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A storm erupted on Monday as a British teenager raped by a footballer was named on social networking website Twitter.
Police promised a “robust” investigation after the girl was identified and abused on the internet within hours of Wales striker Ched Evans being found guilty of the attack.
Her name was being circulated so widely that it is understood to have been one of the top “trending”, or most used, words on the Twitter site at the weekend.
The victim was on Monday night said by her family to have been “traumatised” by the loss of her anonymity and the Attorney General has warned that those who published her name could face prosecution.
Sheffield United player Evans, 23, was sentenced to five years’ jail on Friday for raping the 19-year-old in a hotel after a night out in Rhyl, North Wales last May.
He admitted having sex with the victim but she told police she had no memory of the incident and believed her drinks had been spiked. Evans’s friend, the Port Vale defender Clayton McDonald, 23, also admitted having sex with the victim but was found not guilty of the same charge.
Soon after Evans was convicted, his Sheffield United teammate Connor Brown accused his victim of being a “money grabbing little tramp”.
Another supporter tweeted: “Birds that **** footballers then accuse them of rape are complete compensation-grabbing ***s. They need shooting.”
The personal abuse against the victim on the internet soon escalated into messages in which she was named.
Jonathan Cox from Sheffield published her name, saying she “isn’t a victim she’s a w***e”. Joshua Laughton, also from Sheffield, tweeted the name of the victim before sharing another user’s message saying “she’s got a massive reputation in Rhyl for doing similar things”.
Both Cox and Laughton have since removed their messages from Twitter.
Rape victims are granted lifelong anonymity by the British courts and publishing a name is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £5 000.
North Wales Police have described the comments on Twitter as “profoundly disturbing’”and say they contribute to the young woman’s “continued trauma”.
On Monday night her family revealed she was “traumatised, shocked and deeply upset” at being identified by Twitter users.
Her mother said: “Putting her name on Twitter is just another horrendous ordeal for her and we have been assured the police are going to come down like a ton of bricks on these people.”
The teenager is understood to have had counselling following the rape.
Evans has been the top scorer for Sheffield United this season, scoring 29 League goals, and he was named in the Professional Footballers’ Association League One team of the year on Sunday. Voting took place before his conviction.
The sister of the victim believes she has been abused because of Evans’s popularity as a footballer. She said: “People are only doing it because he is a footballer, I think it is absolutely disgusting and the whole family are shocked.”
While newspapers and television broadcasters follow court anonymity rulings, they are often ignored on the internet and postings are usually difficult to remove once they have been published.
Labour MP Louise Ellman said: “The naming of any rape victim should be condemned, anonymity is crucial and this case should be pursued by the authorities.”
North Wales Police have begun collecting evidence. Detective Chief Inspector Steve Williams said: “As and when criminal offences are identified on such websites they will be dealt with robustly and the offenders will be brought to justice.”
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said: “Rape victims have lifetime anonymity and the publication of a rape victim’s name is a criminal offence.”
When confronted about his Twitter message Cox, 20, said: “What Ched Evans did was totally unacceptable but there are thousands of people tweeting about it, not just me.
“I didn’t think about the content before passing it on. I didn’t even know if it was the girl involved or not.”
Sheffield United on Monday announced an internal probe into the tweets from Brown. - Daily Mail