no account whatsoever of false allegations or of wrongful convictions that stem from them.

But, this article isn’t really about Ched Evans, who actually went on to overturn his conviction in 2016 and was acquitted in a retrial later that year. Indeed, it relates, equally, to any alleged rapist, whether they are convicted or not and whether they go on to overturn a conviction or not.

My main aim is to highlight the problem of accepting mere allegations or the outcomes of criminal trials as truthful or accurate statements of alleged crimes. They are not . The criminal justice system doesn't work like that. On the contrary, innocent individuals are routinely falsely accused and wrongly convicted by the criminal justice system; and, those who commit crimes are also routinely not charged for their crimes and/or are acquitted in criminal trials.

In the specific context of alleged rapes, or any other alleged crime for that matter, then, we need to always be alive to the reality that the criminal justice system fails both victims of rape and innocent victims of false allegations of rape and/or wrongful convictions for rape, alike.

From this straightforward truism, the following four responses follow:

  • When we hear about an allegation of rape, we must also always distinguish between ‘a man accused or convicted of rape’ and ‘a man who is a rapist’, which are not synonymous.

  • When we hear of a conviction for an alleged rape, we must always be open to listen to claims of innocence by those convicted as they may be truthful victims of a false allegation and wrongful conviction.

  • When we hear about an allegation of rape, we must distinguish between 'a woman making an allegation of rape' and 'a woman who has been raped,' which are not synonymous.

  • When there is an acquittal in a rape trial, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the man acquitted is innocent and the woman who made the allegation made it falsely.

It is from this perspective that I have also adopted an objective approach to alleged false allegations and alleged wrongful convictions. In terms of rape, I have written previously about how the criminal justice fails genuine victims of rape, child sexual abuse (CSA) and other sexual offences, the victims of which are overwhelmingly women and girls. From the same standpoint, I have also written much about false allegations of sexual offences and the wrongful convictions that are caused by them.

But, this approach to the problematic of allegations of rape seems to be particularly rare.

Indeed, instead of an objective or neutral stance to an allegation of rape, which seems to me to be the logical stance to take to a claim that has yet to be validated, individuals seemed to be compelled to choose a ‘side’.

No doubt driven on by the emotive and harmful nature of rape or false allegations of rape when they are genuine, or possibly by personal experience or the experience of a family member or friend, individuals become blind to any consideration of the possible validity of their opponent, with both sides wanting to destroy, rather than understand, one another.

It is within this context that I established Empowering the Innocent (ETI) as an alleged false allegation and alleged wrongful conviction project, rather than a alleged rape and alleged wrongful acquittal project, which similarly engages with the specific problematic of rape, in an objective and balanced way.

This means that we will never take a ‘side’ in response to claims of innocence by alleged victims of false allegations and/or wrongful conviction, although this doesn't mean that we will not respond to those who seek to criticise us and undermine our work. Moreover, we will never see those who fight for justice for victims of rape as an enemy to be defeated. And, we will always have an ethical commitment that if it is found that an alleged innocent victim of a false allegation or wrongful conviction in a case featured by ETI is not innocent we will cease involvement with the case and any information about the case will deleted from its websites and social media platforms.

Operating as we do, then, it is particularly disappointing and somewhat irking when we, those working with us and/or those supporting our work are attacked by self-styled anti-rape activists for being rape, pervert or paedophile apologists.

Such attempted smears and insults epitomise the ignorance about false allegations and wrongful convictions, which are common features of criminal justice systems the world over. Such attacks attempt to undermine truth and justice for victims of false allegations and wrongful convictions, which exposes the partisan and myopic approach of anti-rape activists to the field of alleged sexual offences and their willingness to cause further harm to genuine victims of false allegations of rape.

We know that the work that we do is an inconvenient truth that they do not want to hear or know about. We know that they wish that we didn't exist and think that name calling and unfounded criticisms will somehow make us give up the vital work that we do for, and in the interests of, some of the most vulnerable individuals and families in society who are victimised by one of the most harmful and pernicious crimes possible - the label of rapist, paedophile or sex offender when it is falsely made and wrongly applied.

We also know that our work is not be fashionable; that it is not a vote winner, but that makes it all the more important that we do it. Put simply, false allegations of rape want to be denied by those who oppose us or make personal attacks, but they will not go away just by wishing them away and hoping that that they, and we, didn't exist.

The list of motives for making false allegations constructed by Zutter et al saw 'gain' as the predominant motivating factor, which they divided into three distinct categories:

  • Material gain;

  • Emotional gain; or,

  • A disturbed mental state.

Their list was then subdivided into the following eight different categories:

  • Material gain;

  • Alibi;

  • Revenge;

  • Sympathy;

  • Attention;

  • A disturbed mental state;

  • Relabelling; or,

  • Regret.

Without expanding on all of these different motivations for making false allegations of rape here, it is instructive to return to my dialogue with the woman at the beginning of this article.

Sometime after Ched Evans had overturned his conviction, I said to the woman who thought that we should bring back capital punishment for men convicted of rape:

“You won’t believe what I was reading about today.”

“What”, she said.

Me: “Well, you know that I work on alleged false allegations and wrongful convictions?”

Her: “Yes.”

Me: "Well, I was reading today about how women can claim that they have been raped because they wake up after a night out and regret having sex with the man in the bed next to them.”

Without any reflection upon our previous conversation about Ched Evans, or awareness of how what she was about to say entirely undermines her previous thinking and feelings about men convicted of rape, she said:

“Oh, yes. I know about that. I know two friends who have done that.”

I'd say we still have much work to do.

By Michael Naughton

Dr Michael Naughton is the Founder and Director of Empowering the Innocent (ETI). He holds a Readership in Sociology and Law at the University of Bristol. Click here for more information about Michael.

Please let us know if you think that there is a mistake in this article, explaining what you think is wrong and why. We will correct any errors as soon as possible.

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