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Opinion: Some men (and women) still don't believe that rape exists

Rapes by ‘monsters’ are actually a much rarer disease on the world. The greater epidemic is the violent men that can be found in kitchens, sports grounds and hotel rooms around the world.

Sinead O'Carroll

REMEMBER WHEN SHORT skirts were the cause of rapes? And women were shunted from the community for speaking out. Or when we lined up in the courts to shake hands with a convicted rapist.

These are incidents in our not-too-distant past that most of us are ashamed to remember. We’ve moved on from that 2002 survey which showed four in 10 people across this island believed that if a victim had consumed alcohol, then she was partially responsible for her rape. Right?

We don’t think like that anymore. We’ve started to listen to support groups and advocacy campaigns. We’ve taken heed of the message that drinking isn’t a crime and that no means no.

That questionnaire was answered by people over a decade ago. But, this week’s coverage of the Ched Evans issue has revealed that attitudes might not have shifted as much as we imagined in the intervening years.

Yes, there was the justified outrage about Stuart Gilhooly’s blog post, which the PFAI saw fit to publish on its website last night. But, more noteworthy, was the support the solicitor received from various quarters. No, they weren’t loud media voices but they were there in the background, egging him on as he compared Evans to the Guildford Four and argued that the Welshman “deserves a chance at redemption”.

It wasn’t just on social media. The comments section on this website mirrored this argument. There were questions about his guilt, protestations that he has been wronged by a woman out for a ‘kiss and tell’ and a whole heap more victim blaming.

Gilhooly seems to think that Evan’s biggest crime is being “hard to like” because “he cheats on his girlfriend… By having sex with a young girl”.

What wasn’t there was the word rape. In fact, rape has been almost entirely removed from the narrative by the people who are bent on debating his guilt or innocence.

It is a matter of consent, they keep saying.

No.

It WAS rape.

The idea of consent was debated during the trial, played out in front of a jury who went on to find the 25-year-old guilty of rape. It was not described as non-consensual sex, or any other term that such people find more appropriate to place on a man they don’t see as a ‘rapist’.

According to his justice system, he was found guilty of rape. The jury concluded that he raped a young girl in a hotel room in April 2012. There aren’t any other ways to say it.

Despite what Gilhooly or Judy Finnegan say, there isn’t a different word for the ‘type’ of rape that Evans’s victim suffered.

The monster stereotype

As Ireland take the field tonight to take on the US in an international friendly, the players will be sporting white ribbons on their uniform.

It is a symbol of the team’s support for a male-led campaign – the White Ribbon Campaign – to end men’s violence against women.

It is a cause that Tom Meagher, husband of the late Jill Meagher, has championed. Following the conviction of his wife’s rapist and killer, Adrian Bayley, the Dublin man became involved with the movement.

After months of ‘a damaging obsession’ with Bayley, he said the most disturbing moment was when he heard him utter a coherent sentence in court.

In a blog post entitled The Danger of the Monster Myth, Meagher tries to educate people that not all rapists are ‘monsters and Adrian Bayleys’.

However, he realised there were difficulties “in mobilising this kind of outrage on a regular basis” because ”Bayley is the archetypal monster”. As is Larry Murphy, who was used by commenters today as a comparative to ‘prove Evans’s innocence’.

They are the men that our mothers, fathers, girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands worry are lurking in the laneways near our homes, ready to pounce as we take the risk of walking home alone.

But, according to Meagher (and the solid facts and statistics) most cases of men’s violence against women “lack the ingredients of an archetypal villain and a relatable victim”. They are also often “perpetrated and suffered in silence by somebody known to the victim”.

Rapes by monsters are actually a much rarer disease on the world. The greater epidemic is the violent men that can be found in kitchens, sports grounds and hotel rooms around the world. By wearing those white ribbons tonight, the Irish soccer players should be aware that they are recognising that there are not just Adrian Bayleys or Larry Murphys.

There are also the Ched Evans’.

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The sporting culture

And it’s important those players see the significance in those white ribbons.

One compelling and almost convincing argument that some of Ched Evans’ supporters have used is that he has served his time and paid for his crime. Why then should he be precluded from returning to work?

It made me pause for a long time. Weeks, in fact.

But the answer came yesterday in a piece praising Jessica Ennis-Hill’s no-nonsense stance against Sheffield United (Evans’s former club which is toying with the idea of re-signing him). The Irish Times’ Malachy Clerkin recalls how a group of fans sang some tunes on the way to an away match the day after their former player’s release. The words?

He’s coming for you, He’s coming for you – women of Bradford, He’s coming for you.

Regardless of what is said about football just being another job for these men, it is not. People spend hard-earned cash to watch them ‘do the day job’ every week. They get air time, column inches and sponsorship deals.

Sport matters to people. Therefore, sportspeople matter. Their actions mean something.

The NFL and college football leagues have struggled with this in America. As has the AFL in Australia. Now England has songs. And there’s the police investigation into the rape threats Ennis-Hill received after making her public stand. The English leagues have their own problems but they don’t want a rape culture seeping onto the terraces.

Footballers don’t all have to be likeable. They can cheat on their girlfriends. They can betray their wives. They can drive obnoxious cars. They can even bite people. But they should not be allowed to rape and then return to the world of little boys’ dreams.

Rape is rape. There is no other way to say this. Rape is rape when it’s a monster baring down on a vulnerable victim. Rape is rape when the victim sometimes sells sex. Rape is rape when the victim has taken a drink. Rape is rape even when the rapist is a footballer.

Sinéad O’Carroll is the News Editor of TheJournal.ie

Read: The PFAI has removed blog post defending convicted rapist Ched Evans

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