ched evans
A Change.org petition urges Sheffield United managed not to re-sign convicted rapist Ched EvansGetty

Nearly 60,000 people have signed an online petition urging Sheffield United not to re-sign the convicted rapist Ched Evans when he is released from prison.

The striker, formerly of Manchester City, was jailed for five years in April 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel after a night out near Rhyl in north Wales.

Clayton McDonald, a friend and fellow player, was cleared of the same charge.

Evans and McDonald admitted having sex with the teenager. The prosecution successfully argued that she was too drunk to consent. Evans is due for release in October.

The Change.org petition, addressed to United's chairman Kevin McCabe, was prompted by reports that the club are preparing to re-employ him on his release.

"For the male leaders of the club to endorse him and 'welcome him back' is an absolute humiliation to all women who expect the men who commit gross acts of violence against women to pay for what they have done and part of that is relinquishing the celebrity they attained, and in this case used as a tool to facilitate the violence," the petition states.

"The message is that men who commit such atrocious crimes will suffer only a small penance whilst the women they attack suffer for the rest of their lives. Sheffield United Football Club must not reinforce that message."

In April, United confirmed they had been in contact with Evans since his imprisonment.

The club said in a statement: "The club can confirm that, as part of its ongoing policy of providing a duty of care to former employees and their families, it was in contact with Mr Evans subsequent to his conviction."

Speaking to Sky News, Evan's girlfriend Natasha Massey said the player was determined to clear his name and continue with his career. Last month, she asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission to examine his case.

"If Ched wasn't a professional footballer we wouldn't be having this conversation, because that was his job before he went to prison. That's part of the whole rehabilitation process when you leave the prison and you go back to work," Massey said.

"All Ched wants to do is go back to work, do the job that he loves, play football, score goals and then just come home and have a family life."

Katie Russell, spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales, said: "It is of course any convicted criminal's right to serve their sentence and then go back into employment. We absolutely stand by that."

She added that the charity urged United to think carefully about re-employing someone convicted of such a serious crime.

"If they choose to do that, which is their right, we urge them to seriously consider the impact that will have on huge numbers of their supporters and we urge them to make a very strong statement condemning sexual violence, condemning violence against women and girls and making it clear that misogyny, sexism, violence and sexual violence in particular won't be tolerated within football."