Lessons of Evans conviction ignored following Johnson arrest

Trigger Warning: Rape 

Several months have passed since many were forced to grapple with the nature of consent following convicted rapist Ched Evans’ release from prison.

Many hoped that the media furore surrounding Evans’ case would open up a nationwide discussion that ultimately left the population more educated and with increased awareness of the nuances of the issues surrounding rape and sexual assault.

Given the overwhelming desire of many in this country to leave undiscussed what is for many people a highly uncomfortable subject, such a process would have been hugely beneficial for victims.

The sad truth is that approximately 80% of sexual violence goes unreported every year in the UK. Even more heartbreakingly, much of the trauma will remain totally unvoiced, with almost 30% of victims telling nobody about their ordeal.

Some simply do not feel comfortable expressing their experiences for fear of being held responsible, reproached, or even having their experience dismissed altogether.

As a result, issues are internalised, help is not sought and many victims find their mental and physical health wasting away as they silently suffer the effects of somebody else’s crime.

Once more, the world of football has been plunged into disgrace following the allegation that 27-year-old Adam Johnson, capped by England and currently suspended by Sunderland AFC, has engaged in sexual activities with a 15-year-old schoolgirl.

Yet it seems the British public is far from learning the lessons of the Evans case. While the away stand rang with inevitable “there’s only one Adam Johnson” chants during Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Hull the day after the arrest, Johnson’s girlfriend was being hounded off Twitter because of her decision to remain in a relationship with the father of her two-month-old child.

Both those supporting Johnson and those rebuking him jump to conclusions based purely on here-say and void of any evidential proof beyond accusation and rebuttal.

The questioning of the validity of a decision made by an independent jury following the Evans judgement made a mockery of the legal system that underpins the running of the British state.

Diminishing the fundamental importance of the alleged victim’s age and circumstance is equally damaging to British society.

Suggesting that she may not be a victim because she allegedly saw herself as in a relationship with him is naïve.

As the recent cases in Rotherham illustrate, many victims of abuse do not see themselves as being manipulated at all. This does not mean that the individual grooming them is innocent, simply that the near unavoidable power imbalance that such a significant age gap often brings has impacted upon their perspective.

Arguing that a 15-year-old, a minor in the eyes of the law, is old enough to consent flagrantly ignores the fact that the law is made in order to protect the vulnerable unable to do so. If it is proved that Johnson engaged in sexual behaviour with the schoolgirl he will have committed statutory rape.

Of course, Adam Johnson is innocent until proven guilty. Rightly so. However, the alleged victim is just as deserving of the platform to prove his guilt as Johnson is his innocence.

Despite the fact any complainant in a rape or sexual assault case is guaranteed the right to lifelong anonymity, several members of the public have illegally circulated pictures of the midfielder posing with the girl.

There is mounting concern that the anonymity of the alleged victim will be breached. The same fate experienced by Ched Evans’ victim may await her if she is exposed to the vicious online abuse already circulating the internet about her.

The case of Ched Evans illustrated how quickly people resort to victim blaming. Somewhat unsurprisingly, people have reacted in the same impetuous way to news of the accusations facing Adam Johnson.

Perhaps this is simply a reflection of the endemic failure of British society to moderate it’s reaction to sexual violence. Society owes it to all victims of rape and sexual assault to rationalise their behaviour and consider the effects of their judgements on those around them, for they may be more impactful than they first seem.

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