Amidst the mantra from men's rights activists that an allegation of rape ruins a man's life, Ched Evans, the footballer acquitted of rape following a retrial last year, is set to rejoin Sheffield United.

Two and a half years ago the club withdrew an offer for Evans to begin training with them, following protests by feminists and a number of the club supporters. The protesters pointed out that a convicted rapist is not the best example to set for the fans, and would send out a message to victims of sex crimes that they did not matter.

When Evans won a retrial last year on the basis of "new evidence", a number of his male supporters continued what they had begun the second that their hero's arrest was made public – they defiled the woman who had made the accusation, calling her a "slag", a "whore" and a "lying bitch".

Feminists who expressed support for a woman brave enough to report rape, particularly in the case of a man revered for his sporting prowess, were labelled 'FemiNazis' because, for some men, women who think that rape is bad and strive for equality are in fact fascists.

Part of the reason the Ched Evans case became a massive media circus was because of the rarity of an actual rape conviction, let alone one of a professional footballer.

The charity Rape Crisis estimates 85,000 rapes against women occur in England and Wales every year, but thousands go unreported. In 2015-16, police recorded 23,851 reports of adults being raped – nearly all of them women. Of these, there were just 2,689 convictions recorded (2015).

For 35 years, I have fought for justice for the victims of sexual assault. During that time, we have moved from a time (prior to 1992) when rape in marriage was legal, and when women were routinely told by police they had "brought it on themselves", to a position that women are beginning to feel able to report sexual assaults without fear of being blamed and humiliated.

But the acquittal of Evans, and the way his defence was run, has set us back decades. The judge in Evans' retrial ruled that it was a "rare case" in which it would be appropriate to allow "forensic examination" of the woman's sexual behaviour.

Evans's supporters offered a £50,000 reward for any information that might lead to his acquittal, and even hired private detectives to sniff around the complainant's private life.

The "evidence" produced in court was in the shape of testimony from two men who were both known to the footballer's friends who had claimed they had had sex with the complainant in the weeks before and after the alleged rape. This testimony convinced the judge that evidence of the woman's sexual history could be admitted.

I was part of a research team in 2003 that monitored the effectiveness of the laws preventing routine cross-examination of a complainant's sexual history. Our research found that judges granted permission in two-thirds of the cases for sexual history evidence to be heard, including in a small number of cases involving children.

In the 14 years since this research was conducted, nothing much has changed. A study undertaken in Newcastle by Dame Vera Baird QC, in 2016, found that in one third of cases observed, there was question about prior sexual conduct of the complainant. In a further four cases, the court rules about cross-examination were disregarded as applications were made on the morning of the trial or after trial commencement to introduce sexual history.

In recent years, things have got much worse for women who make the difficult and brave decision to report rape. The Evans case will put countless victims off reporting, and result in scores of guilty men never facing justice.

One woman whose role it is to support female rape complainants from pre-report to court tells me that a number of her clients have expressed fears about their sexual history being used against them. She is currently supporting one such woman during a trial for rape, and the defence have used the fact that she admitted to occasionally smoke marijuana as a "reason why she may have imagined it."

Having gained some ground as a result of feminist campaigning and law reform, we now appear to be going backwards.

Alcohol is the new short skirt. Any woman who likes a drink now, according to a number of men's rights activists, up for sex with whomever, wherever, and however. Unless the admittance of previous sexual history "evidence" (often this is simply the word of a man who claims to have had sex with the complainant and no proof offered) is outlawed, why would any barrister use the "she's a slag" defence on behalf of their client? It is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The bad old days when police automatically disbelieved women who reported rape, as depicted in the ground-breaking fly-on-the-wall documentary screened in 1982, don't seem that far behind today.

The struggle to end the patriarchal tyranny of judging women on their sexual history is not over. Women are still on trial for how we dress, what we drink, and whether or not we are chaste, "innocent" virgins. On the other hand, men who have sex with women so drunk they are semi-comatose, and film the events to share with their mates, are just "lads".

Unless we stop deciding on whether or not a rape has been committed on the "evidence" that a complainant drinks, or likes the occasional (consensual) roll in the hay, we may as well declare rape legal.