A tricky subject
Today (Monday 5th January) the media has been full of the storm surrounding the potential signing by Oldham Athletic of footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans.
I’ve been listening to Radio Five Live most of the day and it’s been featuring the issues arising – and the ongoing developments – around the clock.
Apparently, by the latest count, over 25,000 signatures have been added to a petition calling for Oldham not to sign him.
These signatures have been freely added by individuals presumably on the basis of one (or a combination) of the following reasons: that he’s a convicted rapist; that he’s never apologised; that he’s never shown any contrition; and that footballers are supposed to be role models to youngsters and, as he is disqualified in most peoples’ eyes from ever being one by the type of crime for which he has been convicted, neither Oldham Athletic – nor indeed any other football club worth it’s salt – should ever employ him.
Plainly, there are various themes swimming in different directions here. Some – like Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association – have supported Evans in his bid to return to play professional football somewhere, somehow, by reference to the laudable principle (as held in some circles at least) that the chance of rehabilitation must be offered to every sinner. They argue that Evans has served his time and now deserves a second chance.
This line is usually countered, by feminists, ‘victim support’ carers and others by the argument that the nature of the crime is so abhorrent that, even though Evans has served his sentence, this is not punishment enough.
They ask why he should be allowed to returned to his very lucrative trade when the victim of his crime has suffered – and may still be suffering – massive personal trauma because of it (and, I believe in this case, because her name became known via social media, she has had to both change her name and/or move her address several times)?
I don’t have an answer that resolves these conflicting attitudes and standpoints, nor do I personally particularly espouse either side of the arguments.
I have just two points to make.
Firstly, I totally understand the attitude of some that occasionally the seriousness and/or heinousness of a crime can make it very difficult to embrace the notion of rehabilitation at all. When murder or similar is involved, it’s very hard to appease those who might feel “but it’s wrong that that the perpetrator can serve the designated amount of time and then just resume his or her life, what about the victim (e.g. my wife/daughter/son/parent) who had that luxury taken away from them forever?” A similar line might apply with rape where the victim may have suffered long term trauma as a result of it.
The side issue that then arises, of course, is the length and type of the sentence. Sometimes even those fully committed to the principle of rehabilitation might it tough to accept that the person responsible for a crime appears to have to serve only a sentence whose length seems wholly and absurdly lenient, particularly given the comparatively devastating effect of his/her crime upon the victim, whether he or she is now dead or still living.
The trouble with such feelings is that – taken to their logical conclusion – one eventually reaches the ‘an eye for an eye’ end-game and a denial that rehabilitation has any place in justice.
Murderers should forfeit their own lives, and so on. Some might argue that I’m been absurd saying this.
But – if say five years in gaol, as decided by a judge who at least has heard the full evidence of the case and presumably taken into account all the relevant guidelines and precedents, is regarded insufficient punishment for say a particular murder in question, what is the ‘right’ sentence?
Seven years … Seventeen … Seventy? I don’t have a clue, any more than anyone else, including – might I suggest – any victim (or family relation thereof) of the crime concerned that is still around to give a view.
My second point is more straightforward. It is that – as I understand it – Ched Evans is adamant that he is, and was always, innocent of the crime concerned and was wrongly convicted. He has lodged an appeal – this initiative is in the process of being considered one future day by the relevant judicial authority. I don’t know whether that means, if it is successful, that the case is just reviewed, or whether it will possibly result in the order of a re-trial.
My suspicion is that part of the outrage now being expressed against Evans is not just against the nature of the crime of which he has been convicted, but his lack of contrition. Maybe some petition signatories might have taken a different view if he’d apologised, exhibited contrition and then served his sentence. Maybe, in those circumstances, they would have felt that Evans did deserve a bit of ‘rehabilitation’ encouragement.
However, just suppose Evans was innocent of this rape, as he maintains. Why should he show contrition for something he didn’t do?
I have no idea how likely or unlikely this outcome is, but I do hope that – if one day Evans should ever get his conviction reviewed and overturned – some of those 25,000 who have signed the petition against him being employed by Oldham will have the good grace to write and apologise to him for their campaign.