What the Assange case reveals about rape in America

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
What the Assange case reveals about rape in America

Jessica Valenti:

Quote:
Let's get this out of the way: Sweden does not have a "broken condom" law. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was not arrested because his contraception failed mid-coitus. Nor is he charged with "sex by surprise."

The details of Assange's arrest last week are being sorted out in a bizarre game of Internet telephone in which misinformation reigns. Facts about the alleged assaults are hard to come by and are confused by contradicting media reports, translation issues, political bias and cultural disdain for rape victims.

Everyone from Fox News's Glenn Beck to feminist writer Naomi Wolf is getting in swipes. Beck told viewers that Assange is being investigated for "sex by surprise" (again, not a real law) because of a "radical" feminist bent on revenge. Wolf wrote a snarking letter to Interpol in the Huffington Post, arguing that the accusers are using feminism to "assuage . . . personal injured feelings." And AOL News writer Dana Kennedy dismissed the incidents as a simple "condom malfunction."

Now, we don't know if Assange is guilty or innocent - but we do know that the accusations against him have been badly reported, misconstrued and generally pooh-poohed. In the same way that Assange's document dump held a mirror to U.S. diplomacy, the accusations against him and the subsequent fallout reflect our country's overly narrow understanding of sexual assault, and just how far we are from Sweden's legal standard.

The allegations against Assange are rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. He's accused of pinning one woman's arms and using his body weight to hold her down during one alleged assault, and of raping a woman while she was sleeping. In both cases, according to the allegations, Assange did not use a condom. But the controversy seems to center on the fact that both encounters started off consensually. One of his accusers was quoted by the Guardian newspaper in August as saying, "What started out as voluntary sex subsequently developed into an assault." Whether consent was withdrawn because of the lack of a condom is unclear, but also beside the point. In Sweden, it's a crime to continue to have sex after your partner withdraws consent.

In the United States, withdrawing consent is not so clear-cut.

Previous thread on rape allegations.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Quote:
Sometimes it’s difficult, even impossible, to talk about negative sexual experiences. About the times when our boundaries were violated, but we didn’t say anything. About times when we violated others without realizing it. About times when we violated ourselves. Initiating an honest conversation about sex and consent is scary. Reactions can be cold or even hostile towards those who try. Because of this, many people hold their tongue and put a lid on their thoughts – but that doesn’t make the thoughts go away.

In connection to a conversation regarding the media coverage of the Assange case, Swedish journalist Johanna Koljonen started to tweet, openly and intimately, about her own experiences of drawing lines and negotiating gray areas in sexual situations. Hundreds followed Koljonen’s example on Twitter under the hashtag #prataomdet (”#talkaboutit”). As a result of this, several Swedish magazines, newspapers and other media outlets are publishing pieces on the subject. In a matter of days international media, such as The Guardian, Die Welt, BBC World Service, Norway’s Dagbladet, Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat, and others have followed.

We need a language for sex that isn’t stifled by shame, we need to think about our boundaries as well as others’. Something is going to change. We are going to dare to #talkaboutit.

Prata om det - Talk about it

rural - Francesca rural - Francesca's picture

follow #mooreandme on twitter

Unionist

Woohoo, Francesca sighting! I miss your prose and your point of view... Come back and stay a while, please!

 

Diogenes Diogenes's picture

Sometime ago, in a previous thread, I was quoted by remind (her emphasis, not mine)

Quote:

Diogenes wrote:

I'm with Cueball on this all the way. What should be a debate on the credibility of the charges and why these action have escalated to the Interpol level has been seriously sidetracked by thin skinned feminists more concerned about political correctness and advancing the cause than any due process or administration of justice.The critics of Cueball here are just as phony as the various governments involved in this very obvious railroad job.

To which he/she replied...

Quote:

Really?

What a wanker you are....

And then moderator Maysie added...

Quote:

Diogenes, don't talk about feminists that way.

 

Thank-you ladies (if that is what you are, and who the hell knows anyway on this site) for proving my point.

Please surprise me with no reprisal here.

Freedom 55

Jessica Valenti's piece in the Washington Post was great.

 

I'm only now coming across a few other insightful blog entries from a couple weeks ago.

 

I don't know if this is already assumed/understood in a thread about rape, but in case it's not...

** the following links come with trigger warnings **:

 

 

 

"What you say about rape — any rape, alleged or fictional or otherwise — matters. What you say, what I say, what journalists say, what your hairdresser says, what teachers say, what doctors say, what police say, what Julian Assange says, what your kid repeats at school: all of these utterances contribute to our cultural understanding of rape."

http://mymilkspilt.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/who-hears-you-when-you-speak...

 

“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.”

http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2010/12/08/rape-myths-and-julian-a...

 

just as we would condemn anyone who pronounced him guilty at this early stage, should we also not be concerned that many liberals, some of whom would count themselves feminists, have leapt to the conclusion that Assange must be the innocent victim of a smear campaign? Some have gone further, actively attacking the women in question and accusing them of colluding in a conspiracy to destroy Assange. This plays easily into the narrative that most women who accuse men of rape are liars, and most men who attract such accusations are just saucy scamps with, as the commentator John Band put it, "poor bedroom etiquette".

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/laurie-penny/2010/12/julian-assange-ra...

oldgoat

Diogenes.  I really feel badly that I'm going to fail to surprise.  I'm suspending you pending consultation with other mods which will happen when we get around to it.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Hint to Diogenes: next time you want to crap all over the moderators try actually having the spine to post a NEW THREAD in rabble reactions and then let the chips fall where they may. Trying to do the same in the feminism section - which has a history of tiresome trolls generally behaving like asshats - is going to result in a richly deserved can of whup ass being opened on your head. HTFG.

Merowe

good debate on Democracy Now between Naomi Wolf and Jessica Valenti

milo204

I have to say Wolf makes a good point about consent.  i.e. if you don't consent say no and mean it.  Valenti seems to be taking an idealistic view of sex between consenting adults, as if consent is only verbal.  Except during sex the consent is often physical AND verbal.  

no means no.  Valenti seems to imply that many things "could" mean no even if no is never actually said, which to me won't help anyone.  For women it treats them like they're powerless and no matter what they say or do rape is going to happen.  and for both men and women she makes it sound like you need to have a meeting before having sex to discuss what each partner is willing to do which is just not how sex works, knowing peoples tendencies to explore all kinds of sexual acts and things.

In the absence of a clear "no", "stop, now!", or trying to physically get up and leave, doesn't that create exactly the kind of grey areas that lead to rapists NOT being charged for their crimes that valenti talks about?   

takeitslowly

when you feel vulnerble, scared , threatened or insecure, it could be hard saying no. Or maybe we said no before, but they never listen, because we are not loud enough or strong enough, we just decided to say nothing and get it over with. It can be complicated.

milo204

i agree it can be hard to do, and in some cases it's simply not an option (where violence is threatened) but it seems in many cases much easier to say no and act on it then deal with the repercussions both emotional and physical to being forced into a sexual act against your will.

i think your examples in some cases would prove what wolf is saying, that it makes women powerless to do anything.  There are many ways to put a stop to what you've described (r maybe we said no before, but they never listen, because we are not loud enough or strong enough, we just decided to say nothing and get it over with.) That sounds like you've just accepted that situation as inevitable and that it will continue forever, and under that scenario it might which is the worst possible outcome.  But there are things people can do.  Say no, louder.  Resist.  End the abusive relationship.  Involve police, lay charges (60% of rapes go unreported!) Contact a shelter and get help.  talk to friends or family, but whatever you do, anything is better than doing nothing and accepting it.

takeitslowly

I agree completely. I just want to comment on how alot of us might not want to talk to the police, alot of us might have bad experience with the police , especially if we are sex workers or trans women or even minorities.

6079_Smith_W

I don't like posting here, but...

@ milo #11

I hear that you recognize it may be difficult, but even so, it is not as simple as you say.

In the first place the onus is not on the victim to prevent assault, nor is it the victim's fault if the evidence isn't clear enough to secure a conviction.

Aside from being intimidated or threatened, a victim might not even realize that what has happened is assault until later, or might not even see the attacker as an attacker.

So yes, things would be neater and tidier if we all had t-shirts  that said "don't assault me". But I question whether that is really getting at the root of the problem.

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

Saw an excellent interview with Michael Moore on the Rachel Maddow show tonight.  He made it very clear the two things are separate and that these women need to be treated with respect and their complaints heard properly.  No means no is an easy concept to understand.  Yes to protected sex is not yes to unprotected sex. Having sex with a sleeping woman is rape if they have not consented to such behaviour.  I have no idea whether he is guilty but it would not surprise me if he had over stepped his privilege however I firmly believe the Americans are working very hard to discredit him and lock him up for decades, if not shoot him for treason.  

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

Very difficult place, I warned of it long ago.

milo204

absolutely, takeitslowly.

@smith.  i think the point wolf makes about being clear with not consenting is a valid one though.  Of course some attackers are going to proceed no matter what, but there are probably many instances where the assault can be stopped by bringing to the persons attention that they are in fact raping someone and not just having sex.    

"Aside from being intimidated or threatened, a victim might not even realize that what has happened is assault until later, or might not even see the attacker as an attacker."

i can see that in the case of a rape within a family with a child or say, a husband who forces himself on his wife, but in cases like this it would seem you would know right away when the line is crossed.  

Snert Snert's picture

This has certainly been a fascinating case.  I'm reminded of the old riddle about the unstoppable object colliding with the unmoveable object. 

On the one hand, we have two women's claim that they were sexually assaulted.  But on the other hand, they allege that it was by JULIAN ASSANGE!  Hero of the people! 

I think this case marks the first time I've seen open dismissal of claims of sexual assault being quietly tolerated on babble.  Bigger fish to fry, I guess.

N.R.KISSED

Snert wrote:

This has certainly been a fascinating case.  I'm reminded of the old riddle about the unstoppable object colliding with the unmoveable object. 

On the one hand, we have two women's claim that they were sexually assaulted.  But on the other hand, they allege that it was by JULIAN ASSANGE!  Hero of the people! 

I think this case marks the first time I've seen open dismissal of claims of sexual assault being quietly tolerated on babble.  Bigger fish to fry, I guess.

Many stupid things have been said on babble. Quite often you have been involved. Why the surprise?

Maysie Maysie's picture

Snert, until you have a history of positive feminist and pro-women contributions on babble you need to not say moronic things like post #17. Oh, and once you do have such an understanding you will know how insulting it is to say what you did and would, presumably, refrain.

There have been discussions about this issue, in threads about the case against Assange. That's not what this thread is about. Nor is your characterization of these discussions accurate. Some of us are actually able to understand that Assange did an important thing for the world, with assistance, and he may in fact be a complete shit (perhaps a criminal one) in his private life.

Back off and stay out of this thread if you aren't able to post within pro-feminist parameters.

milo wrote:
 But there are things people can do.  Say no, louder.  Resist.  End the abusive relationship.  Involve police, lay charges (60% of rapes go unreported!) Contact a shelter and get help.  talk to friends or family, but whatever you do, anything is better than doing nothing and accepting it.

milo, with all respect, you appear to know nothing about sexual assault. 

The majority of sexual assaults happen within a known relationship. The woman knows her abuser/assaulter. Whether a family member (father, grandfather, uncle, brother), boyfriend, common law or legal spouse. Violence is rarely needed, or used. Sexual (and physical) assaults are usually ongoing, not just one time, and they are most likely to happen in the woman's home or a place she feels "safe". "Stranger danger" is the most commonly charged and convicted crime in terms of sexual assault, but represents the minority of assaults that happen.

Telling women (I find it interesting that you use the gender-neutral "people") to just leave is one of the most patently unhelpful things anyone can say. And I say this as a former front line worker in the anti-violence against women sector. My total years of professional work in the VAW sector is coming up on 15 years now. I now work with staff teams, managers and boards of directors, as a consultant in the sector.

Why is telling women to leave unhelpful? Because they may be financially dependent on the abuser. Because they may have been threatened, or their children threatened, by the abuser if she leaves. Because her legal ability to remain in Canada is connected to her abuser. Because her capacity with English leaves her not knowing how to access shelters who can help her. Because shelters are vastly under-funded and don't serve all communities in Canada in any sort of way to minimize the disruption in the woman's life and the lives of her children. Because telling someone to leave isn't the same as telling the abuser to stop. Better, telling all abusers to stop, enforced by societal values, education and resources. I won't hold my breath for that day, but shelters all across Canada have education and community programming to try to educate folks about the truth about sexual assault and rape.

To answer the sort of question in the OP, what the Assange case reveals about rape in America is that rape isn't important, and the women who get raped, who bring charges against their rapists, whose names are dragged through the mud if the accused is well-known, are unreliable and looking for attention. In other words, nothing feminists haven't heard before. We're just hearing it again. It would be fucking boring if it wasn't so damned predictable, hateful and asinine. 

milo204

Maysie, i trust you know more than i do about this judging by your experience.  But leaving is just one of the examples i said, along with some others (including telling the abuser to stop).  My point is that doing nothing and accepting it as inevitable is not a good thing.  

And since you have many years of experience: What are the ways to really stop an abusive relationship in these situations beyond the examples i mentioned (Say no, louder.  Resist.  End the abusive relationship.  Involve police, lay charges (60% of rapes go unreported!) Contact a shelter and get help.  talk to friends or family, but whatever you do, anything is better than doing nothing and accepting it.) i'd like to better understand where i'm going wrong on this.

Maysie Maysie's picture

milo, on an individual level there are several possibilities. Yes, leaving. Yes, ending the relationship. But how? What needs to happen internally for the individual woman?

And what about the next relationship? Survivors of violent or sexually abusive relationships need to see what are their triggers, what leads them to find abusers, boundary pushers, those who disrespect them. This not blaming the victim, and I'm taking a risk in typing this, as it will likely be misinterpreted. But workers with women raw from leaving (and it sometimes takes a few tries for the woman to leave for good) need to balance the line between empowerment/self actualization, and the help/assistance/support they need when so raw and vulnerable.

Deeper issues such as building back self-esteem, sense of actualization, community and trust in others are issues that shelters (given mandatory maximum lengths of stay) can barely touch on, but are vital for women to have, via counselling, group, parenting skills, finding safe, affordable housing and meaningful employment.

It also takes tremendous strength to leave. Imagining "victims" (I hate that word) of "domestic violence" (I hate that phrase too) as weak and powerless is also wrong, and puts the survivors into a particular category of victim... forever. Certainly this is how the criminal justice system defines survivors. Unless they define them as "liars who made it all up". Don't get me started.

Also, some women can never leave, for a variety of reasons. Some go to shelters for a few nights' peace and (relative) safety. The shelter movement has had to change to adapt to women who do not have an ultimate goal of leaving the abusive situation.

But individual solutions won't change the world, and make it a better place for all. Since any world that's better for women is better for all.

But the problem will be solved on a societal level. More shelters aren't the solution. Violence (mostly by men) against alleged loved ones needs to be taught and seen as not okay, ever. Boys and young men need to learn this, usually from other men. Gay, straight and bi men need to learn this. If any male friends make jokes about violence against women, other men need to call them out, publicly, and repeatedly. Men need to take direction from women in the shelter movement for ways that their roles as men can be utilized in education of boys and young men. That will, indeed, change the world.

For more information, since I've said words like the above at least a half dozen times on babble over the years and I'm tired, please check out the following links regarding the issue of violence against women, which I've also linked to a number of times.

They are all Toronto-based links since that's where I work and they are the resources I know. If you click and read, you will find more extensive writings, suggestions and analysis than i was able to type off the top of my head.

Assaulted Women's Helpline

Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape

Springtide Resources (formerly Education Wife Assault)

Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses

milo204

thanks for the post and the links maysie!