Thursday, December 16, 2010

On Julian Assange's Charges and our Rape Apologist Society

Trigger warning for detailed discussion of rape.

So if you've read just one feminist blog in the past two weeks, you have undoubtedly read about the rape charges against Julian Assange. It's everywhere...and with good reason. We are currently living through one of the largest media campaigns of rape apologism that I've seen, and feminist blogs can't keep quiet about that!

Here's the background for a brief catch up: Assange runs WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks dropped some info that made US diplomats look bad. Assange also allegedly engaged in a non-consensual sex act in Sweden a while ago (RAPE). All of a sudden Assange was sky rocketed to the top of the most wanted list. So, understandably...people got pissed. They saw the rape charges as an excuse for taking in a guy who pissed off a lot of people in high places. And thus, every schmuck suddenly got in the business of defining rape. The disgusting and creepy phrase "sex by surprise" suddenly became part of our lexicon.

But let me make this abundantly clear:

I agree that Assange is being targeted because of WikiLeaks, but I fundamentally disagree that what he did wasn't rape, if the charges are proven to be true. I think it's sad that he wasn't charged for the rape originally and it took him pissing off the US government for his REAL charges to be uncovered. However, because people don't like the way Assange has been made a most wanted criminal, they've decided to focus on claiming what he allegedly did wasn't rape instead of focusing on the way he's been targeted.

I can't say this enough: a narrow definition of rape/sexual assault doesn't do good for anyone but rapists.

Sadly, rapists actually kind of have the system in their favor, don't they? Think I'm kidding? Sady at Tiger Beatdown shared some stats that really drove this point home for me:

According to RAINN, about 60% of rapes aren’t reported. In those cases, there’s about a 51% chance that the 40% of reported rapes will have an arrest made. There’s an 80% chance of prosecution. And, given various factors including conviction and sentencing, there’s only about a 16.3% chance that someone who commits rape will serve time for that rape. Meaning: If we factor in the rapes that go unreported, only 6% of rapists ever serve time. EVER.
That's so disturbing. And these black and white statistics don't tell the full story. There's so much more to be known about those 60% that so unreported. When we begin to look into WHY they are unreported, we start to see the sick, seedy underbelly of our rape apologist society that is fueling under-reporting. Every time a victim who steps forward and attempts to press charges is blamed for her own rape because of her clothes, actions, or sexual past, other victims become more and more afraid to tell the truth. They see this woman being dragged through the mud and they think that their private suffering would be a better alternative to public shaming and no justice anyhow.

The act of narrowly defining rape plays a huge role in this. Society tells women that the only "real" rape (or "rape-rape") is a stranger kidnapping them from an alley and violently raping them, while they fight and struggle to get free. Thus, any woman who has been assaulted in a manner which deviates from this situation will be much less likely to recognize her own situation as rape, let alone report it. And the truth is women are far more likely to be assaulted by someone close to them within the complexities of all forms of relationships (dating, family, friendship, acquaintances.) In fact, 73% of women know their assailants.

Denial can be a powerful force; but it is exacerbated by a society that engages in group-think like denial surrounding what is and isn't rape.
I have seen this situation play out all too close to home. A friend of mine has recently come to understand that something that happened to her several years ago was rape. For so long she bought into the idea that because her situation didn't fit the scenario described above, it wasn't rape. And I, having heard the story when it unfolded many years ago, also didn't call it what it was. Recently, during a discussion, she told me that she has come to see it as rape. And throughout the course of this discussion, she shared with me the ramifications she feels her assault has had on her life into the present day. She is embarking on a process of healing that she has delayed for the better part of a decade. And while I'm happy that she is seeking out help, I am so angry that because of the culturally transmitted narrow definition of rape, my friend has spent years in denial that could have been spent healing.

So back to Julian Assange. What is so heart breaking for me is how this case is just yet another in the litany of examples where the narrow definition of rape is promoted in our society. In the Tiger Beatdown blog I linked above, Michael Moore's rape apology is examined. It is so excruciatingly frustrating to have liberal champions like Moore letting their personal feelings about a suspiciously timed political attack on Assange turn into rape apology.

There's currently a Twitter war being raged against Moore, and as Bitch Magazine tweeted at him, "An accusation can be all of the following: conveniently timed, political, and true. Real 'progressives' know that." (Check out the hashtag #Mooreandme.)

I couldn't agree more. At the end of the day, the manner in which Assange is being targeted is unjust. But that doesn't mean that he isn't potentially a rapist. And it doesn't mean that the rest of us should be continuing to promote the narrow definition of rape.


  1. Couple thoughts, Ami.

    First, the statistics make the numbers part of my brain hurt just a little bit. I know that false reporting of rape is incredibly small, but it's not factored in to those numbers, at least in any way I can see. Just from a stats standpoint, maybe only 5% of the rape cases that don't result in prosecution are because a rape didn't occur, but that should show up in those numbers.

    Secondly, is anyone having the discussion about what it means in regards to Wikileaks to consider Assange a rapist? I guess it's similar to the Polanski rape conviction, but it is possible for a rapist to have done something that we objectively view as positive, or can we ever really differentiate the end product from the producer?

  2. Hey!

    Yeah, I didn't think about the false rape accusations stuff, but honestly it is such a small thing that I'm not remotely worried about it. In fact, I feel that the media really, really over reports on the false accusations and makes it seem like they are more prevalent than they are.

    As for the Polanski parallel, I feel differently about this...I wrote a blog about how we can't vindicate Polanski just because he made some cool movies, and I stand by that. I wrote...

    "The argument here is that the director is 76 and that his life should be measured by his body of work, not a one-time lapse of morality."

    ARE YOU SERIOUS? So now, when we go to a court of law, we can just bring forth evidence of our life's work and it won't matter what we do?

    But w/ Assange, it's different...I don't see people trying to say that he's a good guy just because he runs Wikileaks.

    He's trying to uncover corruption and not producing art to be revered for, like Polanski. So I don't think we should revere Assange OR overlook the corruption that he brings to light if it is proven he is a rapist. But DAMN do I wish it wasn't a rapist doing it!


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