12.08.2010

thoughts on rape charges against julian assange

It need not be said - but I will say it anyway - that I stand in solidarity with victims of rape and sexual assault, everywhere, always.

But somehow, it must also be said that not all accusations of rape are valid and true.

Historically, women who reported rape were easily dismissed, or rape went largely unreported, because the victim and assailant knew each other, or had had consensual sex on other occasions, or the victim was sexually active, or any number of dangerous myths used to control women's behaviour. This has changed - although not entirely - in North America, because of the influence of feminist activism, but is still the case in many parts of the world.

Also historically, rape has been used as a weapon against powerless men. In the US South, African-American men were routinely accused of rape before they were lynched and murdered. These accused men had not adequately displayed their submissive status, whether intentionally, as an act of resistance, or in the imagination of their cowardly white oppressors. Black men would be accused of rape, hauled off into the woods, tortured, often castrated, then murdered. Their transgression may have been as simple as looking a white person in the eye.

When a man who has exposed the crimes of the rich and powerful on an unprecedented global scale is accused of an unrelated crime, hunted internationally and held without bail, we must give serious pause to the validity of the accusation.

Some people react to any accusation of sexual abuse and assault as if women routinely lie about rape to get attention or to get revenge. That's beyond preposterous. It's disgusting and it's dangerous and it's wrong. We must speak out about it at every opportunity.

But other people react to those same incidents as if every single accusation must necessarily be valid. As if, in the history of the world, no one has ever accused a man of rape in order to silence him, or no woman has ever lied about being raped. That's not possible.

It's also inadvertently unfair to women. Women are people. Like all people, women can lie, cheat, steal, murder, support fascism, and any other despicable act you can name. Women are capable of the entire spectrum of human action and emotion, because women are people. One female stereotype is the lying bitch who agrees to sex then blackmails the man with rape charges. The flipside stereotype is the angelic creature on a pedestal who can do no wrong. Neither cartoon helps us achieve true equality.

Women are raped. Men are raped, too. Rape is real, and we must speak out about it.

But defending Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is not defending rape. This morning Naomi Klein posted this on Facebook: "Rape is being used in the Assange prosecution in the same way that women's freedom was used to invade Afghanistan."

33 comments:

L-girl said...

The Nation: When Interpol cares about sexual assault

James said...

As someone pointed out on a mailing list I'm on, Anna Ardin would be a bit more credible if she hadn't thrown a party for Assange after the incident; hadn't been caught trying to delete positive tweets about him from after the incident; and didn't have a seven-step plan for "how to get revenge" on her blog (Google Translation).

L-girl said...

Right. I didn't want to put reported details of this incident in the post, but I'm glad you brought it up in comments.

And Interpol would be a bit more credible if they cared about sexual assault, ever. See above Nation link.

redsock said...

Digital Journal: "According to Executive Order 13526 signed by President Obama in 2009, classified information does not lose its security classification even if it is leaked. ... Earlier this week reports surfaced that students at Columbia University received an email stating that accessing WikiLeaks or blogging, writing, twittering, or communicating the information contained on Wikileaks could possibly inhibit their access to future government jobs. ..."

***

Gawker: "A tipster wrote to tell us that "the Army's unclassified, NIPRNET network in Iraq has blocked every major news website because of the Wikileaks issue," going on to say that Foxnews.com, CNN.com, MSNBC.com, the Huffington Post, and a variety of other sites are blocked on the Army's unclassified network. A spokesperson for U.S. forces in Iraq disputed that claim, saying that the web sites aren't actually blocked—it's just that attempts to access them on the unclassified network brings up a warning page saying that you're about to break the law."

***

Executive Order 13526 Section 1.1(4)(c): "... Classified information shall not be declassified automatically as a result of any unauthorized disclosure of identical or similar information. ..."

***

Civilians accessing the information and forwarding, tweeting, or blogging about the wikileaks information, or sending links can be subject to punishment under 18 U.S.C. § 798 : US Code - Section 798: Disclosure of classified information. The law states that anyone who knowingly disseminates this information to unauthorized persons, upon conviction, will forfeit all property and monies obtained from the illegal action and be subject to jail time for up to 10 years.

***

And finally, this is NOT FROM THE ONION:

U.S. to Host World Press Freedom Day in 2011
Source: U.S. Department of State

"The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 - May 3 in Washington, D.C. UNESCO is the only UN agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press. ...

New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age."

L-girl said...

Allan, do you need your own blog?

this is NOT FROM THE ONION:

Several FB friends posted this with the same title! Someone said "Good work Yes Men! What? It's not the Yes Men... it's real?!"

Tom Kertes said...

We don't know what happened in Sweden and should not speculate, that would be the job of a justice system. The charges are serious, as every person has right to say no at any time, including if a condom breaks during sex. But if the system is "using" charges unfairly this puts everyone who is or will be sexually assaulted or raped at less chance of having justice served.IThe use of rape charges for other purposes weakens justice for the victims of rape and sexual assault. This alone is an assault on everyone directly affected by sexual violence and is deeply offensive. We don't know what happened in Sweden, but we do know that judicial, political and media institutions continue to fail to protect and provide justice to victims of violent sexual crimes. We do know that we have reason to question the system, which we can do without dismissing the seriousness of any and all forms of sexual assalt, rape and other forms of sexual violence.

johngoldfine said...

It's also inadvertently unfair to women. Women are people. Like all people, women can lie, cheat, steal, murder, support fascism, and any other despicable act you can name. Women are capable of the entire spectrum of human action and emotion, because women are people. One female stereotype is the lying bitch who agrees to sex then blackmails the man with rape charges. The flipside stereotype is the angelic creature on a pedestal who can do no wrong.

That's nicely said. So is all the rest of it.

tim said...

And Interpol would be a bit more credible if they cared about sexual assault, ever.

I thought the sole purpose of Interpol was to prohibit the reproduction of VHS cassette tapes?

alterwords said...

How does Naomi Klein KNOW that "rape" is being used this way in Assange's case? How do we know that the complainant, who is supposed to be accorded the protection of not having her name mentioned in the press, was the author of the blog and twitter comments? Oh sigh. I'm with Lindsay Beyerstein on this one:
"We can agree that the legal response to what Assange allegedly did reeks of politically-motivated prosecution without passing judgment on the merits of the allegations against him." The damage that has been done and continues to be done to these women is tragic if they are innocent of the charges herein laid against them.

L-girl said...

How does Naomi Klein KNOW that "rape" is being used this way in Assange's case?

Women's rights is used as a smokescreen for the true motives of the war in Afghanistan. The charge of rape is being used as a distraction and smokescreen for the real issues of WikiLeaks. That, to me, is what Naomi Klein means, and she "knows" this because it's how she sees it.

How do we know that the complainant, who is supposed to be accorded the protection of not having her name mentioned in the press, was the author of the blog and twitter comments?

Is that in doubt? I didn't realize it was. I first read about the potential rape charges quite a while ago in the New Yorker profile of Assange, some months back. At that time, it was known who the woman was.

As my friend Kertes says above, we don't know what happened in Sweden. But as this post says, we shouldn't forget that charges of rape can be used for many different reasons, and not all of them have anything to do with rape.

L-girl said...

The use of rape charges for other purposes weakens justice for the victims of rape and sexual assault. This alone is an assault on everyone directly affected by sexual violence and is deeply offensive.

So true.

tim said...

Ah, the infinite wisdom of Propagandhi, opining on Wikileaks.

"Government officials are of course spinning this as if citizens are doing something wrong by sharing these, but if these goofs don’t want to get caught lying and conniving and plotting and deceiving, then DON’T FUCKIN LIE AND CONNIVE AND PLOT AND DECEIVE. Don’t treat the world like it’s one giant game of Risk."

Sandra said...

L-girl,

I really do thank you for sharing your thoughts. However, I feel that your post is very contradictory in some ways, and flat out incorrect in others.

I responded at length, going through the points you made in your post, directly in response to your comment on my piece: "Leaked Cable #r?a?p?e?: An Open Rant Against the Perpetuation of Rape Myths."

I would include my entire response here, but it is too long for this comment section, so it may be viewed here: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/blog/sandracuffe/5363?page=1#comment-8149

All the best,
Sandra Cuffe

L-girl said...

Thanks, Sandra. My post is certainly contradictory - there are two contradictory issues going on at the same time, and I think they can both be true at the same time. You're welcome to leave a summary version of your thoughts in comments if you like.

Eric said...

There was a good letter published in the Guardian (UK) today from Women Against Rape on this issue:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/08/wikileaks-rape-allegations-freedom-of-speech

L-girl said...

Eric, what an excellent letter! Thank you so much for posting. I will highlight that in its own post, and also put on FB.

Dharma Seeker said...

I read Sandra's post and a couple of things jumped out at me...

Let's leave WikiLeaks out of this on this comment, since no one is accusing WikiLeaks of any sex crime, as far as I know. And Julian Assange is not WikiLeaks, nor is WikiLeaks Julian Assange.

The people who would benefit from smearing Assange and discrediting wikilinks are counting on the public not to make that distinction. Unfortunately many won't.

Also, I'm not sure how the example you use is a relevant comparison in terms of "powerless men." Are you really comparing *Julian Assange* to an African-American man being lynched because of his skin colour, whatever the excuse may be? Really? Julian Assange is a powerless man on par with an African-American man being lynched because of his race?

Maybe I'm just an ignorant white chick, but to me it seems that both are victims of persecution, and being persecuted by a society or institution that holds (almost) all of the power. It's not an "out there" comparison. It's strategically and publicly smearing someone as rapist so that the powers that be have society's blessing take him down as quickly and violently as they see fit. After all, he's a rapist. And if he's a rapist he's not a human being (sarcasm). What an efficient, neat and tidy way to dispose of one's enemies.

L-girl said...

to me it seems that both are victims of persecution, and being persecuted by a society or institution that holds (almost) all of the power. . . . It's strategically and publicly smearing someone as rapist so that the powers that be have society's blessing take him down as quickly and violently as they see fit.

Thank you, Dharma Seeker. Well put - and exactly right.

What's more - as I think anyone who reads this post and thinks about it can see - I am using lynching as an example of how accusations of rape have been used, historically, as an instrument of political and social repression. That has happened before and it is, in my view, happening now to Julian Assange.

Nowhere in this post do I compare Julian Assange to African-American men in the 1920s. I think that's obvious enough that I see no reason to argue with Sandra or anyone else about it.

Apparently other anti-rape activists agree, as that letter shows (above in comments and now also here.

L-girl said...

Have you heard of Leo Frank? Frank was a Jewish factory worker, falsely accused of raping and murdering a little girl. He was found guilty, but when his death sentence was commuted to life imprison he was lynched and murdered by a mob.

There was virulent anti-Semetism involved. The case led to a revival of the KKK, as well as the founding of the Anti-Defamation League.

One man who testified against him was the actual murderer.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Frank

Again, an accusation of rape can be a tool of oppression.

[Am I now comparing Julian Assange to a Jewish man in 1915 Georgia?]

skdadl said...

I read Sandra's post (link above), and saw in it what I have unfortunately seen on a number of American sites:

She says that she's not writing about WikiLeaks or even necessarily about Assange himself, and yet she has taken this opportunity to expand rhetorically on her own theoretical analysis of sexual assault. Some others who make that claim also take every opportunity to update us on the latest gossip from court, which is so far all that we have, since Assange has never been charged with anything and has only just barely seen the thin excuses the Swedish prosecutor produced for the arrest warrant (incompetently the first time).

I don't think that Sandra has taken the trouble to learn about this case, which many of us have been following since August and which is very troubling in many ways. There are serious reasons to fear what Ny and Borgstrom are doing, both in terms of Swedish politics and in terms of a possible sealed indictment from Virginia.

I joined my first women's lib group in 1968, so Sandra's fairly elementary abstractions and opportunism strike me as naive, unhelpful, and completely beside the point.

Very fine post, Laura, this and the succeeding one, and you have my support any time.

L-girl said...

Skdadl, thank you so much for this thoughtful and strong comment, and for your support.

Dharma Seeker said...

I have to say that when I re-read the first line of my comment I cringed. I hope Sandra, if you are still reading, didn't interpret that is being obstinate or fasecious although I'd certainly understand if you did. I have a tendancy to shoot from the hip and I don't always self edit (wasn't that one someone's annoying list on an earlier post?).

What I meant was as a middle-class white woman I can't possibly understand what it's like to be persecuted for my skin colour. That would have been a better preface for my comment.

My IRL friends know it's just the way I communicate in informal conversation, no disrepsect was intended.

I have great respect for Skdadl, and the deeper understanding of issues that only time and experience can provide.

I'd personally be very reluctant to call someone out as pedestrian when it's very clear they care and they're trying to make a difference. We all have something to offer and the best way to learn and understand another person's position is through dialogue. If you go through older posts and comments you'll see there were many times I started with one perspective and ended up with another - through dialogue. But if someone had shut me down and called me naiieve for expressing my thoughts or observations that dialogue (and subsequent insight) never would have happened.

I imagine that suggesting someone is naiieve and unhelpful effectively shuts down that dialogue for most people. Who benefits from that?

L-girl said...

Dharma Seeker, I appreciate what you're saying, but I don't think Skdadl is calling Sandra out. When you write strong opinions publicly, people will react in kind.

L-girl said...

I responded at length, going through the points you made in your post, directly in response to your comment on my piece

The really strange thing for me is that Sandra seems to think I wrote this post as a response to her - but I never saw her post until she pasted the URL here.

Someone (presumably a wmtc reader) posted the URL of this post in a comment thread. Sandra seemed to think I posted it, and replied point by point as if we were having a conversation.

I posted a clarification on her blog, but it's either stuck in moderation or she's not putting in through.

Weird. I don't know why she thinks I wrote this in response to her.

redsock said...

I don't know why she thinks I wrote this in response to her.

Based on the available evidence, Sandra's reading comprehension skills could use some improvement.

redsock said...

Speaking of which sex news gets the headlines and which does not:

"The WikiLeaks diplomatic cable dump ... revealed some truly horrific behavior on the part of the American government or its hired guns. In the latter category, the Guardian reports that the Afghan government accused employees of DynCorp, an American contracting firm headquartered near Washington, D.C., of throwing a "dancing boys" party for Afghan police officers. Exactly what happened at the party is unclear, but Houston Press says it was a bacha bazi ("boy-play") party, which typically features 8-to-15-year-old boys dressed in women's clothing and dancing "seductively to smoky roomfuls of leering older men." After a bachi bazi dance, the boys' "services are auctioned off to the highest bidder." The State Department calls bacha bazi a "widespread, culturally accepted form of male rape" ...

Dyncorp is no stranger to the sexual slavery of children. The military contractor also receives roughly $2 billion from the US government.

L-girl said...

Thanks for posting, Allan.

L-girl said...

Note to Sandra if you are reading this: "magnolia" is a troll who has been banned from wmtc for years. Please ignore him. Thanks. I can't speak for anyone else here, but I respect what you've written and have no wish to argue with you or about you.

Sandra said...

Hi L-girl & others,

First of all, I apologize. I clicked on the link to your post and for some reason assumed you had posted it, thus the response.

Responses from non-MediaCoop members *are* moderated, and it seems it's pretty slow these days for someone to click them all through. That said, anyone can sign up for a free MediaCoop account and post or comment anything, without moderation, similar to many other pages.

Regarding the comparison to African-American men being lynched, I really *do* understand the point you are trying to make: accusations of rape can be and have been occasionally used as a tool to discredit, harm, or kill a man.

Two point on that:
1) I have no objection to raising that possibility, but do question focusing on it so much, unless you're also going to balance that out with some focus on the other possibility: that the women are telling the truth. So many really sexist posts by men are arguing the "women are just a tool of the Empire to take down Assange" already, which is why it made me cringe.

2) I am also a white woman, but more than the racial comparison, my question was actually concerning the first sentence of that paragraph, about rape being used as a tool against "powerless men"... I would argue that Assange is not powerless. Maybe in comparison to the US government, but certainly not in comparison to an African-American facing extra-judicial lynching.

I do also stick to my critique of writing sweeping historical statements with no evidence whatsoever, especially when the sweeping historical statements are false and there is clear evidence to that effect.

But overall, great post & great discussion.

And to folks who think that personal attacks and insults are somehow part of an intelligent debate, F off. I mean, come on, somewun sed i hav a problim with my reeding compreehenshon? thatz sew meen!

;)

Sandra Cuffe

L-girl said...

Thanks for your comments, Sandra. I understand what you're saying. I have two responses.

I have no objection to raising that possibility, but do question focusing on it so much, unless you're also going to balance that out with some focus on the other possibility: that the women are telling the truth.

A, I think this post is very balanced. If you read it not thinking it was posted in response to your post, that might be more apparent (or not).

B, more importantly, most people who read this post would see it in the overall context of my blog.

I'm a rape survivor, I have written and spoken about sexual assault issues for almost 20 years, so this one small post is also balanced against a lifetime of standing up for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, of speaking about my own recovery, of doing volunteer/activism work with violence-against-women centres, and so on.

I would argue that Assange is not powerless. Maybe in comparison to the US government, but certainly not in comparison to an African-American facing extra-judicial lynching.

Assange is as powerless as any individual against the US govt - that is, utterly. As powerless as Omar Khadr, Bradley Manning, or the countless people whose names we don't know who have been disappeared.

The only thing he has that those anonymous people didn't is publicity. But that won't necessarily save him from an unfortunate accident, or from spending life behind bars.

He's being metaphorically lynched, and world opinion is trying to prevent that, and this little post is part of that.

Again, thanks for your thoughts, all best.

redsock said...

In addition to mentioning "powerless men", Laura also noted "men [who] had not adequately displayed their submissive status".

Assange fits easier into this later category. He had become too big to ignore -- and needed to be stopped.

Sandra said...

Hi again,

I just wanted to thank L-girl again for the post, and the willingness to engage in level-headed discussion. I'm bookmarking the site so I can come back and read more of your thoughts in the future.

Much much appreciated!

All the best,
Sandra

L-girl said...

More evidence of Sandra's intelligence and decency: her reponse to Mags.

l-girl told me about you. fuck off.

:)