When Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans was sentenced to five years in jail last month for raping a 19-year-old woman, the backlash was immediate. Fellow footballers called the victim a "slag". Online commenters spewed vile hatespeak, accusing her of asking for it.
Who can we now add to that list? The Kremlin's English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today.
"Life sucks in a bad way if you happen to live in Britain," begins a column published on the channel's website in the wake of the Evans verdict. "Disclaimer: Only if you are a man of virile age. Being rich and hot-looking makes it worse." What follows is the worst of rape apologia, a litany of excuses, justifications and jokes that women have spent decades fighting against – 1,000 words devoted to proving why Evans, and, indeed, all mankind, is the true victim.
"No allegations of physical force," writes the anonymous author, venting his rage at the verdict. "No coercion … Yet Evans is found guilty." Let readers remember that the court convicted Evans after hearing that his victim was too drunk to consent to sex, that she believed her drink may have been spiked, that she has no memory of the incident.
But, according to Russia Today, who hasn't? "You can think whatever you like about the moral standing of the three people involved," the Russia Today author writes. "But the last time we checked there was no statute against getting pissed drunk and having a drunken romp. Not in Britain at least. Because if there were, too many lads to count could be accused of statutory rape after many a pint on a Saturday night."
And that's exactly the point; which the author promptly misses. For it is the God-given right of every man to have his way with whichever woman he chooses: "We live in 2012 when men increasingly have no rights," says the author. "Too many a woman thinks that somehow men are a source of unfairness and trouble in the world."
Were these but the ravings of a lone internet commenter or the private ramblings of a chauvinist, that would be bad enough. That they are made by someone who presumably considers himself a journalist, behind a cloak of anonymity provided by a channel that likes to frame itself as an "international news organisation" on par with the BBC and al-Jazeera, is another matter entirely.
I called Russia Today's spokeswoman, Ksenia Bregadze, to see if the channel stood by the author's words. "It's the position of the columnist – it's not a fact that we support it," she said, which doesn't exactly sound like a denial. Why the anonymity of the author? "It's a situation where the author doesn't want his name to be known to all," she said. Is he in Russia? The UK? The US? "I don't even know who he is."
It remains unclear to me whether that was an example of Russia Today's sloppy unprofessionalism or disregard of questions. The channel's latest star is Julian Assange, who has yet to face accusations of sexual coercion in Sweden.
The state-run channel says it aims to bring viewers "another story", one not told by the so-called mainstream media. In practice, this means bringing viewers the Russian state's point of view. Let's not forget how several years ago, Vladimir Putin, who is due to be inaugurated next week for a third presidential term, once "jokingly" praised former Israeli president Moshe Katsav for being a "strong man" because he "raped 10 women" (Katsav is now serving seven years in prison after being convicted of two counts of rape). "I never would have expected it of him," Putin was reportedly caught saying off-mic during a meeting with then Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert when the allegations first came to light in 2006. "He has surprised us all," Putin said. "We envy him!"
Russia has a woeful record on women's rights in general, and acknowledgement of rape, marital violence and sexual harassment in particular. Once a leader in the feminist struggle, it is now a haven of reactionary thought on gender roles. There are particular historical reasons for that, and a discussion on the trend is just beginning. But that doesn't mean that anonymous authors, promoted by the state, should be allowed to broadcast their hate-filled views to the world without recourse.
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