Yesterday's news of the acquittal of the footballer Ched Evans following a retrial has prompted much online debate, ranging from vitriolic misogyny (the complainant, X, was described as a "slut" on Twitter over ninety times within an hour of the news) to more erudite legal commentary. The Court of Appeal's decision that the post-trial evidence was admissible has now been published, ending speculation over the reason for the retrial.
FiLia is not adding to the already extensive discussion over this specific case; the ruling of the Court of Appeal was not challenged and the jury, who heard the full evidence, reached a decision.
However we do feel that it has raised wider issues. s.41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 permits a complainant's sexual history to be raised where her sexual behaviour in the past has been so similar that it cannot reasonably be explained as coincidence. The more generic the behaviour, the more likely is coincidence. Sexual consent to one man does not equate to sexual consent to all future men.
Payments to witnesses, too, are hardly the hallmark of an impartial system. It is an old maxim that justice must not just be done but be seen to be done. At present the thousands and thousands of women and girls who experience rape are reluctant to report it, to the extent that in 2012 the website UniLad described getting away with rape as "fairly good odds." The US presidential candidate Donald Trump has openly boasted of sexual assault with impunity.
This is a system which is failing rape survivors. This week's coverage has only reflected that, and the anger that has been directed at the outcome of one case is representative of a much more widespread problem of survivors feeling unable to report in a system which they perceive as hostile, and in a society which vilifies them if they do. We need change.
Three amazing lawyers spoke at FIL 2015 about how the system could change to ensure justice for survivors without jeopardising the defendant's right to a fair trial and we would welcome this. The current situation is hardly a glorious exoneration for acquitted defendants and it is devastating for every victim whether they reported or not.
FiLia is organising a scream of solidarity with rape survivors in Marble Arch at 2pm today 15 October 2016. Emily Jacob of Reconnected Life will be speaking. Similar events are taking place in Bristol, Nottingham and Gloucester. All welcome.