You might now know the name Ched Evans, but he is about to have a huge impact on the criminal justice system.
Evans, 27, is a Welsh professional football player, who last Friday was cleared on appeal of a rape charge he had served more than two years in prison for. Convicted in 2012, today Evans is a free man, reunited with his wife Natasha Massey and son.
The charge was thus: Evans and his friend Clayton McDonald hit the town for a night out in Rhyl. There, they met a 19-year-old woman falling over drunk outside a kebab shop, and McDonald took her back to a nearby hotel, paid for by Evans. In the cab on the way back to the hotel, McDonald texted his friend “I’ve got a bird.” Evans joined his mate in the hotel room, and preceded to have a threesome with the girl, British newspaper The Telegraph reports.
The girl later went to police to report her handbag as stolen. She did not remember what had happened to her that night. The police then arrested both McDonald and Evans under suspicion of rape. McDonald was acquitted. Evans was not.
“The fact is, I cannot say she has ever accused me of rape,” Evans told The Sunday Times. “She hasn’t… When me and Clayton got arrested we told the truth straight away and still to this day five years on she has never claimed that she had been raped… But my feelings towards the girl involved is that I can’t actually say I am angry because – if she genuinely doesn’t remember – it doesn’t mean that we raped her. It doesn’t mean she didn’t consent. It just means that she can’t remember.”
The case sparked huge controversy in the UK, and Evans was dropped from his football team. When Sheffield United announced plans to re-sign Evans, Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis demanded her name be dropped from a stand in the ground if the appointment went ahead.
This week, when Evans conviction was overturned, it was because a judge had ruled that evidence regarding the victim’s sexual history could be admissible in the retrial.
This evidence – two of her past sexual partners alleging they had a similar experience with the victim, one in the days after the alleged rape – came to light after the men came forward after Evans’ father in law advertised a £50,000 (AUD$79,000) reward for information about the victim’s sexual history. (Both men denied under oath at the retrial that they had been motivated by the reward to come forward).
In the UK, under section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, victims’ sexual history cannot be used as evidence, except in “exceptional circumstances”.
According to Justice Hallett, the presiding judge at the Court of Appeal, the sexual history of the victim went to prove “similar fact” in the behaviour of the victim with Evans and McDonald and with other partners. Hallett ruled this evidence admissible only after “a considerable degree of hesitation,” the guardian reports.
The decision to allow the victim’s previous sexual partners’ testimony into evidence has alarmed many, who believe that it could set back the changes in the way rape cases are tried “probably about 30 years”.
There is widespread concern that many victims will be afraid to come forward, thinking that their sexual past will be used against them, and that it could potentially see a loosening of the strict laws that police the presentation of sexual history as evidence.
“The only difference between a clear conviction of Mr Evans in 2012 and the absolute refusal of him having any leave to appeal at that time, and his acquittal now, is that he has called some men to throw discredit on [the woman’s] sexual reputation. That I think is pouring prejudice in,” Vera Baird told the BBC. Baird, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, played a significant role in changing the law about admitting past sexual behaviour in 1999.
“This sets a dangerous precedent to allow irrelevant sexual history evidence, which the law was supposed to prevent, opening the floodgates to trashing the woman’s character in any rape trial once again. This trial is a throwback to the last century when women who reported rape were assumed to be lying and their sex life was on trial,” campaign group Women Against Rape told The Independent.
Over the course of the original trial, the appeal and the retrial, the now-23-year-old victim – who cannot be named for legal reasons – has been forced to change her name and identity, move house five times, deal with trolling and abuse on social media and has seen her sexual history discussed openly in court and in the media.
Her father, who also cannot be named, spoke about his disappointment in the outcome of the retrial.
“It was like [my daughter] was the one on trial – not the person accused of committing the crime. His sexual history wasn’t brought up. They might as well have just said my daughter was asking for it,” he told The Daily Mail.
“I feel as if there was a rape committed in that court by those lawyers who went through my daughter’s sexual history. As a father I felt really sickened.”
“As far I’m concerned they just saw her as a piece of meat. And for her not to remember anything – she didn’t just make that up. Then she was forced to relive everything all over again in this second trial.”
“This is bound to put off other rape victims from coming forward. They’re going to be afraid that they’ll have their sexual histories gone through and their names dragged through the mud.”