Last week, over 60,000 people signed a petition against footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans being allowed to return to his job at Sheffield United Football Club. The petition claimed that allowing Evans to return to Sheffield United would be a ‘deep insult to the woman who was raped and to all women like her who have suffered at the hands of a rapist’.
Elsewhere in the petition, the organisers said that a ‘lucrative contract’ should not be a ‘reward’ for rape. Karen Ingala Smith of East London Rape Crisis said ‘with Ched Evans, we’re not talking about someone simply returning to work, we’re talking about someone who is lauded as a role model and hero’.
The argument of the petitioners seems to be that Evans should not be entitled to return to work as a footballer because it will inevitably lead to him being celebrated in some way. Indeed, elsewhere in the petition they concede that he ‘should be able to work’, just not as a footballer. The assumption is not only that football fans are less capable of judging someone’s past than others in society, but that no matter how long certain prisoners serve in prison they will never truly have ‘done their time’.
Of course, just because Ched Evans is out of prison doesn’t mean we all have to immediately forget what he has been convicted of. There is no moral obligation on the part of society to accept him back with open arms. Indeed, Smith and others are entitled to hold their personal opinions about Evans. It is even worth noting that some think he was wrongly convicted in the first place. But these personal opinions about his behaviour should not affect his entitlements as a citizen: to work in a job of his choosing, to live peacefully and to attempt, in some small way, to regain the respect of his peers. In the eyes of the law he has served his sentence. He has been removed from society for a period of time deemed commensurate to the offence he was convicted of. It is a cornerstone of a civilised society that he should have the right to return to the real world, re-engage with his chosen profession and try to move on.
Of course, there will be those who say that the victim of his attack will never be able to move on in the same way. Indeed the petition organisers argue that to allow Evans to return would be an ‘insult’ to the woman he raped. This may be true. But to make this argument is to conflate justice with revenge. The courtroom is not a place for victims to receive some sense of closure or emotional relief, but rather a forum through which society enacts punishments fitting for the crimes committed. The powers of the courts over people’s lives are limited in a way that prevents them acting merely as instruments of revenge or personal validation. Of course, in other legal systems, rapists are hanged in recognition of the fact that their act has forever ‘sullied’ or ‘dirtied’ their victim. Thankfully that’s not how things work here.