Sam Burne James: Charity is right to join the debate on Ched Evans

It is encouraging that journalists from across the mainstream media have considered the charity world as able to add something to the debate, writes Third Sector's reporter

Sam Burne James
Sam Burne James

The public discussion over the future of Ched Evans, the footballer released last week after serving two and a half years in jail for a 2011 rape, has been understandably heated.

The rehabilitation of offenders and the ability to forgive are complex topics, especially in a society where attitudes of victim blame and male entitlement are often the norm with relation to the hideous crime Evans committed.

It often falls on charities, in their capacity of giving a voice to the voiceless, to defend the people society has discarded or considers undesirable; people with disabilities, without fixed abode or, of course, with criminal records. Evans, who reportedly continued to be paid £20,000 a week by his employer Sheffield United while behind bars, is not an obvious resident of that category.

Indeed, the charity Rape Crisis has spoken up to urge football clubs not to employ Evans, saying it would "send out a strong message condemning sexual violence against women". That is of course correct. Rape Crisis has also said it "does not, and has never, disputed any convicted criminal’s right to return to society and to work after they’ve served their sentence". That that statement is made is of course also correct; therein of course lies the dilemma.

Moving from a charity supporting victims, to another working for offenders, Christopher Stacey, director of the charity Unlock, is thus quoted in a BBC article on Evans’ release: "There is a difference between condoning his behaviour and giving him a job. People like Ched Evans have to go somewhere. They are back in the world and we have to find a way of reintegrating them. Ultimately people have to be the best at the job they are going for and that’s a decision Sheffield United have to make as an employer." Once again, undeniably correct.

I must say I was a little surprised to hear Unlock so actively sticking up for Evans. But I’m not interested, for the purposes of this blog, in the future employment situation of Ched Evans per se. Rather, I’m interested in charity’s role in such debates.

Regardless of what exactly you think about what any charity has said about the Evans situation, I am sure you agree that it is right that they are able to express these views and act as advocate for people whose voices are either not being heard or are being distorted in the push and shove of a media storm.

It is encouraging that journalists from across the mainstream media have considered the charity world as able to add something to the debate and given their opinions prominence. Society desperately needs the objective, earnestly formed and well-informed arguments and advocacy advanced by charities in important public discussions like this. Heaven forbid that government ever tried to stifle it.

This article was first published on the Third Sector blog

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