Labour needs to speak out on Ched Evans case

Labour’s shadow law officers should be speaking out fast and furious about the car crash that was Ched Evans’ acquittal on rape charges.

As Vera Baird argues cogently in her Guardian article, the case has put back by 30 years the progress in improving the criminal justice system for rape victims.

The decision by the Supreme Court to allow the woman’s sexual history be paraded in court, the apparent ignorance of the alpha male involved of the need for consent, the bizarre way he joined and left the sexual encounter, not to mention his mates videoing it and his fiancée offering a £50,000 reward for smut. All this made the woman the victim in the courtroom as well as the hotel room.

Meanwhile, presidential candidate Donald Trump’s link between celebrity and impunity in the sexual abuse of women threatens to throw us all back to the dark ages.

We need to speaking out for tighter controls on a woman’s sexual history being presented in court, tougher rules on consent and a major campaign to make the simple point that sex without consent is rape, whatever the woman or man is wearing, has drunk, or might have done in the past.

The statistics on rape remain alarming. A record rise of 31 per cent in rape cases was recorded in 2014, yet it is still considered one of the most underreported of crimes. Official figures show that one in five women aged 16-59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16, but just under one in seven of them choose to report it to the police.

Increases in prosecution and conviction rates in the United Kingdom have been hard-won. It is a cause that has long been championed by Labour women, most notably the late, heroic Jo Richardson MP.

On a practical level, Southwark and Islington councils, when both were led by Labour women, pioneered the introduction of special suites for interviewing rape victims to try to boost women’s confidence in the criminal justice system and increase the number of prosecutions. A raft of other measures ensued.

Yet one in four victims in rape cases still do not press ahead with prosecution, with victim-blaming pressures being a major factor in their decisions, says Women’s Aid. The courtroom humiliation of the victim in the Evans case can only make matters worse.

One of the key legal improvements made in the past was the restriction of the ability of men accused of rape to argue that they honestly believed the woman consented to sex, however unreasonable that belief might seem. As in, ‘I thought that, because she agreed to have sex with my friend and he invited me to come and join in, I honestly believed she consented to have sex with me too.’ Regardless of whether that belief was reasonable, as in whether the man in question lied to get into their room, found the woman drunk and failed to speak to her.

In the run-up to this change being made in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it was controversial among Labour members of parliament – and barely a glimmer on the horizon for many Tories, so deeply ingrained are cultural assumptions about women’s behaviour.

Sian Norris, the Bristol-based feminist writer, has written in a powerful article about the implications of the Evans case for our already fragile understanding of consent. She quotes a study which found that 43 per cent of young adults would not assume the person they are intimate with does not want to have sex when they say ‘no.’

So if ‘no’ can be taken to mean ‘yes’, what else can? A scream, which could indicate pleasure, not fear? Or a cry of ‘help’ which could mean a call for more pleasure rather than an appeal for protection from a rich, powerful, talented man who assumes his celebrity equates to a 21st century droit de seigneur.

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Sally Keeble is a former minister and former member of the Treasury select committee. She tweets @Sally_Keeble

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Photo: stevecc

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Comments: 3...

  1. On October 19, 2016 at 8:02 pm David Lindsay responded with... #

    In the same year as the Iraq War, the people who brought it to you also brought you Harriet Harman’s criminalisation of all male heterosexual activity per se, with tiny circumstances under which a prosecution might not be brought in practice. The judgement on that was of course placed in the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service, which is part of Thatcherism’s most abiding legacy, the wholesale transfer of economic, social, cultural and political power from working-class, often privately employed men, to middle-class women who were directly, or not very indirectly, employed at public expense.

    I admit to sharing the middle-class resentment at the amount that footballers are paid. If nothing else, it gives the lie to the argument that the route to affluence is academic education. (Why should it be? But of that, another time.) Many footballers can barely read. I sincerely believe that some of them cannot read at all. Yet the only people who do as well or better, financially speaking, are the old aristocracy and the Royal Family, who again are rarely noted for their intellectual accomplishments.

    But there was a rich intellectual culture in the old working class, and its destruction has followed inexorably from that of its economic base. Working-class men used, as a matter of course, to be on good money. The problem is that that has been, not lost as if by accident, but actively destroyed. Only football, the incomprehensibility of which to me is no secret, has survived, and has indeed taken off into the stratosphere.

    Therefore, Alison Saunders, like a thing possessed, has hysterically pursued the oafish Ched Evans. Goaded on by media that have become as feminised as they have become gentrified, as part of a single process from the 1980s onwards. Even now, the BBC is insisting on the word “teenager”, and on giving only Evans’s current age, when describing an encounter between a 19-year-old and a 22-year-old. The aim seems to have been to destroy football itself, for reasons rooted in old school class analysis, which increasingly captures the imaginations of the young, rather than in anything to do with 1970s identity politics, which increasingly does not.

    But even Harman’s Law, and even that Law as applied by Saunders, could not secure the conviction of Evans once his financial resources, his public profile, and his base of popular support, had forced the matter to a trial rather than to a show trial. Again, the class analysis, if of a slightly different and a cruder kind, is obvious. What of those without his base of popular support? Or, more to the point, without his public profile? Or, very much to the point, without his financial resources?

    In a previous role, Saunders, of course, dismissed calls for a second inquest into Hillsborough. Such lives were worthless to her, as the lives of the boys who were sent to die in Afghanistan and Iraq were worthless to Harman. But the real Left is back now.

    The offences of rape, serious sexual assault, and sexual assault, ought to be replaced with aggravating circumstances to the general categories of offences against the person, enabling the sentences to be doubled. The sex of either party would be immaterial. There must be no anonymity either for adult defendants or for adult complainants. Either we have an open system of justice, or we do not.

    In this or any other area, there must be no suggestion of any reversal of the burden of proof. That reversal has largely been brought to you already, I say again, by the people who in the same year brought you the Iraq War. The Parliament that was supine before Tony Blair was also supine before Harriet Harman.

    Adults who made false allegations ought to be prosecuted automatically. As in this case. Moreover, how can anyone be convicted of non-consensual sex, who could not lawfully have engaged in consensual sex? If there is an age of consent, which ought in any case to be raised to 18, then anyone below it can be an assailant. But a sexual assailant? How?

    Similarly, if driving while intoxicated is a criminal offence, then how can intoxication, in itself, be a bar to sexual consent? The law needs to specify that it was, only to such an extent as would constitute a bar to driving. Moreover, does anyone seriously believe that a person’s sexual history is wholly immaterial to whether or not he or she may have consented to sex? Are we seriously expected to believe that Evans’s accuser was precisely as likely or unlikely to consent to sex as was, during her earthly life, Saint Teresa of Calcutta? No, and the jury did not buy that, either.

    American-style provisions for internally administered “balance of probabilities” or “preponderance of evidence” tests to sexual assault allegations at universities or elsewhere must be banned by Statute. It is incompatible with the Rule of Law to punish someone for a criminal offence of which she has not been convicted.

    It must be made impossible for anyone to be extradited to face charges that fell short of these standards, or for such convictions to have any legal standing in this country. The case of Julian Assange yet again ties in these concerns with the struggle against the neoconservative war machine, and not least with that machine’s war on civil liberties. That machine is also very literally at war with young men.

    Convictions under laws predating these changes ought to be annulled by Act of Parliament along with those of men whose homosexual acts would not be criminal offences today. Labour should vote against that unless it also annulled, not only all convictions in the above categories, but also all convictions and other adverse court decisions arising out of Clay Cross, Shrewsbury, Wapping, and the three Miners’ Strikes since 1970.

    This would set the pattern for all future feminist and LGBT legislation. Without a working-class quid pro quo, then Labour would vote against any such legislation. Alongside the DUP, the Conservative Right, or whoever. It is not Blair’s Labour Party now.

  2. On October 19, 2016 at 8:19 pm Andy responded with... #

    Yes Sally because for be it for anyone to use the law to prove themselves innocent (unless they are a false accuser obviously)…

    A ‘can of worms’ has been opened though probably (if it’s allowed in Sally’s world) which will see more criminals brought to justice.

    If ‘history’ can now be taken into account then all those in front of the bench can have their criminal histories made known as well.

    Women should not fear what happened in Evan’s case, what they should do is fear the likes of Sally whose scaremongering isn’t just stupid it is absolutely dangerous.

  3. On October 22, 2016 at 9:46 am brian morris responded with... #

    I am surprised that no one has yet proposed that any man accused of rape should be automatically convicted and sent to prison…this would save lots of time and money,and hopefully satisfy those who think like Ms Keeble.Why bother with trials when feminism is self evidently the correct response…why worry about innocence,even when proved?

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