Wednesday, January 07, 2015

As they see fit

If you've followed the news in the UK recently, you'll have heard of Ched Evans. Ched Evans is a convicted rapist.

In May 2011, Ched Evans, informed by a friend that he had "got a bird", went round to that room where his friend was with a woman in an extremely intoxicated condition. The woman was not known to him. He engaged in sexual intercourse with that woman, about which a judge would later say:
The complainant was 19 years of age and was extremely intoxicated. CCTV footage shows, in my view, the extent of her intoxication when she stumbled into your friend. As the jury have found, she was in no condition to have sexual intercourse. When you arrived at the hotel, you must have realised that.
While this was occurring, Mr Evans' friends watched and attempted to film what was going on. Mr Evans later left the room by the fire escape. Subsequently he was convicted of rape, since that is what sexual intercourse without consent actually is. He served half of a five-year sentence and subsequently has attempted to resume his career as a professional footballer, having been connected first with Sheffield United (his former side) and then - this week - Oldham Athletic.

Very many people, including the present writer, find this objectionable. People's reasons for thinking so vary but among those reasons are that Mr Evans' victim remains unable to resume any kind of normal life. She has had to change her name and identity and move house several times to escape abuse and threats from supporters of Mr Evans. Her plight cannot be separated from Mr Evans' continued campaign against her.

Obviously other people disagree with this and a public discussion, not characterised by its good-temperedness, continues to take place. Meanwhile Mr Evans continues to deny that the crime of rape took place, which he is entitled to do: however, at the present time he remains a convicted rapist. (It shouldn't be necessary to stress this, but it is, not least because it is remarkable how much comment on the case makes no attempt to acquaint itself with any facts1. This is also why I have gone to some detail above. It is quite important to know what the case against Mr Evans was. It's kind of the minimum level of knowledge necessary to comment.)

Now the reason I am discussing this on a chess blog is that - perhaps naturally, since both football and chess are important to me - I have wondered what would happen if there was a similar situation in English chess, rather than English football. Wondered, and not idly, because chess does have to think about these things. (We have, for instance, had sex offenders in our community before.)

So, could we rely on English chess officials - representatives of a community made up overwhelmingly of men - to show a proper understanding of what such a case entailed? To take rape sufficiently seriously?

As a guide, here's a comment made by Alex Holowczak. Alex Holowczak is a member of the Board of the English Chess Federation. Specifically, he is the Director of Home Chess.

How does Alex Holowczak approach the question of Ched Evans? The answer is that he has a good deal of sympathy with how poor Mr Evans is being picked on, especially by the BBC.

OK. So Alex Holowczak is a fool, as is anyone who cannot see why a convicted rapist is described as a convicted rapist when the point at issue is that he is a convicted rapist. Well, there are a lot of fools about, though few of them have been so foolish as to imagine that the BBC are deliberately making a "hate figure" of Ched Evans by calling him a convicted rapist.

But what, say, of "easy target"?

Mr Evans is not, of course, an easy target. Easy targets aren't the sort of people who have wealth and influence and expensive people to plead their case. They're not targets at all. Easy targets are the sort of people who have to spend three years of their lives changing their identity and on the run. They have to do this, because they are easy to target. Being described as a "convicted rapist" by the BBC doesn't make you an easy target. It makes you a convicted rapist in the news.

One could go on. But still, why pick on this particular piece of foolishness? Why not leave it in obscurity where frankly it belongs?

Partly because it's not the first time I've had cause to pass comment on Alex Holowczak, the previous2 occasion being the time he saw fit to invoke Martin Niemöller because the British Ladies' Championship changed its name to the British Women's Championship.

Truly, this gentleman has problems with perspective when issues relating to women are involved. Which, one day, might matter, given his status as a leading chess official.

Someday, something may quite possibly come up. And then it's going to be relevant, what our officials actually think.

Now on that previous occasion, what we learned was that though English chess will make noises about sexism and express a desire to do something about it (as its representatives did, for instance, more recently)

nevertheless, when anything actually comes up, or even if you just look behind the curtain and see what people really say and think, what you find is something else entirely. (I won't even call it sexism, in the present instance. It's something deeper, more visceral.) And English chess is not at all keen to be told that it has a problem where women are concerned.

Nor is chess in general. Which is maybe one reason why women interested in chess may have unpleasant experiences.

You see, it isn't about Alex Holowczak as such. It's about how chess, and English chess, and how those communities think and speak and act where women are concerned. How they will think and speak and act when something actually comes up.

So would it be different if it were happening in chess? If it were a professional chessplayer rather than a professional footballer who was involved? If it were the officialdom of English chess, rather than the FA and the boards of Sheffield United and Oldham Athletic, who were taking the decisions? Would those decisions be taken wisely, by informed people who understood what was happening and what it entailed?

Would it be any different? Would it be any better?

I think we know the answer. I think Alex Holowczak has told us.

[1 Another decent guide is Jean Hatchet's reply to Stuart Gilhooly.]
[2 Quite honestly I'd meant to let sleeping dogs lie on that particular controversy, given the rancour involved, but given its relevance to the present piece it can hardly be ignored.]

[Due to the nature of the material above, wholly anonymous comments will not be permitted on this piece.]


Jonathan Rogers said...

This post asks a pertinent question, but a very broad one, and if people are brave enough to answer, they are likely to focus on different points.

But if we just concentrate on the question "how would the chess community receive someone convicted - actually convicted - of a sex crime against another adult (and not believed to pose any particular threat to children)?" then I would guess as follows:

a) no respectable team would touch him

b) but some tournament organisers might admit him, reasoning that his offence has nothing to do with chess

c) upon b), the ECF would be asked again whether it should have a code of conduct that actually applies to ordinary ECF members and which would allow membership to be revoked on conviction of certain crimes. The issue would likely be kicked into the long grass yet again. Moreover, if any such code were agreed then part of the compromise would be that it would probably allow for exceptions to be made in certain exceptional cases; and that would cause no end of trouble, especially if any affected player is strong and genuinely seems to have something to offer the chess community.

But which sport does inspire confidence here? And who can forget how Mike Tyson was allowed to fight in Scotland after his rape conviction - despite it being the norm not to allow convicted rapists into the country?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps there was greater tolerance in the past, but a jail sentence was no barrier to becoming British Champion (1), Secretary of the BCF (2) or a leading figure in regional chess administration (3).

(1) William Winter - sedition early 1920s
(2) Stammwitz - bigamy circa 1945-46
(3) Ritson Morry - embezzlement circa 1945-46


ejh said...

Though of course none of those offences were rape or anything comparable to rape.

Anonymous said...

A closer parallel would be Edward Pindar, a professional player who in 1877 committed a serious (but non-sexual) assault on a woman, for which he was sentenced to 5 years' penal servitude: see Owen Hindle's interesting book.

Pindar did not resume his chess career after his release, though it is not clear how hard he tried. Should he have been allowed to do so?

Would it depend whether he expressed remorse for his crime? It would have been inconsistent to do so, since he had protested innocence at his trial. His defence was essentially that he had been suffering from some kind of mental illness and did not know what he was doing.

The jury were in effect told by the judge that there was no basis for that defence, and they duly rejected it. The judge's direction may well have been wrong as a matter of law, but there was no right of appeal at that time.


John Cox said...

I'm not so sure bigamy isn't comparable to rape. I don't expect the second wife was so thrilled to have been having sex with what she thought was her husband only to find out he wasn't, given the sexual mores of 1946.

I must say I don't quite understand what's being said here. It would be absurd if people's entries to chess tournaments were rejected on the basis that they'd committed any crime at all (after their sentence, of course). Surely no-one's suggesting that, are they?

John Cox said...

>It is quite important to know what the case against Mr Evans was. It's kind of the minimum level of knowledge necessary to comment

This isn't actually true at all. If one takes the view that it's a question of principle that convicted rapists should be able to hold any employment bar the relatively small number of jobs barred to them by statute, and that basic respect for the law precludes decent people from signing petitions aimed at harrassing individuals who are going about their lawful business, then I don't see that the details of the case actually matter at all. Conversely, if you take the view that allowing convicted rapists to work shouldn't happen because it encourages rape (or some such), then again the details of the case don't matter at all.

PH said...

Have you considered petitioning the Home Office for a change in their guidelines on the rehabilitation of offenders?

ejh said...

No I haven't, since I'm not aware that they require anybody in particular to provide employment for a convicted sex offender (as opposed to, quite properly, allowing such a person to seek employment). For instance I do not imagine that on their exit from custody, Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris will be offered high-profile posts in broadcasting, nor that when they are not, there will be a furore. (If I am mistaken on this, then I will be obliged at least to reassess my views.)

As far as a convicted rapist entering a chess tournament is concerned, obviously we're obliged to speculate, but I suspect that if such a person wished to play in say, the British Championship while his victim remained in hiding for fear of reprisals, then a lot of people would consider it inappropriate. I reckon I would.

On the serving of sentences, it's worth noting that Mr Evans hasn't served his. He's out on licence and could be returned to prison. The remainder of the sentence has not been discharged.

Re: the basic detail, my point in saying so is that I noticed (because I could hardly fail to notice) that when the case was discussed, a lot of people advocating the innocence of Mr Evans plainly had no idea of what all parties accepted had happened, for instance thinking that there were just two people, previously known to one another, in a room together etc etc. My view is that before pronouncing on the guilt or innocence of an individual one should have a basic knowledge of the facts of the case. Naturally this doesn't preclude us then taking any view we may reasonably come to.

ejh said...

(Can I remind readers of the note at the bottom of the piece saying that wholly anonymous comments will not be permitted. We have had to delete a couple for that reason.)

John Cox said...

If there was any evidence linking the convicted rapists to the threats to the victim, that would be one thing, but there isn't. Many people don't like women saying yes and then crying rape, and many people, some of them the same people, are morons. Putting the two things together, one gets the repellent spectacle of rape complainants being persecuted. If we want to do something about that as a society, we should (a) pursue the morons in question with the full force of the law, which as far as I know is being done (b) provide support systems for the victim, also being done, and (c) perhaps, take such issues into account in rape sentencing. Not extra-judicially punish convicted rapists further.

As to Hall etc, they would not be employed because they couldn't do their job, which is getting people to switch on and enjoy their programmes. Evans obviously could do this one.

Obviously people shouldn't comment on guilt or innocence without looking up the facts, but that's a different question. Having said that, once you do read it the CA judgment it's reasonably obvious that the jury's verdict was astonishing, and that the CA upheld it by intellectual dishonesty because they don't like have juries' decisions questioned rather than for any more sensible reason.

John Cox said...

You might like to know that bridge had a reasonably high-profile player who committed murder (I think possibly he was actually convicted of manslaughter, but anyway he killed someone in a fit of passion of some kind - I think a relative, possinbly even his wife). He returned to the game immediately with no questions asked.

John Cox said...

>On the serving of sentences, it's worth noting that Mr Evans hasn't served his. He's out on licence and could be returned to prison. The remainder of the sentence has not been discharged.

It really isn't, you know. Everyone knows that people are released from prison half way through their sentences, and everyone also knows that this is what people are referring to when they say in common parlance 'he's done his time'. Making such a big issue of the invariable routine in this case is just special pleading, indicative of the speaker's prejudices, nothing more. No-one suggests offenders of any other kind should suffer extra-judicial persecution during the licence period.

PH said...

Related to what John said, Leslie Grantham shot a man and was in jail for considerably longer than this football chap, yet spent many a year post release gracing our screens in East Enders funded by the British public. I don't recall much discontent.

But this was before 24 hour media and Facebook.....

Skeptic said...

The goal of chess federations is to organize chess, not exclude people who aren't nice.

This is a slippery slope. You start with excluding ex-cons, but soon there will be demands that those who have stupid, disgusting, or simply unpopular opinions be excluded as well - which, experience shows, quickly becomes a tool against all criticism, however justified, and anybody the federation dislikes or fears is not allowed to play.

If You think player X is too evil a man for decent people to play chess with, well, don't play him. You may be right in certain cases. But doing the right thing also includes taking a loss for non-appearance. It's not the federation's job - indeed, it mustn't be - to declare who is good enough a person to join it.

m regan said...

Once more Justin in your quest for the moral high ground - you have tortured the facts. The question is not whether Ched Evans is a convicted rapist - he self-evidently is - but whether the British justice system includes rehabilitation. Many would vote in favour of castrating rapists, but liberals have won the day. They can not have it both ways. You can't believe in rehabilitation, only until you disagree with it.
For what it's worth though I do believe that chess attitudes to female players are stuck in the Middle Ages

John Cox said...

For that matter, there's a couple of well-known players at the moment who served longer sentences for more serious offences involving killing people. Not a word about them on Twitter. Even Call Me Dave hasn't given us the benefit of his view about them. Their contracts are both up this summer. Will we see a campaign to persuade their clubs to release them? Of course not. People will have found someone else to hound by them.

ejh said...

If there was any evidence linking the convicted rapists to the threats to the victim, that would be one thing, but there isn't.

People acting in support of Mr Evans have persecuted to victim to a horrendous degree. Nobody is suggesting that Mr Evans has directly encouraged them to do so. However, two points:

(a) in between his release and the present time his team have operated a website, currently under investigation, which invites viewers to draw adverse conclusions about the victim, and from which it may be possible to identify her;

(b) it took until Thursday of this last week for Mr Evans to acknowledge in any way (however inadequate)that she was in this horrendous situation. I believe that her persecution would quite likely have ceased had he issued a statement callling for it to cease and asking people who supported him to act responsibly.

Instead she's been chased, threatened and defamed across the internet and in real life. And I think this is, in large part, what separates this case from other instances which people have cited (Lee Hughes, Phil Taylor, Leslie Grantham and so on). This, and the absence of any remorse (which I understand is an essential element in rehabilitation, which is why many people have observed that invoking rehabilitation doesn't really fit here). In other instances, very serious offences have been committed but everything has been in the past. This is not so here: the victim,for instance, is still being persecuted.

Having said that, once you do read it the CA judgment it's reasonably obvious that the jury's verdict was astonishing

I don't agree with this for a second and neither do these people (long but good read).

As to Hall etc, they would not be employed because they couldn't do their job, which is getting people to switch on and enjoy their programmes.

Nor this. Had Harris, for instance, ceased to have a media career immediately prior to his conviction? That's not my recollection.

(It might be that many people would refuse to accept then or to listen to and watch their shows, but then, that's true of Evans also.)

No-one suggests offenders of any other kind should suffer extra-judicial persecution during the licence period

Save the victim, nobody is being persecuted, nor hounded. Not being able to play professional football is not persecution.

ejh said...

You start with excluding ex-cons, but soon there will be demands that those who have stupid, disgusting, or simply unpopular opinions be excluded as

No doubt, but nobody with a sense of proportion will be interested in these demands, will they?

(And with that, I need to bring this particular discussion to a close in this particular place, as my termly work cycle is upon me and I no longer have the spare time to monitor, moderate and reply to it. My apologies for this, and thanks to commentors for the tone in which they've written, especially those who have disagreed with me.)