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Debate Room: Should Ched Evans be allowed to return to professional football?

We asked two commentators to give their views on the issue…

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

CHED EVANS, a former Sheffield United player who was convicted of raping a woman in 2012, has been released from prison after serving half of a five-year sentence.

In a video statement released this week, Evans denies rape, saying that the sex was consensual, and asks for a “second chance” to return to his former position in professional football.

Speculation that Evans could return to a lucrative, high-profile career has caused huge controversy this week – so we asked two commentators to give their views on the issue:

“Evans’ return to work wouldn’t show his crime has been forgiven and forgotten. It would rather be recognition that society has imposed its most serious punishment on him. ”

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Lorraine Courtneyis a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @lorrainecath.

Ched Evans released a video statement pleading for a “second chance” and insisted he would be a “positive influence” if he was allowed to return to his professional football career. The former Sheffield United striker was sentenced to two-and-a-half years for rape but insists he would return to his football career with “humility”.

This wouldn’t be such a controversial ambition, were Evans not a professional footballer, a star striker for Sheffield United who was once earning £20,000 a week. At the time of writing, almost 150,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Sheffield United “refuse to reinstate Ched Evans as a player”. That’s a large number of people who think he should not get his old job back. The charity Rape Crisis England and Wales has suggested Evans be barred from football forever, arguing that to do so would “send out a strong message condemning sexual violence against women.”

However the Welshman has restated his previous claims that he was wrongly convicted of rape in the first place, saying: “I’m determined to continue the fight to clear my name and it is public knowledge that an application to refer my case back to the Court of Appeal has recently been submitted to the Criminal Cases Review Commission by my lawyers. The application seeks to demonstrate that the act I engaged in on that night were consensual in nature and not rape.”

The case has caused loads of controversy in the past few weeks, with Judy Finnigan blasted for talking about how much his victim had drunk on the night she was raped. The BBC also apologised after Michael Buerk said on Radio 4 that “nobody comes out of the Ched Evans rape case with any credit – not the victim who’d drunk so much she could barely stand, nor the two footballers who had sex with her in the most sordid of circumstances.”

Up until now Sheffield United hasn’t indicated whether they will allow Evans to return to the squad or not. But what to think about the whole situation? Has this footballer properly served his time and so deserves to get on with his life? Its arguable that, having got through the required amount of his prison term, this guy has the right to try to get himself back on the right track. I think we all recognise that full employment increases the chance of successful rehabilitation of criminals after their release from prison.

But Evans is a convicted rapist. Even if you’re a person who fundamentally believes in redemption and second chances how can you be expected to just carry on as normal? There are arguments over whether sentences for rape should be longer. In this particular case, a two-and-a-half years’ prison sentence seems small, given the seriousness of a rape offence – and, yes, victims of rape suffer the devastating impacts for the rest of their lives. Yet Evans’ return to work wouldn’t show his crime has been forgiven and forgotten. It would rather be recognition that society has imposed its most serious punishment on him. And he will never really escape his crime.

A convicted rapist returning to the streets of his home town would not normally want to draw attention to himself. But Evans will, purely because he’s a footballer and therefore a celebrity. Lots of fans will scream obscenities at him every time he goes on to the pitch. Every journalist who ever interviews him will seek to interview him about his past and, more specifically, about the rape. There will be no hiding place for this footballer, ever. You might think that Evans is a despicable individual, a terrible role model for young men and you are right. But he has served his sentence. And while he doesn’t merit a parade for this, he does have a right to redemption. No, he hasn’t shown remorse but has been convicted and locked up for his crime. And his reputation is forever tarnished.

After all our justice system is one which, rightly, punishes the crime and nothing more: it should never go out looking for vengeance.

“Boys and young men are inundated with creeping normalisation of rape culture – offering a ‘second chance’ for a convicted rapist is the worst possible message to send.”

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Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. He tweets as @Donal_OKeeffe.

I asked three perfectly ordinary and (although the word has been debased recently) decent men this morning what they thought of Ched Evans. Their answers were depressing and illustrative of a seemingly unshakeable societal ambivalence toward rape.

“Ah, but was it rape, though? Didn’t they meet in a nightclub or something and wasn’t there a lot of drink involved. Easy for a young one to change her mind the next day and then the poor man’s life is destroyed.”“He’s only a young man and he’s served his time. He doesn’t deserve to have this hanging over his head for the rest of his life.”“So what if the poor young fella made a mistake? He served his sentence and he deserves a second chance. Every man deserves a second chance.”

To revisit the facts of the case, in April 2012 Ched Evans, then Sheffield United striker, and another man were tried for the rape of a 19-year-old woman.

The court heard that the victim had woken up naked and confused with no memory of the incident. The prosecution contended that the two men had targeted her for sex when she “literally stumbled across their path”. The young woman was deemed to have been too intoxicated at the time of the incident to give consent.

The other man was acquitted and Evans was sentenced to five years in prison. Evans was denied leave to appeal. This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Merfyn Hughes said “The complainant was 19 years of age and was extremely intoxicated. CCTV footage shows, in my view, the extent of her intoxication when she stumbled into your friend. As the jury have found, she was in no condition to have sexual intercourse. When you arrived at the hotel, you must have realised that.”

Evans was released last week. He has never expressed remorse and is, even now, attempting another appeal, this time to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

This is a man who describes having sex with an intoxicated young woman – deemed by a court of law incapable of giving consent – as “a moment of infidelity”.

Evans has expressed his hope to return to professional football, telling the BBC, “I didn’t know that there was a law that said once you come out of prison you still can’t do anything”.

Sheffield United’s manager, Nigel Clough, has acknowledged that bringing back Evans has been discussed by club officials. In fact, Clough is reported to have visited Evans in prison last April to discuss just that possibility. Over 150,000 people have signed a petition urging Sheffield Utd not to reinstate Evans, saying to do so 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”.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (who is also a Sheffield MP) said this week “When you take a footballer on, you are not taking on just a footballer, you are also taking on a role model.”

And that’s the most salient point. At a time when boys and young men are inundated with the imagery, attitudes and creeping normalisation of rape culture, offering a “second chance” for a convicted rapist to resume his high profile sporting career is the worst possible message to send.

It is worth pointing out that even if Evans were to win his appeal, he is still at the very least an opportunistic sexual predator. A real role model.

To answer the concerns of the three men to whom I spoke today: Yes, it was rape. If a woman does not, or cannot, consent to sex, that is rape. Ched Evans was convicted of rape. He served half of his sentence while his victim will suffer for his crime for the rest of her life.

And no, a rapist doesn’t deserve a second chance: he’s already proven what kind of man he is.

Ched Evans wants a second chance in football after his release from jail

British footballer expresses regret but denies rape

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Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

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