With sexual assault, money should not trump the law, says Ali Schofield
Money can’t buy you love. But it can buy you pretty much anything else.
Or at least, that’s what Donald Trump thinks. He apologised last month for bragging to TV host Billy Bush about groping women – “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything” – but also dismissed the comments as “locker room banter”.
Clearly, it was one of those vile conversations between vile men not intended to be heard by others, least of all women and absolutely not a few years down the line when one of the vile men is making a bid for US presidency. My favourite defence of the comments so far is the one from Washington state Republican party chair Susan Hutchison, who said they “were made when he was a Democrat”… we’re all waiting for Obama to apologise on behalf of his party, right?!
Anyway, it is the actions described, rather than the words, which are most troubling. Because I think we might all actually be a little bit to blame for this idea that fame and money gives men sexual power.
Judges on TV talent shows promise male contestants “the chicks [eurgh] are going to love you” and we raise our eyebrows at “gold diggers”. I remember friends being impressed when Wayne Rooney married his girlfriend-since-age-16 Coleen because, well, the rich and famous footballer could “have his pick” of women. Then when it turned out he’d paid for sex in the, shall we say, conventional way with prostitutes, a similar tone of bemusement rang through the papers’ reporting of it.
Last month Ched Evans was cleared of rape at a retrial. The footballer has always pleaded his innocence and was acquitted after a campaign led by his girlfriend’s family, during which it was revealed that there was a £50,000 reward for information that could clear him. In an unprecedented move, the court then allowed two former sexual partners of the alleged victim to give evidence about her sex life.
The court’s decision is final (assuming the alleged victim, a 19-year-old waitress, doesn’t find a spare £50,000) but something Evans told police following his arrest speaks of this lingering societal link between fame and sexual precedence. He said: “We could have had any girl we wanted… we’re footballers. Footballers are rich and they have money. That is what girls like.” Ched Evans could have had any girl he wanted. Rooney, too, needn’t have paid for sex – he could have had any girl he wanted.
This pervasive idea also holds traction before the man even earns the money. Stanford student Brock Turner recently served only a three-month sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, the “severe impact” of the verdict on his “promising swimming career” cited by the judge as punishment in itself. The mere potential of sporting money in future gave Turner power over his victim.
We’ve heard from countless victims how Jimmy Savile’s fame and money afforded him sexual power. It is disappointing in the extreme that it feels important to write the next sentence down. A man’s financial profile should have no impact on the treatment of any alleged crimes by the judicial system. And wealth and fame are not a substitute for sexual consent. No amount of money can change that.