It was a rainy night in Soho. I was a 19 year old student and, separated from my friends, found myself alone in Piccadilly Circus at 2am. I had been drinking quite a bit and had not taken a coat. I had only just moved into my new student house and, although armed with my trusty 1-4 travel card, I hadn’t a clue how to get home. I started to panic and was more than a little bit tearful. A man started walking alongside and chatting to me. His name was Norman. I explained I was a bit drunk, a bit upset and didn’t know how to get home. He told me to follow him. He took me round a corner and down more than a couple of side streets to a taxi rank. A car pulled up outside. He opened the door for me and I got in. Then he turned the driver, gave him a £20 note and said “She lives in Kentish Town, can you take her home?”
In the past 20 years I’ve often thought of Norman and the night that didn’t change my life; the night where nothing happened.
The Ched Evans case made me think about it again. This week he was released after serving half of his sentence for the rape of 19 year old girl. He has issued a statement apologising to his girlfriend, not the victim you understand. All debate now turns to whether or not he should be allowed to professional football play again.
A lot of the comments and opinions spouted have made me feel more than a little nauseous, not to mention news that Evans is fast tracking his appeal. The vehemence of those defending him is astounding.
It’s no secret that I hate football, or more specifically, hate more than a few footballers. It pains me that my youngest son loved the World Cup so much. I hate the thought that he might hold any number of overpaid, entitled, self-serving morons up in any kind of high regard.
I get that it’s not just kicking a ball around a field, football is supposed to mean something. That’s why, as an entertainment business, it is worth so much. Fans are obliged to put their hearts and souls into these players, encourage their children to don their names on their backs and care whether the ball goes in or not. Personally I recommend their criminal convictions are added as a category on the Panini sticker captions but this is unlikely.
It’s not even about the technicalities of a criminal conviction, or of the definition of rehabilitation. It’s just about common decency. And so it came to pass that, during the World Cup, our breakfast conversation was ‘What would happen if I was Luis Suarez’s Mummy?’ and then, weeks later I had to explain a) why he was still allowed to play and b) why one of my son’s friends still wore Suarez’s name on his shirt. Why I had to explain why I wouldn’t allow John Terry’s picture on a wall.
Evans doesn’t deny what happened. The only thing which is disputed is whether she was drunk enough for it to technically counts as rape. Here Evans’ defenders fall over themselves to come up with reasons why it wasn’t, attacking the victim and launching campaigns to say why actually turning up to a hotel room to watch your friend have sex with a drunk stranger and then ‘having a go’ yourself is all perfectly normal. OK he might be in the dog house with the Misses but move along, nothing to see here..
The fact of the matter is that we, yes even Judy Finnegan, still have such an appalling attitude to sexual crime that we fall over ourselves to prove that it wasn’t the fault of the accused. The trailer for the Moral Maze today, that bastion of reasoned debate, belied just how warped our attitude is. We don’t treat it as the violent crime that it is. We assume that the girl must have ‘asked for it’ in some way. She was drunk, she was chatty, she led him on, she was walking home alone. It is easier to explain it away than look at the real cause.
Rape is not about sex, but about power and entitlement. It is about man categorizing women as lesser beings, as disposable and there to be taken. The inference in the victim blaming that goes on is one of ‘we’ve all been there mate, could have happened to anyone’ If it had been a man who had been raped in similar circumstances no one would be arguing that he only had himself to blame.
That is the reason why Evans can never play again. This has nothing to do with rehabilitation. Football clubs have a responsibility to represent more than just passing a ball around. Just as Gary Glitter doesn’t get much airplay these days, and Rolf is unlikely to reappear on Animal Hospital this side of Christmas. I’m not even going to get into Pistorius. Any kind of professional, lawyer, doctor, teacher, CEO would not have had their seat kept warm for them whilst they served their sentence. These are not the kinds of people that we want to hold up in high regard, sentence served or not, no matter what their talents.
I spend my life trying to teach my children to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. I do not teach them that if you try hard enough you will be elevated to such a position where ‘the right thing’, let alone the law, no longer applies to you. Nor do I want them to think that it is up to others to protect themselves from their violent behaviour, rather than to just treat people well in the first place.
As always, with great power comes great responsibility, and that responsibility to be a decent human being should be a prerequisite for being allowed to be paid millions to walk out in front of a crowd.
If I’m looking for role models for my children, I think I’ll stick with Norman.