Don’t Call Me A Rape Apologist
A lot has been written about rape in the last few weeks. Some of it was in response to Republican congressman Todd Aiken, who said pregnancy as a result of rape was rare because in “legitimate rape” the female body “has ways to shut that whole thing down”. Despite the baffling stupidity of that statement, most of the vitriol continued to be aimed at Julian Assange, and anyone who wasn’t outraged by Ecuador’s decision to grant him asylum.
I had grown increasingly frustrated by comments on Twitter from people I liked and respected along the lines of “ugh my timeline is crawling with rape apologists”. How odd that otherwise intelligent people would hurl such an abusive accusation at people, merely for supporting Assange’s right to asylum. Assange, after all, hasn’t yet been charged with anything – let alone rape – yet millions already have him banged to rights. Annoyed, I made this small contribution to the debate.
“As a rape survivor I’d like to point out calling
#Assange supporters rape apologists is offensive. This is about US detention w/out trial.”
That little tweet from me was retweeted well over two hundred times. It’s unheard of for so many people to agree with me. You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d hit upon popular opinion, but I’m not sure that I have; support for Assange seems to have gone so quiet lately, and men holding a similar view to my own would probably be openly vilified in the same way George Galloway was when he said Assange was only guilty of “bad sexual etiquette”.
On the surface, I’m an unlikely “rape apologist”. I’ve had personal experiences which I don’t intend to describe here (however, if you want a personal account of rape Eliza James and Laurie Penny have written vividly about their own experiences and I applaud their bravery in doing so). I have more than one close friend I know to be rape survivors. I know how insidious rape is, and how often it’s committed without the perpetrator really knowing or understanding what they’ve done. I think it’s probably right that victims should be believed and the burden of proof should be on the accused, as is the case in Sweden. I have never and will never defend rape. And yet my view on the Assange case is the one people tell you can only exist in the minds of those that either don’t understand rape or don’t think it’s important. Let me tell you: that’s nonsense.
“Not proper rape”
What I’ve heard time and again is that Assange supporters purport the allegations are ‘not proper rape’ and therefore they are rape apologists. This post on The Practical Pinko blog ‘Wikileaks, hero-worship and the left’ is a brilliant example of the hysteria this has provoked. The author writes:
“Right, well then, imagine their messianic leader, their blond bombshell is accused of rape. He is accused of pinning a woman down and having sex with someone who did not want to and was frightened.”
Well imagine it you’ll have to, because that bears no resemblance to the accusations made against Assange. It’s excellent proof of the old saying “mud sticks”; I have no doubt the author is a well-meaning person seeking to make accurate points about the importance of taking so-called “date rape” allegations extremely seriously. And everything she says about rape is true. But something crucial has been forgotten in all of this – the statements made by the women to the police.
When Owen Jones wrote for the Independent about the allegations of Miss A, he included in great detail her attempts to avoid penetration without a condom concluding that “many of his supporters argued that this would not constitute rape according to English law, which is simply untrue” (see full article here). Sadly he missed out a fundamental fact: Assange asks her what’s wrong, she tells him to put a condom on, he does and then they have sex. Does that constitute rape? Where is the sex without her consent? What she actually alleges is that during the course of consensual sex he deliberately broke the condom. That is an entirely different matter. Whatever your views on the seriousness of that allegation it is not rape. Consensual sex does not constitute rape.
On to Miss W. She had a whirlwind romance with Assange and they had sex several times. What we typically hear said about this case is that Assange had sex with her while she was asleep. Miss W never approved or signed her statement to the police. Once she found out police planned to use her statement to charge Assange with a sex crime she refused to cooperate with them. The women approached police to ask that Assange be forced to submit to a HIV test, not to report rape. The statement published does say she woke by feeling him penetrate her. This is the only allegation against Assange that may constitute rape. She “let him continue”. She is alleged to have said in an SMS that she was “half asleep”. There isn’t enough detail here to ascertain whether a crime is alleged to have taken place at the precise point of penetration i.e. was she awake enough to have consented and/or did Assange reasonably believe he had her consent. Even as a hardliner I can see how Assange would have reasonably assumed he had her consent to wake her by initiating sex and took her letting him continue to mean this was the case. Ultimately, it’s Miss W’s body and she withdrew her statement on hearing Police intended to accuse him of rape which would seem to indicate she has not accused him of it.
I can’t stress this enough: people say the accusations against Assange aren’t proper rape because they’ve read the statements, not just a newspaper story. It’s not because you can’t be raped by someone you’ve slept with before. It’s not because heroes can’t be rapists. It’s because consensual sex cannot be rape. I am no rape apologist; it’s the people so willing to condemn Julian Assange that are trivialising rape and the harm that someone’s use of your body without your consent does. It’s them that hide behind the “rights of his accusers” when the women’s’ own statements and subsequent comments don’t even seem to back up the idea either of these two women are accusing Julian Assange of raping them. Assange’s own version of events don’t exactly cover him in glory but consensual sex, with or without a condom, does not compare to rape.
Assange is right to fear extradition
I would love to see this much police time spent hunting people that genuinely are on the run from rape allegations, but ask yourself if we would ever spend so much time and money trying to detain and extradite Assange had he never founded WikiLeaks.
If you’re in any doubt about how much the USA would like to get hold of Julian Assange, refresh your memory by watching the collateral murder video (see here) and think hard about Bradley Manning, the 24-year old Army Intelligence Analyst accused of releasing it. Manning has been detained for over two years in conditions the UN called “cruel and inhuman”, and faces up to 52 years in prison if convicted of ‘knowingly supplying information to the enemy’ via WikiLeaks. Can any of us really blame Assange for fearing a similar fate?
If you would like to support WikiLeaks or donate to the legal defence fund for Julian Assange or Bradley Manning visit
JC Willis | @ethicalgirl