Please stop trivialising rape!

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was refused bail today.

The amount of people who are willing to jump to Assange’s defence and dismiss the rape allegations as ‘smears’ is worrying. What’s even more worrying is the amount of people who are eagerly willing to redefine what actually constitutes as rape. Suddenly, everyone’s an expert. Forget intent or context, apparently it’s only REAL rape if a stranger ambushes a woman with a knife and pins her down to the ground.  Some have even said the women who have accused Assange of rape are just making a big deal about nothing, that what happened to his accusers was just ‘surprise sex’.

The fact the Assange plays a crucial part in ‘opening governments’ really shouldn’t have any effect on the fact that he has been accused of rape. Those who dismiss the claims as smears effectively paint Assange’s accusers as liars before the court case has even begun.

There’s nothing strange about non consensual sex being regarded as rape, no matter how much the nay-sayers attempt to disregard Swedish law as incomprehensible.

Whilst I agree with many Assange defenders that it’s suspicious that the case was dropped in August, and then picked up again around the time that the famous cables were released, the same defenders seem too quick to jump to the conclusion that Assange created Wikileaks, therefore is a good man, therefore he has never done anything wrong in his life. I also agree with the sentiment that the Swedish authorities are using these rape allegations to imprison a man that governments across the world really want imprisoned for what they consider terrorist-like acts.  But, if anything this just proves that not many people are prepared to make a fuss about rape as a crime until someone famous is involved.

The Daily Mail has attempted to tackle the subject. Torn between vilifying liberals or feminists, The Mail opted for the feminist route. Here’s a brief dissection of a couple of stand-out points from Richard Pendlebury’s extensive, misogynistic article.

‘[Assange] is certainly a man of strong sexual appetites who is not averse to exploiting his fame.’

Translation:

‘Assange needs sex like oxygen. He can have any woman he wants. These women fell for his charms.’

And the next, discussing one of the women who has accused Assange:

An attractive blonde, Sarah was already a well-known ‘radical feminist’. In her 30s, she had travelled the world following various fashionable causes. While a research assistant at a local university she had not only been the protegé of a militant feminist ­academic, but held the post of ‘campus sexual equity officer’. Fighting male discrimination in all forms, including sexual harassment, was her forte.’

Loosely translated into language not dripping with sexism, this reads:

‘Sarah was a radical feminist who obviously hated men because she campaigned for equality. These facts alone suggest she’s more likely to lie about being raped. She’s attractive , which means that she probably lured him to bed- women only make themselves look sexy to flaunt their wares to men.’

I’ve come to expect this sort of attitude from the Mail, but its this same attitude from men who consider themselves ‘left’ or feminist that really upsets me.

An article published on lefty website Liberal Conspiracy defined Sarah’s reaction as ‘cross’ when she allegedly discovered Assange wasn’t wearing a condom. The Daily Mail described Sarah’s reaction as ‘upset’. Both authors – who by some predictable coincidence are male- use words that trivialise the rape allegations currently being held against Assange. Both authors seemingly deliberately choose words that do not even begin to cover the sense of violation, hurt, and confusion that rape victims are likely to feel. Dismiss this argument as semantics if you will- but the choice of these words matter.

I am ‘cross’ when my day doesn’t go to plan. I am ‘upset’ when my laptop breaks down. If I gave a potential lover permission to have sex with me on the basis that he wore a condom, only for him to defy my wishes, I would be a lot more than ‘cross’ or ‘upset’.

Assange’s rape trial hasn’t even begun. We do not know if he did it or not. Just as it would be wrong to brand Assange a rapist, it’s equally as wrong to paint his accusers as liars.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. Mary says:

    Assange needs to be found guilty of rape before people can be said to be trivialising rape in this case. Otherwise you are making assumptions of guilt.

    Innocent until proven guilty and all that.

    Reply
  2. The accusation is enough for people begin trivialising it- certain bloggers and websites are already digging around trying to find information to prove these women are liars. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/07/rape-claims-julian-assange?CMP=twt_fd

    Reply
  3. rcentros says:

    When women make false accusations and brag about “bringing down Assange” on Twitter, that’s “trivializing rape.”

    Reply
  4. Who are these women? How do you know the accusations are false? There hasn’t even been a trial yet! Where are these tweets? Do you really think, if these tweets exist, that they’re proof enough?
    Finally, who are you to judge Assange or his accusers outside of court?

    Reply
  5. Hi Reni –

    Thanks for posting this – I was mulling this one over all day yesterday and think it poses a very difficult situation.

    At this moment in history, if Julian Assange was being charged with tax evasion, bank robbery, defamation or any other criminal charge, people would be questioning it pretty thoroughly. And I think would be right to do so; any charge, when someone has made so many political enemies, so recently, would warrant suspicion. The US Government have done far worse things to previous adversaries than frame-up charges against them (from Salvador Allende, to Mumia Abu-Jamal, to the entire Black Panther Party), so suspicion is a healthy response, regardless of the charge.

    However, even based on the info that is there, Assange at least seems to be a less-than-savoury character (in my opinion), in regards to his relationships with women. Which is sleazy, but whether or not illegal, is another question.

    I very much agree that many of the responses have carried a thinly-veiled sexism and one that has been used to repeatedly discredit women who have been raped by men on far too many occasions.

    Which puts us in a difficult position: on the one hand, there is ample past evidence to suggest some of the enemies Assange has made would be keen to discredit and imprison him. On the other, we have 2 women who may well have been assaulted by Assange, for which, if there is any truth at all in the accusations, he should be held to account.

    I feel you’re very right in pointing out the trivialising of rape that has been flying around since yesterday. At the same time, we should also be prepared to better understand the whole situation and not assume his guilt because he has been charged. In line with that, we should not assume the guilt of the women making the charges, as many already are.

    I don’t by any means have the answers here, but feel there is an inquisitive middle-ground that can investigate the facts behind the story, without inherently discrediting the women involved. I feel that this will be the challenge of progressive people who support wikileaks and the oppose the attempts to shut it down, but also understand the severity of rape and the subtle ways women are constantly coerced out of bringing perpetrators to account.

    Reply
  6. Hi Liam,
    I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said. I don’t know anything about Swedish law, neither do I know anything concrete about what happened (I think only Assange and his accusers do), that is, apart from what’s been reported- but I do know sexism when I see it.

    Reply
  7. Chris says:

    False accusations of rape are as common as false accusations of any other crime. However they are probably more likely to increase if the person accused is famous or powerful in some way.

    Having sex with someone whose asleep is rape as consent cannot be given.

    Deceiving someone about condom use isnt rape, but should be a crime, although I’m not sure if its sexual assault. You can argue that it wasnt ‘informed consent’.

    This case has to be judged on its own merits; but whether or not its true, I’m sure the US government will use it for their own ends.

    I am appalled by the way the media are handling this story.

    Reply

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