- Category: Repression
- Created on Saturday, 11 December 2010 17:18
- Written by Mike Ely
by Mike Ely
Let's get into it. Let's excavate what is right and wrong. Let's represent what we believe: that people need to stand against the abuse and mistreatment by the powerful, and let's unravel how to do that in this complex (and still unclear) situation.
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Julian Assange is defamed all over the world by governments and authorities. Chilling calls for his execution and/or assassination are heard from the always-vengeful American right -- who finger him as "a high-tech terrorist."
And then, in the midst of the massive U.S. diplomatic scandal caused by Wikileaks, Assange is arrested in London based on charges that he sexually abused two women in Sweden -- forcing them into non-consensual sex.
It all seemed a bit over convenient (for the U.S. prosecutors who were scrambling for something serious to pin on Assange). And there were quickly arguments (and assumptions) that the rape charges were (probably? certainly? clearly?) bogus.
Björn Hurtig, who is representing Julian Assange in Sweden, said documents, which form part of the official Swedish investigation, reveal both women had "hidden agendas" and lied about being coerced into having sex with Assange.
The Italian News Agency RAI News-24 and the Cuban Prensa Latina offered up reports of a CIA connection of one of Assange's accusers (a "Cuban woman" of name "Anna Ardin") and her alleged anti-Cuban activities. The RAI article has the headline "Anna, accusatrice di Assange, 'spia della CIA'."
There are additional stories circulating (that it wasn't real rape but "sex by surprise," that it was about a refusal to wear a condom, or about a broken condom, that one of the women slept with him later a second time, that the alleged victims had texted positive statements about the sexual encounters, and so on.
All that dovetailed with many "what do you expect" assumptions among leftists, and quickly became part of a widely circulated narrative i.e. that the charges against Assange were bogus and invented by pro-U.S. forces to run Assange to ground and turn public opinion against Wikileaks. And, of course, U.S. imperialism does (shamelessly) smear those they want to destroy, and have made a science of disinformation designed to divide potential allies and isolate their targets.
At the same time, a skeptical response to the rape charges has given rise an angry protest -- that (once again) women charging rape are themselves being treated as predators, that their allegations are too quickly doubted and discarded, that the women involved are being "thrown under a bus" by a pragmatic rush to verdicts -- and that an important leftist man is being cynically and prematurely excused of what may be serious and repeated violations of women. (And i have been thinking over particularly things recently written by Suzy Subways in a powerful and pointed way.)
Everyone here understands that Wikileaks (and their sources) has performed a tremendous service to humanity -- and broken new ground -- by revealing the secret workings of empire. Dozens of running dogs of imperialism are now running for cover, yelping at the exposure.
As we explore the revelations, and as we join the protests in defense of those targeted -- lets talk for a moment about how to discuss the rape allegations. It is a painful but important topic.
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Thanks to Kassie H. for pointing this out. It originally appeared on Hand Mirror blog.
Rape myths and Julian Assange
I don't want to write about Julian Assange or the rape charges he is facing. I don't speak Swedish, a lot of the material in English misrepresents the Swedish legal system and. I don't have time to unpack all that.
However, I need to write about the way people have been talking about these rape charges. A facebook friend (who is political enough to know better) quoted from a a Daily Mail article* "The prosecution's case has several puzzling flaws, and there is scant public evidence of rape or sexual molestation."
Most women who have been raped had little public evidence of their experience. By repeating these rape myths in defence of Julian Assanger people are attacking not just the women involved, but other women who have been raped and had their experiences dismissed. They are also contributing to a culture where rape is denied, minimised, and distorted.
Left-wing defenders of Julian Assanger have been using rape-myths over and over again (as have his right-wing defenders, although they will not be the focus of this post). I think it's both disgusting and unnecessary to uphold rape-culture to defend Julian Assanger. I want to explain why.
"There is scant public evidence of rape or sexual molestation." As opposed to what? Is the person who stated this really arguing that usually there is an abundance of public evidence of rape? It's a ludicrous statement, but a damaging one. Because while the antithesis of 'scant public evidence' sounds ridiculous when it is spelled out, it has a lot of power when it's implied: women's statements about their experiences cannot be public evidence and cannot be relied upon. "No-one will believe you" - rapists say that to women and women say that to themselves. So many of the repsonses to Assange's case give that statement more weight, more power - they tell women all over the world "No-one will believe you."
Then there's the idea that some women are unrapeable. People uphold this rape myth if they describe some characteristic of a woman - most often, but not only, that she's a sex worker - as evidence that she wasn't raped, and can't be raped. The left-wing version of this du jour appears to be that one of the accusers had connections with the CIA. But there's a problem with this women who have had contact with the CIA, even CIA agents, can be raped.
There's a huge difference between stating "She has X Y and Z connections with the CIA. If she was working for them then this may be a set up." and "She has CIA connections you know." One is making the argument - the other is constructing some women as unrapeable.
Added to this we get a re-run of the Polanski trial and an argument that what happened to these women isn't 'rape-rape'. People were running these lines, before they even knew what the charges are. The charges are actually really clear cut: he had sex with one woman while she was asleep, and he didn't stop when another woman said stop. It doesn't require a very in depth and complex understanding of consent to understand that that is rape. But there is a constant narrative that anything other than stranger rape where force is used is somehow a lesser form of rape. That narrative is really damaging to rape survivors.
But I think that defenders of Julian Assanger do the most damage when they construct a way that rape victims behave and imply that the woman involved isn't acting like a rape victim: she tweeted about him, or she seemed happy, or she saw him again.
I lose it at this point. There is no way that rape victims act - there is no way that rape victims don't act. Seriously. If you don't know this then you have no right to say a word about rape.
It does so much harm to so many women, the idea that there's a way that rape victims act. It's not just some idea that you're spinning off into cyber-space. It's something that women who are going through trauma have to struggle through - their own, and other people's expectations of how they should be behaving. And it doesn't stop - the idea of the acceptable behaviour of a rape victim gets used as a weapon again and again.
Most rape myths are about women, about attacking suvivors of rape, discrediting them trashing them - and there's been a lot of that. But some are about men John Pilger said that he had a very high regard for Julian Assange. And? The rhetorical rapist - the scary man, who no-one holds in high regard - is a weapon that is used against actual victims of rape all the time.
And what is most ridiculous about this spreading of rape myths by left-wing supporters of wikileaks is that these myths are completely unnecessary to stand in solidarity with the wikileaks project.
It is states and companies that are attacking Wikileaks and Julian Assange, not two women. It is perfectly possible to criticise the actions of prosecuters, interpol, judges and government's without invoking rape myths.
Believing the women, or at least not disbelieving the women, does not mean that you have to stop criticising the way the (in)justice system operates or decide that that wikileaks is a bad project.**
The rape myths are unnecessary, and damaging. By repeating rape myths, you give them power. Doing so doesn't just hurt the women involved, but strengthens rape culture, and makes it harder for many, many, many other rape survivors.
* If you must look at it yourself the link is here - but no good ever came of reading the Daily Mail.
** On the other side of this, having a feminist analysis of rape does not necessitate accepting that the (in)justice system prosecuting rape is a victory for rape culture. I think these are actually flip sides of hte same argument, and brownfemipower has made some really interesting points about the limits of posts like this one.