A red card for sexual violence?

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Selena Jackson
GUSA Correspondant

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week or so, you’ll be well aware of the catastrophic fall from grace of self-proclaimed ladies’ man, Dapper Laughs (real name Daniel O’Reilly), a comedian who found fame in 2013 on the back of the Vine clips that he starred in and posted online. With nearly 3 million followers shared between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine to date, it’s clear that his “6-second sex secrets” and “pulling tips” did have a mass comedic appeal.

Obviously comedy is entirely subjective and will always draw critics: at best, branded boring and predictable; at worst, it can be seen as promoting and trivialising sexist, racist and/or homophobic behaviour.

While his initial videos, albeit undoubtedly tacky and gregarious, were relatively harmless, O’Reilly admitted on Newsnight on Tuesday 11th November that he “kind of got a little bit carried away” with the “character” that he portrayed, after a video emerged of him telling an audience member at the London Scala that she was “gagging for a rape”. The fallout was cataclysmic. Only days later, ITV2 announced that it was pulling the plug on his TV show On The Pull – dubbed by fellow comedian Lee Kern as a “rapist’s almanac” – with tour promoter SJM confirming the cancellation of all 12 tour dates he was due to play in coming months only hours later.

What I found the most disturbing about this Newsnight episode, however, was that just minutes after Emily Maitlis’s scathing interview with O’Reilly, came the discussion over the future of Ched Evans, a Sheffield United player who in 2012 was convicted of raping a 19-year-old girl and jailed for five years – a sentence he ended up serving only half of. He was released last week, and on the same day as the final nail was hammered into the coffin of Dapper Laugh’s career, Evans’s former club announced that they would allow him to resume training with them following an appeal from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).

Now, this is where my issue lies: I cannot understand for the life of me that anyone could consider a two-and-a-half year jail term followed by a possible return to the welcoming arms of the footballing community (never mind a potential five-figure weekly salary) as suitable retribution for Evans’s heinous crime.

Why is it that society is (rightly) in uproar over O’Reilly’s actions, but long-standing supporters of Evans only seem interested in justifying his actions by attacking anyone who dares stand up against him? On November 13th Jessica Ennis-Hill was the latest high-profile figure to lambast Sheffield United’s decision to allow Evans back to training by declaring that she would ask for her name to be removed from the club’s stand if they were to reinstate him. Of course, in the minds of the moronic, bigoted supporters of Evans, Ennis was just exposing herself as a petulant Feminist looking for any reason to pick a fight. So, clearly, the only way to respond was by sending her rape threats, examples of which proceed, “Jessica Ennis-Hill is a stupid c**t. Saying she will remove her name if Ched Evens [sic] is signed. I hope he rapes her” and “Hope Ched Evans gets you you little slut”.

After having got over my initial abhorrence at anyone thinking this was an appropriate and measured way to respond to Ennis’s views, it suddenly dawned on me that these “supporters” are actually capable of acknowledging the fact that Ched Evans is a rapist; yet continue to stand by him.

How can it be that it be in our seemingly progressive society, people still harbour such outdated views on sexual violence? Why are so many people standing up in support of Evans when his victim has had to change her identity three times for fear of being tracked down by them and attacked or even killed? With 1 in 5 women experiencing some form of sexual abuse at some stage in their lives, why do so many people continue to insult victims who could just as easily be their sister, girlfriend or daughter?

Returning to the debate over O’Reilly’s future, I think it is apparent how totally justified and necessary it is to publicly shame him for his actions. There is simply no place in a society with already dangerous and shameful views on sexual violence for someone who jokes about creating a five-minute guide to rape (seriously, look it up). Now, I cannot quite stress enough the fact that I do not agree with or condone a single component of O’Reilly’s “character”. However, the one recognisable difference between his conduct and that of Evans, is that O’Reilly publicly apologised for his actions once he realised how much attention they had gained. As will anyone who engages half of their brain, I do take this “apology” with a pinch of salt, however I believe that the most important part here is the principle. O’Reilly recognises that promoting and trivialising sexual aggression towards women is no example to set for his millions of followers, many of whom are still young boys themselves. On the other hand, to this day Evans maintains his innocence, and if anything only fuels the idiotic followers who represent and uphold his beliefs on social media.

While Sheffield United have now ruled out any possibility of renewing Ched Evans’s contract, the damage has been done. I refuse to believe that any self-respecting person, let alone an entire football club, could fail to consider the extent of collateral damage that would ensue from offering a convicted sex-offender a second chance in the limelight. It cannot be ignored that the justice system is critically flawed where a judge considers a release from jail after just over two years for a convicted rapist, let alone someone widely considered as a role model for young people.

For me, however, the real blame lies with the administrations, such as ITV and Sheffield United. Whilst ITV and SJM have taken steps in the right direction by recognising the severity of Dapper Laughs’s conduct and attempting to make an example of him, the same cannot be said for the PFA and Sheffield. As indicated by former patron for the club Charlie Webster on the same Newsnight feature, “At no point have Sheffield United acknowledged the extremity of his crime. I think it’s over 155,000 people now that have signed a petition against Ched Evans going back to the club”. It appears to me that regardless of whether the club are simply too naïve or just downright ignorant to understand the influence they have, their response is closely mirrored by that of the general public.

If we are going to witness a real difference in the way society handles sexual violence, it will be necessary for those in power to recognise that if you choose to make an example of one perpetrator, you must make an example of all of them.

Despite Evans’s football career having now been left in tatters, I am quite willing to put a bet on an autobiography documenting “the struggle to clear his name” being published within the next year. This project will likely sustain a comfortable life for him and his family, a luxury that his victim will sadly never have – after all, people always prefer the story of a fallen hero.