The online petitioners trolling Ched Evans

Evans, a convicted rapist, has served his sentence - it’s time to move on.

Online petitions are now a feature of the internet and many have achieved varying degrees of success. Politicians and companies have been overwhelmed. Some have changed their policies and activities. Others have dug their heels in and ignored them.

If you have ever signed an online petition, you will have submitted your email address to the organiser and will then have been bombarded with messages recommending other petitions that you might like to sign.

One such suggestion arrived in my inbox last week. It concerned a footballer named Ched Evans. Evans was charged with rape in 2012, was found guilty and sent to prison. He has always claimed that the sex was consensual, but the court found otherwise. Unless and until he has an appeal upheld, he must be considered guilty. He is about to be released on parole, having completed the required portion of his sentence in prison. His former club, Sheffield United, now wishes to re-employ him.

Criminals can find it difficult to secure employment when they are released from prison. Many become listless, find life pointless and enter a spiral of decline and depression. Others return to crime because they can find nothing else to do with their time. Ched Evans is an exception. He has served his time and his former employer is prepared to give him another chance.

This prospect of redemption is too much for the organisers of a change.org petition, led by feminist campaigner Jean Hatchet. This is the petition’s wording:

Ched Evans was convicted of rape. It was a process of justice. To even consider reinstating him as a player at the same club is a deep insult to the woman who was raped and to all women like her who have suffered at the hands of a rapist.

For the male leaders of the club to endorse him and ‘welcome him back’ is an absolute humiliation to all women who expect the men who commit gross acts of violence against women to pay for what they have done and part of that is relinquishing the celebrity they attained, and in this case used as a tool to facilitate the violence. The clear message to young boys and men is that you will be forgiven for this crime. Women will not be believed when they accuse you of that crime even if a court believes them.

The message given is that men who commit such atrocious crimes will suffer only a small penance while the women they attack suffer for the rest of their lives.

Evans has served a prison term as ordered by the court and in line with sentencing guidelines. Most of us would not consider this a small penance. Repentance and forgiveness is part of the Christian culture that underpins our justice system. Stuff happens in life. It is not all good. Crimes are committed and there are consequences. That said, there should be a time when an episode has been dealt with and everyone should move on.

Nobody, apart from those who are guilty of the most heinous murders, should have to live without hope. This philosophy clearly does not chime with the organisers of the petition or the thousands who have now signed it.

Their message is this: rapists must never be allowed to work again. When they have completed their prison sentence, they should be thrown on the scrapheap. These people may believe that rape is not taken sufficiently seriously by our courts, though this has been the subject of much discussion in recent years. They may believe that sentences are too short. In that case, they should organise a petition to persuade the government to increase prison sentences for rape. That is a legitimate matter for public debate.

If Evans has served his sentence, qualifies for parole and is available for work, he should be allowed to work. His girlfriend has stood by him and believes he is innocent. That is a matter for her. As far as the rest of us are concerned, guilty or innocent, he has served his time. Campaigning to prevent him from becoming gainfully employed in the future means campaigning for an extra punishment for him that is not currently deployed by our criminal-justice system. 

This petition demonstrates that the kind of mob action employed by internet trolls has moved up a notch. They are now organising petitions designed to subvert our justice system. In so doing, they seek to impose punishments that have not been sanctioned by parliament or imposed by the courts.

Nigel Scott is a writer and member of the advisory board of Injustice Anywhere.

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