When rumours of convicted rapist Ched Evans’ potential return to football first surfaced, there was a fairly resounding mood of disbelief. Whist legally speaking, there was nothing to suggest that Evans could not return to his previous life, most had assumed that his footballing career was over.
Interestingly, the case raised an ethical dilemma that transcended the footballing world and permeated our wider societal discourse. What should happen to convicted sex offenders after they have served their sentence; should they be allowed back into the working world and should there be parameters on the kind of work that they are allowed do?
Richard Thomson, the Director of Recruit with Conviction – a not-for-profit company that promotes the safe and effective recruitment of people with criminal records – thinks that although people may find it difficult to accept, the employment of ex-offenders is still an essential part of the rehabilitation process.
“In the minds of employers, there are a number of things that are particularly emotive,” he said. “Words like ‘sex offender’ or ‘paedophile’ are right at the top of that list and I think it’s hard for people to get their head around those labels for very obvious reasons.
“One of the problems is that no one wants to talk about the issue because no one wants their organisation to be linked with employing sex offenders. We promote the employability of anyone because we believe it makes much more sense for people to be economically active rather than long-term unemployed, regardless of their circumstances.”
That’s a view shared partially by Jan McLeod of the Women’s Support Project, who argues that although people can have a second chance, we need to be clear about what the risks are with ex-offenders going back into the workplace and look at who sets those parameters.
She said: “I think that common sense would tell you that somebody who is a serial offender would need to be much more supervised and it could also be argued that there should be exemptions from certain types of employment for someone who targets particularly vulnerable victims.
“I can see that it would be extremely distasteful if someone who abused a person you love was to go on to become a public figure but I do think that people can have a life after they’ve offended. The problem is that it’s actually quite difficult to legislate against people going into certain roles without it becoming discriminatory. This is an area where people really do have to vote with their feet.”
According to the Recorded Crime in Scotland statistical bulletin, 7,693 sexual offences were reported to police in the period 2012/13, of which 1,372 were rapes and 90 were attempted rapes.
Clearly, sexual violence in Scotland is still a massive problem and with more and more high-profile individuals being linked with sexual abuse cases, the argument for a real debate on this topic has never been stronger.
According to police figures from 2013, there are now 3,314 registered sex offenders living in Scotland and with DWP figures showing that one in three people on Jobseeker’s Allowance now hold a criminal record, some have argued that more needs to be done to get ex-offenders back into work.
For many however, the argument will fall on whether the perpetrators of serious crimes deserve to reintegrate into society or whether by committing the crime, they forfeit their rights to a normal life. For those people, arguments about the economy or support networks will be of little consequence and their own personal views will likely be more ideologically led.
We may well see Ched Evans in a football shirt again one day but for society as a whole, the far more interesting question is whether we will ever reach a point where we can truly accept the reintegration of people who once committed the most heinous crimes.