Ched Evans conviction: The internet is not the place to dispute rape
Thousands of supporters for imprisoned footballer Ched Evans are calling for an immediate retrial, according to a Facebook page set up after his conviction. Evans was found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman and imprisoned for 5 years by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.
Immediately after the conviction, Twitter was flooded with tweets from supporters of Evans, and the hashtags “#justiceforChed” and “#freeChed” started trending, which was both confusing and disturbing considering the circumstances.
Regardless of what Evans’ fans believe, in the eyes of the law, the victim is the 19-year-old woman.
So why is there so much online support seeking justice for convicted rapist? Surely justice has already been served?
Of course his family members, team mates and girlfriend are defending him. But then there are a few fans following Evans’ football career – Sheffield United fans – filled with pride and an unwillingness to accept the sentence handed down to their leading striker.
Evans’ team-mate Connor Brown tweeted his support immediately after the trial, referring to the victim as a “little tramp”.
More support came from trend followers – people who tweet about what is currently trending without finding out more about it, a common phenomenon in the Twitter-sphere. Many proclaimed Evans’ innocence as though they were at the trial themselves.
But though the nation’s online “uproar” might be better described as “hype” – the trend followers are just following the lead of others without understanding the full implications of their tweets – some aspects of the Ched Evans case go beyond that. There has even been talk of a ‘Justice for Ched’ T-shirt being made, and it’s a scary prospect knowing people may soon be walking around with a photo of a convicted rapist on their shirt.
It seems Twitter and Facebook users are more enthusiastic to brand Evans’ victim a “money-grabber” rather than look into the practices of the law. It is common for people on social networking sites to attack others. It is a pathetic way of making themselves feel prominent. They thrive on controversy and make irresponsible comments because of boredom.
That’s not to say that some have legitimate concerns with the trial and fear a miscarriage of justice has taken place. Miscarriages of justice do happen, nobody is denying that. One of the arguments put forward by Evans’supporters is that the victim was intoxicated and cannot remember much of what went on. But although the supporters may not agree, the Crown Prosecution Service has clarifed that: “the law is clear – being vulnerable through drink or drugs does not imply consent.”
In Evans’s case, unless new evidence has come to light or there are reports of any procedural irregularities, what grounds are there for a retrial? Public disapproval that barely extends further than “Ched is innocent” tweets and comments is not going to instigate a retrial.
So far, 13 tweeters have been arrested on suspicion of malicious communication, illegally naming the victim in the Ched Evans case even though her anonymity is protected though this hasn’t deterred people from shifting the blame to the victim. A Facebook page called “I believe her” has been created in response to the Evans supporters who have labelled the victim a “liar”. 1,500 Facebook users have joined and many have left messages of support.
Then again, the internet reaction is not simply pro-Evans: over 20,000 have also signed an online petition asking the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) to remove Evans’ name from their end of seasons’ honours list.
Asides from the Facebook page battles, what is most striking is reaction of those who idolise Evans. They refer to him as a “hero.” It is not surprising that many young people, men especially, put their favourite professional footballers on a pedestal, but this type of celebrity infatuation becomes dangerous when they continue to celebrate them even after they have been found guilty of a horrific crime.
An administrator on the “I believe her” Facebook page, told me in an email about the conceptual difficulty Evans’ supporters have with defining a rapist.
“Rapists aren’t scary men in balaclavas in dark alleys, they’re the guy who sits next to you at work, in the pub, in church,” she wrote.
But it’s not just footballers who are supported despite their (sizeable) flaws; the superficial aspects of the rich, good-looking and famous are prioritised over morality and law by the most slavish adherents of celebrity culture. After this year’s Grammy awards, female admirers of Chris Brown, the singer convicted of assaulting Rihanna in 2009, tweeted about how happy it would make them if he beat them up.
Idolisers need to be careful. Twitter is not a platform where posters can blur the boundaries between criminal activity and celebrity culture.
Even though their supporters may believe their favourite celebrities are bound by no laws, they must recognise the serious dimensions of what they are tweeting about; it is time that celebrities, footballers and twitter users are reminded; no-one is above the law.
And what about the moral aspect; would these twitter users still support these celebrities if the victim was their sister or mother? It is unlikely.Tagged in: "I believe her", #freeChed, #justiceforChed, Ched Evans, facebook, PFA, rape, sex, Sheffield United, Social media, twitter
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