A former Sheffield United footballer was released this week after serving two and a half years of a five-year jail sentence for rape. A huge controversy has arisen over whether he should be re-employed by his old club. Over 150k people have signed a petition saying that he should not. Encouragingly, there is an active debate on the sports pages as well as the news pages, which is causing a lot of men (and women) to reflect on these issues.
Those arguing in his favour include Judy Finnigan speaking on the TV show Loose Women, who argued that the rape was not violent and did not “cause any bodily harm”. She has been rightly criticised, and we strongly oppose anything that seeks to diminish the seriousness of the crime he has committed. Despite his defiant protests, the fact remains that a jury in a court of law convicted him of rape. Rape is a serious offense and that doesn’t change based on the identity or fame of the perpetrator.
Rehabilitation of Offenders
More significant is the argument that he has served his time and therefore should be rehabilitated back into the community and allowed to work. For some professions, a conviction of this nature would be the end of a career, but this is not the case for most jobs, and surely he has a right to work at what he does best? Why should he be singled out when other rapists are not stopped from returning to their careers?
Restored supports the rehabilitation of offenders, but this is not just about the livelihood of one man. By choosing to focus on whether he can return to play for his former club are we forgetting some larger aspects of his offense?
What is the primary issue?
Firstly we need to restore the focus on the victim and the damage done to her, rather than on the perpetrator of the crime. Secondly, footballers are role models. This individual has not acknowledged his guilt or given any indication of repentance or awareness of the seriousness of his actions. What messages would this send? That there is forgiveness and restoration without repentance? That success in football can override almost anything else, no matter how serious? That a perpetrator’s celebrity status diminishes the seriousness of the crime and the rights of the victim?
A good feature in the Independent suggests what he could do positively in terms of working with young men to prevent rape, but there is no sign of this. If anything, his statements after release are extremely damaging to the victim. He is disrespectful to her and shows an utter lack of concern for her wellbeing.
“To even consider reinstating him as a player at the same club is a deep insult to the woman who was raped and to all women like her who have suffered at the hands of a rapist. For the male leaders of the club to endorse him and ‘welcome him back’ is an absolute humiliation to all women who expect the men who commit gross acts of violence against women to pay for what they have done and part of that is relinquishing the celebrity they attained, and in this case used as a tool to facilitate the violence. The clear message to young boys and men is that you will be forgiven for this crime…. The message given is that men who commit such atrocious crimes will suffer only a small penance whilst the women they attack suffer for the rest of their lives.”
— Change.org petition —
The creator of the petition has since said that she has suffered “relentless” abuse online from the footballer’s supporters –including threats of rape. What does this say about their understanding of the issue?
What do you think?
A blog from Peter Grant and Vani Krishnaswamy
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