Do footballers need lessons on sexual consent?
“I have never been taught about anything like that.”
These were the words of footballer Ched Evans in his first interview since being found innocent of rape on Friday.
He was speaking about the issue of sexual consent, which became the central argument in the court proceedings that first sent him to jail but then established his innocence at a retrial. He has now told the Mail on Sunday that “in this day and age, people need educating” on the issue.
But do young men and women, particularly footballers, need to be taught about the law?
Many football clubs are already taking preventative measures to make sure their players know the rules they need to follow to stay out of trouble in their life off the pitch.
Brighton and Hove Albion was the first team in the UK to offer consent training and counselling to all its young players, both male and female.
“It is beneficial to our young players as part of their development as young adults,” said a club spokesman. “There is a lot of bravado and misinformation around what is consent, and it”s our feeling that all young people should understand the law around sexual consent – and also what the consequences are should anyone break the law.”
The Football League has provided sessions on sexual consent to the safeguarding officers employed at all 72 clubs it is responsible for and offered them the opportunity to follow up with further training.
A spokesman said: “We are continuing to help clubs educate their young [under-18] players in this area as part of ongoing educational programmes. We are also working closely with other bodies to ensure consistency in training.”
“That grey area”
Both courses have the backing of the FA, which told the BBC: “Anything which raises awareness and educates people, whether it is players, club staff or fans, on this important topic, is a good thing.”
But what do the players think?
Former Brighton academy centre-forward Chike Kandi – who started his career with Chelsea and has now moved on to Woking – told BBC Radio 5 live about the course he took while at Brighton: “They really narrowed down that grey area between consent and non-consent, to one moment, or one point in an interaction, when you can definitely ask the question.
“And if the answer”s yes, then it”s ok and if it”s no then you back off.”
Brighton academy goalkeeper Harry Doherty, 20, added: “After recent events, like the Ched Evans case, I wouldn”t say footballers are more prone, but they might get more attention and one incident could change their lives.
“One moment you could be at the top and the next minute it could all be over.”
Ched Evans, then a striker at Sheffield United, had always insisted he was innocent while he was serving a jail sentence after originally being found guilty in 2012 of the rape of a 19-year-old woman – who was two-and-a-half times over the drink-driving limit.
The accuser got a taxi to the hotel with his friend and fellow footballer Clayton McDonald, where Mr Evans had booked a room. Mr McDonald rang him and said: “I”ve got a girl.”
About 15 minutes later, the player arrived at the hotel and got a key to the room, before “joining in” with his friend in having sex with the woman, then leaving through a fire door.
The argument for the lawyers on both sides centred on whether the woman gave her consent.
Prosecuting counsel Simon Medland said in his closing speech at the retrial: “This wealthy young footballer felt entitled to have her and did so regardless of what she would have wanted. In doing so, we submit this was rape and not consensual sex.”
But defence counsel Judy Khan said: “The evidence shows that despite her apparent memory blackout, the complainant was capable of making rational decisions. Drunken consent is nevertheless consent. Lack of memory does not equal lack of consent.”
On Friday, the jury at Cardiff Crown Court found him not guilty.
After having his name cleared, Mr Evans, who now plays for Chesterfield, told the Mail on Sunday: “I was young at the time and I was stupid and I wasn”t aware of the situations you could potentially find yourself in that would land you in trouble.
“I have never been taught about anything like that. You get your gambling and drinking training but nothing else on top of that. In this day and age people need educating on alcohol and consent.”
“Get rid of misconceptions”
However, it is not just football clubs that think it is important to educate young people on the issues around sexual consent.
Oxford University students” union has run workshops for two years and this year they have become mandatory across the university”s colleges.
Orla White, vice president for women at the university”s students” union, said it was key that both men and women were educated.
“We talk about the gender aspects of sexual violence and we think it is important to get rid of the misconceptions that it only happens to women,” she said.
“We try to ensure that every person who walks away from the course is aware of their own responsibilities and to check in on others, and also ensure everyone knows that we, as a community of students, will not accept it.”
And students have widely embraced the concept.
Alice Tithecott, from St Edmund Hall at the university, said: “I felt reassured by the adult and mature discussions we had surrounding matters of consent, and in particular being given the opportunity to explore different perspectives and issues regarding consent in a safe environment.
“I feel that this workshop was an invaluable part of freshers” week because it creates dialogue about issues which may otherwise be considered taboo.”
The courses run by colleges and football clubs have been praised by sex education experts, although some argue the issue of consent needs to be raised much earlier in a young person”s life.
A spokeswoman from Brook, the young people”s sexual health and well-being charity, said: “We believe that every young person should have these lessons at school and from a young age.
She quoted one of the young people that works with the charity, who said: “If my sex education had taught that consent is a sober, continuous, verbal, and enthusiastic Yes rather than just the absence of a No, I might not have had to assure my friend that she didn”t cheat on her boyfriend – another man raped her.”