Thursday, December 09, 2010

Julian Assange and rape myths

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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you for this.

    (removed previous post due to a typing mistake that was screaming at me)

  3. "There is no way that rape victims act - there is no way that rape victims don't act."

    I listened to an awful radio interview between
    Phillip Adams and John Pilger where John Pilger dismisses the rape allegations on the basis that one of the women threw a party for Assange, held a press conference for Assange and that both of the women "deny that they have been raped in terms as it is known in the law in Australia and Britain and most countries". This entire debacle has been absolutely eye-opening for me to witness the way people will absolutely dismiss women's claims and believe in/rely on, rape myths, in order to serve their own agenda.

  4. Palfriend, my understanding is that there are not accusations of rape - that it was consensual sex, and the issue is instead around the use of a condom and subsequent STD testing.

  5. You are mistaken. I linked to the charges.

  6. Thank you for this. I've been trying to find nuanced responses to this situation, which has been harder that I expected.

  7. Anonymous12:16 p.m.

    You write "Assanger" instead of "Assange" four times. Also, I think you are missing a colon or something after "But there's a problem with this"; I had to re-read that sentence several times before I figured out what it meant.

  8. Anonymous10:07 a.m.

  9. Anonymous12:45 p.m.

    you are my hero! but you know that...