Thursday, 9 December 2010

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.

Stop it.

* 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.


Anonymous said...


In 2007, you wrote:

"if a powerful man is accused of rape and is acquitted that doesn't mean he's not a rapist. It means he is a rapist."

By this maxim it seems that there can be no question over Assange's guilt in your mind.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. It has been bugging me the way rape myths have been used in Assange's defence. I heard his lawyer on the radio yesterday mentioning that Assange had a slight build and was not a sporty type. This is a dog-whistle to the myth that if the women didn't want the experiences, they could have fought back, because,after all, he's not that strong a guy.

But I think you also need to be careful in your own post to frame these as *alleged* offences or occurences. There is a difference between writing:
"The charges are actually really clear cut: he had sex with one woman while she was asleep"
And,"The charges are actually really clear cut: he is alleged to have had sex with one woman while she was asleep."

A Nonny Moose said...

I get really annoyed with the myth of "clear cut public evidence". What sort of evidence is that, pray tell, rape apologists? The woman displaying her vagina, and if it doesn't have the man's special coloured highlighter left behind, that's not evidence? Oh, they mean evidence of force - bruising, tearing, bleeding - which if you DON'T have he couldn't have coerced.

Or perhaps they mean the smoking condom/semen/DNA? Yeah, because every raped woman thinks to rescue the broken condom from the trash/toilet bowl or save traces of semen from her body. Oh wait, that's for a medical PROFESSIONAL to do (rape kit) and if you don't have one of those? You're lying.

No ripped sheets? Black eye? Torn dress?

That sort of hard physical evidence is the lazy rape apologists BullShit go to, because they don't want to think hard enough.

Maia said...

Just a reminder to various Anonymous's that they have . This is the last warning in this thread - I will delete subsequent posts without a handle.

Anonymous 2 - I avoid the word 'alleged' in rape cases, as it has such an apalling history. I think my sentance construction makes it clear that the second part of the sentance I am describing hte charges in the first half of the sentance.

Anonymous 1 - I don't think that Julian Assange has the same level of power as Clint Rickards. And before I began writing this post, I wasn't sure of any details of the case, since I'd read so many conflicting stuff about it. However, I have now read enough to say that I do believe these women. Which should be no surprise to readers.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about why people who disagree with me, who are unsure, or who think that the accusations are baseless - should not use rape myths

Acid Queen said...

I'd say that Assange has more power than Rickards. He's a global figure, Rickards is (or was) a provincial policeman.

But it seems you do believe Assange is guilty, so I guess I can't fault you for being inconsistent.

reader said...

I'm glad you've brought this up. I've been finding the rhetoric over this issue disturbing and distressing.

Guilty or not, and regardless of whether the charges have been used by those with an anti-wikileak agenda, the kinds of rape-culture statements that have been made in regard to the case, even by feminists such as Naomi Woolf, chill me to the bone.

I was worried the Hand Mirror wasn't going to comment on this matter, and have been popping in to see. It is a hot potato, particularly for left wing feminists, but there have been worrying statements in the NZ blogosphere about the nature of rape and sexual assault that have been said or supported by those who should certainly know better, to say the very least. I have been saddened by what has 'come out of the woodwork'.

Craig Ranapia said...


I'd recommend you look at this interview with Claes Borgström, the lawyer for the two women, in The Gaurdian:

Worth comparing and contrasting with a truly vile interview on Campbell Live with one of Assange's lawyers (WARNING: CONSTANT, CONTEXT-FREE UNCHALLENGED SLUT-SHAMING & RAPE APOLOGIST BINGO MAY BE TRIGGERING)

Craig Ranapia said...

The left-wing version of this du jour appears to be that one of the accusers had connections with the CIA.

Not actually true, but when you've got to put an uppity bitch in her place any cudgel will do. And don't forget she wasn't only a CIA agent, but the bait in a "honeytrap" -- you can't rape someone who's really gagging for it, and entrapped a poor blameless male whose perfectly normal urges were foully abused.


Anne said...

Thank God a voice of reason at last. The US feminist blogs have so far done a good job of explaining the Assange can be both a defender of democracy and a rapist. The two states of being are not mutually exclusive. The fact is that the second charge relates to consent being withdrawn during the sex act- a concept that many usually intelligent and compassionate people can't grasp. I'm especially disgusted by The Standard. Props to A nonny moose and Graig Ranapia for their comments,very few commenters even imagined that he could be guilty. It's like the left is so women friendly if you just shut up and tow the company line. I've actually lost respect for the Standard.

reader said...

+1 re the Standard.

I felt quite hurt about it to tell the truth, and it was too personal for me to 'put myself on the line' to try and debate it in that kind of "debate".

Kudos and a heartfelt thank you to Nonny Moose.

Flynn the Cat said...

A huge problem is the timing - it 'feel' quite obvious that certain governments are desperate to pin something on hm at any cost. The fact that it's rape is rather sickening for a couple of reasons.

Either that rape only matters because he's suddenly 'important' to get rid of somehow.

or that it's a smear campaign using a really unpleasant and (allegedly) difficult to prove accusation that will taint him for the rest of his life.

I haven't looked into the case in much detail, but I'll bet most of the internet hasn't either. And the timing is probably a major cause of the 'but this can't be right... [insert confusion/lame excuses]' responses

Craig Ranapia said...

@Flynn the Cat: Bizarre as this may seem, perhaps the whole fraking world doesn't revolve around Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

And much food for thought in how you managed to comment on a post headlined "Rape myths and Julian Assange" and the complainants didn't even rate a mention. 'Cause it's always all about man, right?

Craig Ranapia said...

A Nonny Moose:

But look at all those rapists who considerately rape in crowded, well-lit public places in clear line of sight of multiple working CCTV cameras. There's plenty of "clear cut public evidence" to be had if you happen to be utterly delusional.

Sam said...

Thanks Maia. I'd been feeling icky all week about the left's response over this, so I appreciate seeing you articulate this here.

Craig Ranapia said...

I'm especially disgusted by The Standard. Props to A nonny moose and Graig Ranapia for their comments

You're welcome, Anne. But I wish I hadn't now -- or at least not subscribed to new comments on that thread. The toxic levels of rape bingo/slut-shaming and reflexive male privilege going on there are really triggering.

Craig Ranapia said...

And cue standard personally abusive, dodge-the-point deployment of handwavium from Lynn Prentice... Like David Farrar over at Kiwibog, the troll-farming fu is awesome, still I obviouslyhit a nerve.

Carol said...

I agree that Assange has done democracy a great service in his wikileaks activities, and that he could also be a rapist. I also agree that some left-wing defense of Assange has stepped into dubious territory of supporting retrograde rape myths. But, OTOH, some powerful entities have also tried to manipulate the rape story to their own ends.

I think Swedish law should be allowed to take its usual course (or at least the best course possible under Swedish law to establish whether a rape has occurred and convict if it has).

There are other questions about whether Assange has been treated the same as other alleged rapists under Swedish law, or if the case has been hijacked by other powerful political entities. There seem to be attempts to use the arrest as a means to extradict Assange to the US, for instance.

However, as Steven Oates said last night on Citizen A,

the wikileaks activities are bigger than Assange, and will continue even if Assange is removed from the scene. No doubt the case, the accusations, and any conviction of Assange will be used by powerful government & corporate interests to smear Wikileaks. For me Wikileaks is doing important stuff for democracy, and I will defend and support their activities.

As for Assange, the Swedish police & legal processes should be allowed to take their course in Sweden, and should not be used by the US or any other government or corporate entity for their own ends - those ends being to discredit Wikileaks.

And the left shouldn't fall into the trap of using rape myths to defend Assange. Wikileaks is about supporting democracy, and that isn't helped by using oppressive rape myths to defend it.

Acid Queen said...

All true Carol

But we have to remember that even if Assange is allowed to go free by the Swedish "justice" system, he is still a rapist. He's just a rapist who got away with it.

Mikaere Curtis said...

But we have to remember that even if Assange is allowed to go free by the Swedish "justice" system, he is still a rapist. He's just a rapist who got away with it.
How did you arrive at this conclusion: Guilty By Accusation or All Men Are Rapists ? Surely these are rape myths too ?

Assange has had complaints laid against him by two different women, and he clearly has a case to answer.

I'll willing to let the judicial process proceed, and reserve my judgment until the facts come out in court.

I'd say that Assange has more power than Rickards. He's a global figure, Rickards is (or was) a provincial policeman.

I don't think celebrity status is the same kind of power that a police officer has. When Rickard's mates Shipton and Shollum were raping, they did it in the full knowledge that their victim would have no one to turn to. Assange clearly doesn't have that advantage.

Craig Ranapia said...

I don't think celebrity status is the same kind of power that a police officer has.

Well, I'm going to have to agree to disagree when your "celebrity status" is such your #hactivist fans quite cheerfully reveal your "persecutors" identities, upload photos and other personal details, spread false allegations that one is a CIA agent and bait in a "honey trap" and, apparently, being threatened with an even more intense "internet campaign" to harass and intimidate you into silence.

I don't know what you call it, Mikaere Curtis, but inspiring a global campaign of cyber-slut shaming seems like power to me. And a very ugly form of power, at that.

Acid Queen said...

I didn't say I thought ALL men were rapists. I said I thought Assange was a rapist.

My judgement comes from listening to the testimony of his victims and judging them as sincere.

And if the courts come to the wrong decision, well gee, what a surprise! Maybe the courts might just be biased in favour of letting rapists walk free? Shocking, I know.

Mikaere Curtis said...

I don't know what you call it, Mikaere Curtis, but inspiring a global campaign of cyber-slut shaming seems like power to me. And a very ugly form of power, at that.
Craig, if you took the time to actually read my comment, you would have seen that I actually said that Assange DID have power. I was contrasting it with the power of a cop, which, in the case of Shollum and Shipton, was the ability to rape a young woman in Tauranga with impunity that stretched to almost two decades.

Both abuses of power (by the pro-Assange hactivists, and by S&S) are ugly, Craig Ranapia, but at least the women in Sweden are able to do something about it. Having the power to get away with rape is, IMO, its own special kind of ugly.

Carol said...

I'm in agreement with waiting to see what evidence the legal process shows as it plays out. I don't consider I have enough information at the moment to make a judgement about Assange's guilt. There's a lot of politically-motivated stuff floating around, and I find it hard to decide on what is truth and what is distortion.

I see gendered allegations, manipulations and myths coming from (at least) 2 directions. From the left (probably from some on the right too), there is the employment of dubious rape myths by some people. From the right, and powerful political and corporate entities there is the use/manipulation of a gender/feminist issue (rape allegations) to try to shut down democracy.

This latter strand reminds me of the way the Bush government used the notion of liberation of Afhganistan women, as part of their justification for aggressive and violent intervention in the country. To me this was/is just a cynical and selective use of feminist discourses, without any real committment to the cause. And I don't think it's that helpful for feminism or democracy.

Part of the problem that Wikileaks (and its supporters and spin-offs) is challenging, is the pitiful state of western mainstream media. The MSM tends to support the powerful (and diverse aspects of masculine domination) through media manipulation and spin.

We need radical initiatives like this.

reader said...

From the right, and powerful political and corporate entities there is the use/manipulation of a gender/feminist issue (rape allegations) to try to shut down democracy.

Only too aware of this.

Problem is, it seems to be giving a kind of licence to some left-wingers to air their pet myths and prejudices and endorse rape-culture, without significant challenge.

(Not to mention how galling it is to hear ordinarily anti-feminist conservatives suddenly 'caring deeply' about the rights of women to score a political point.)

Simon C said...

Right on. I've been fighting this battle with Lprent on the Standard, to little avail.

Flynn the Cat said...


@Flynn the Cat: Bizarre as this may seem, perhaps the whole fraking world doesn't revolve around Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

And much food for thought in how you managed to comment on a post headlined "Rape myths and Julian Assange" and the complainants didn't even rate a mention. 'Cause it's always all about man, right?

1. Wikileaks is the only way I have a clue who he even is - bascially he's 'the Wikileaks guy'. Of COURSE the two facts are connected. And whle 'revolve' is a strong word, Wikileaks is a huge issue all ovr the internet right not. That's the bit people know about, not this 'random Julian guy'.

Which was my point - I was talking about the responses in general, not the specific case and the right or wrongness of it.

And 2. Cause I was addressing the content, not the title. And sure I could have written and entire essay addressing every point, but I didn't feel it was necessary as most of it had already been said. In the original post, which I am commenting on.

And I specifically said I hadn't looked up the facts yet - which weren't laid out in the post, and was what I went to do next - and was just talking about how it looked to someone who mainly knew about all the political drama. In this case, it's all about the human rights, or the politics. I don't care about 'the man' either way, and you'll note one of my options was that he DID do it.

I won't condemn or sympathise with someone based on 'what might or might not have done'. I can be disgusted at the way rape only becomes serious when it's convenient (and here, to be extremely clear, and mean to governments and politicians, i.e. mostly men, as well as half the bloggers people are complaining about who are vilifying him because he's an evil terrorist person)

weka said...

Very important post, thanks Maia and commenters.

Simon, well done on holding your ground at the Standard, and glad you got some support there in the end.

Jane said...

That Cupcakes for all link is just rape apologist bullshit. Frankly I think it should be removed as it's just hate spam.

reader said...

Simon C, If you are still around, many thanks for your calm reasoned arguments on the standard. I stopped reading the thread very early in the piece and have only recently gone back to see how it went.

It's really difficult taking on those sorts of arguments. They inevitably end up with the person most plainly, and reasonably stating their argument, being accused of being hysterical/hypersensitive/unreasonable from someone who is being highly reactive and defensive.
It's like some sort of script.

Maia said...

Jane - Done!

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Unknown said...

Maia - good post and quite different subject from my post. That first link was especially informative.

Some of the comments above about my post on the Swedish use of Interpol however are going to divert me somewhat.

I was questioning what looks to me to be the misuse of a Interpol red notice to pick someone up for questioning.

The facts of the case do not appear to have been in dispute. Assange had already made been questioned and made statements to the prosecutors. Motivations of course are a different story - but that is something a court should decide - not a prosecutor. It is difficult to see why the prosecutor seems to think that having Assange in Sweden is required for her to decide to lay charges.

The prosecutor should have to lay charges or at least present to both Interpol and the British court about what is different in the evidence between when Assange left Sweden with the charges dropped, and when Ny found 'new evidence'.

In the link that Craig R so kindly left above (more relevant than the twaddle he left on my post)..

The lawyer for the women in the case said:-

Whether Assange will be prosecuted in Sweden on the four charges of rape, sexual molestation, and coercion against him depends on whether or not the Swedish director of prosecutions, Marianne Ny, finds enough evidence to be confident that the case will stand up in court. Before she does that, she needs to question Assange further, and may also need to question the women again.

The probability of the prosecution going ahead is around 50-50, or perhaps a little more than that, Borgström said.

To me that looks awfully like a fishing expedition by the prosecutor. How likely is that new evidence just appeared months after the initial charges were dropped. 50:50 chance of new charges??

The prosecutor could have asked those questions in London without all of the expense of interpol, extradition hearings, lawyers, and the media furor? Is it the nature of the Swedish justice system to try people in the media?

To me it looks more like a politician and a prosecutor wanting to have a good media circus for reasons other than purely legal reasons.

Dear 'reader': I'm not 'defensive', just quite irritated at people wanting to hijack a post. I asked some quite specific questions about the misuse of the international police system. I was interested in the legal process being used. That is quite evident from the title and content of my post.

I'd be asking those questions and just as suspicious if it was a accusations of fraud or theft.

But the accusation were not what my post was about, as I pointed out to several of the people above who wanted to hijack the comments.

I get annoyed by people wanting to divert off into a completely different topic. There are avenues to to that without disrupting the discussion on the topic of the post.

If another author else had written a post on the topic like Maia has that was on your topic, then that is fine and it'd have been moderated accordingly.

If people wanted to write a different slant on the topic at The Standard, then they can use OpenMike, or write their own post on a different blog, or use the contribute post button at The Standard for a guest post.

But exhibiting the poor behaviour of simply trying to hijack a post away from what the author is writing about is simply boorish behaviour regardless how strongly you feel about it. It will usually win you some quite irritated responses from the author and/or moderators on most moderated blogs.

Hopefully Maia won't get too annoyed about this rather long and mostly off-topic comment. But the comments of the lazy needed answering.

Craig Ranapia said...

That's spectacularly disingenuous, lprent. You're now trashing the chief prosecutor because she wants to conduct a bloody interview.

And entirely typical for the likes of you and David Farrar, that you take no ownership or responsibility for the comments YOU let stand trashing the compainants as whores and liars.

Unknown said...

Craig, the comments in the post were pretty clean. I binned some by first time posters that were along the lines that you are claiming. Almost all of the comments were either on the topic, or like Simon C's - off topic but interesting enough in their own right to leave in the discussion.

The debate in that and subsequent posts has been quite well behaved. There were very few that referred to the women concerned directly.

There were a few notable exceptions like yourself - where the emphasis was on denigration rather than debate. I guess it takes a particular type of mind to put words into the mouths of anyone that disagrees with you.

Craig Ranapia said...

Keep lying -- about me and your consistent troll-farming - mate, because I won't stop telling the truth about sewer blogs that perpetuate rape culture and male privilege. That you consider that "denigration" say a lot more about you than me. And I'll continue wearing your contempt and mendacity as a badge of honour.

Unknown said...

Not lying. Just expressing my opinion on your behavior as I see it on TS and in this post. The difference between having an personal opinion about someone and 'lying' about them appears to escape you.

Anyway, this discussion really belongs back on TS and not on this post with its different topic.

I can feel a post coming on about the developments in the extradition - especially with the first link in this post which explains more about the actual legal accusation. My last post was limited to the information available on the 4th. It is rather out of date.

I'll put my stalled post on script-bunnies on hold and write another one.

BTW: Thanks to whoever put this discussion back together. The replies without the comment being replied to was getting quite disconcerting.

Will Shetterly said...

You're not getting a rerun of the Polanski trial. Just as people like Sady Doyle can believe Assange is guilty and support Wikileaks, people like me can think Polanski is a rapist and Assange is an inconsiderate jerk.

stargazer said...

except that sady doyle doesn't think assange is guilty, and has never said that he is. perhaps you'd like to take the trouble to actually read what she has said before making a comment.

Acid Queen said...

except that sady doyle doesn't think assange is guilty, and has never said that he is.

He is guilty, though.