Akin, Assange, and Questioning Rape

Strange moment: The right and the left have taken to debating the legitimacy of rape at the exact same time.  In order to defend his bill banning abortion in all cases, even of rape, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, Neanderthal that he be (apologies to our ancestors) has, infamously pointed out that women can’t get pregnant if it is a “legitimate rape.”* **

But don’t start laughing too self-righteously yet:  Much of the left has questioned the legitimacy of the rape allegations awaiting Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as he has tried to challenge his extradition to Sweden. It’s not quite the same thing, but these events do have some points in common: A lot of folks, especially men, have felt gratuitously entitled to denounce the legitimacy of the rape allegations that are being raised against Assange. Gratuitous, because the issue of extraditing Assange to Sweden has little to do with the legitimacy of the allegations; they have to do with the concern that Sweden will allow him to be extradited to the US for leaking documents that show the US engaging, or collaborating with others, in massive wrongdoing.

That’s an important concern. Does it mean that Assange is being set up? To ask that question is to assume that the rape allegations are false. Even though we don’t need to weigh in on the allegations, many men have done exactly that: British MP George Galloway, revealing his own Neanderthal tendencies, rejected describing as rape the allegation that Assange had sex with one woman when she was sleeping.  The former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, after naming at least one of them publicly, asked why the two women in question went to dinner with him after said activities, why they saw him again, why they waited to go to the police, why they were very public on their twitter accounts and elsewhere about their activities.  The implication here seems to be that if these women had “truly” been sexually assaulted, they wouldn’t have wanted to see their assaulter socially, and they would have turned their backs on him right away.

We could have a field day with these kinds of ignorant views (how exactly does one resist a sexual encounter when one is sleeping?).  To be fair, there is evidence to suggest that at least one of the women was quite distraught to hear that her testimony was being extracted to buttress potential rape charges against Assange: when she realized that this was the goal of Swedish prosecutors, she decided to cut short her cooperation. She has also suggested that she never felt threatened violently by Assange.

But let us assume that there was some sort of unwanted sexual activity imposed on either or both women: For those, like Craig Murray, who insist that if it was “really unwanted,” both of these women would have immediately distanced themselves from Assange: This translates into “it’s not really rape because they didn’t publicly, openly, visually reject Assange.”  In effect, the lefty denunciation amounts to VERY similar assessment of rape that the rightist Akin asserted: it’s not legitimate because women who are really raped will behave in ways that we expect; women who aren’t really raped will behave in ways that we expect.

It’s not a LEGITIMATE rape because the women didn’t exhibit what both groups wanted them to exhibit?!? C’mon, folks.  To question the legitimacy of sexual assault charges is to question whether others should behave as you (think you) would in those same circumstances. It assumes that the nature of coercion is always violent. It’s not. We have long known that coercion takes all sorts forms. Coercion can take all kinds of insidious, quiet forms—in relation to ethics (see US Soldiers dropping drones); finance (see Financial Crisis and Sub-Prime Loans); and rape: which is why we have categories called sexual molestation, incest, acquaintance rape and statutory rape. The latter is what Huckabee was ostensibly distinguishing from ‘forcible’ rape.

It is counter-productive for sympathetic lefties to denounce the allegations of rape against Assange. We don’t really know all the facts surrounding what happened between Assange and the two Swedish women in question. But we don’t need to know. What we do know is that the U.S. has also put much pressure (invisible—yes—coercion) on the UK to extradite Assange—because of the Obama Administrations’s now well-established track record of punishing whistle-blowers. That should be enough to question. We don’t also need to stoop to the level of the right.

What is disturbing, however, is the possibility that these rape allegations are being pursued without the consent of the women involved.  And therein lies a return to the question of coercion:  When these women (or at least one of them) decided to report her encounter with Assange to the police, it appears to be because he was uninterested in responding to her request to be tested for STD’s. It might have also been for other acts that resemble what we associate with sexual assault or rape. It is unclear whether the women in question are translating their interactions with Assange as rape or sexual assault.

And so, unrelated to Assange or whistleblowing altogether, is the question of how to protect women (or anyone) who translates what happened to them as rape, without undermining those women who interpret certain acts that happened to them, not as rape but some other violation. This is an issue that urges the importance of making distinctions—not by those who are bystanders—but by those who were the subjects of these violations. Whether someone is raped (assuming they are adults) is best determined by s/he who is subject of the violation–and if with her consent, the procedure goes further—by a properly instructed, properly selected jury that has heard ALL the evidence. We may not like the outcome, we may disagree with the interpretation. But short of imposing a colonial judgment (that a woman is the victim of false consciousness, or doesn’t know better), we need to let those who are directly subject to an offensive act decide what it is, and ask for help accordingly,—without the denunciations of bystanders, or other nations pursuing barely-concealed designs on the accused.

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*Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate and governor of Arkansas, has tried to defend Akin by distinguishing between forcible rape and “unforced rape.  Frankly, it’s hard to know how Huckabee’s comment is helping to “defend” Akin; doesn’t his point about how “extraordinary people are the result of “forcible” rape kinda disprove Akin’s point about rape-induced non-pregnancy?

**President Obama, realizing that this was a win-win-win situation (he could simultaneously 1. denounce Republican Akin, 2. Julian Assange AND 3. put in a plug for his own healthcare plan) didn’t miss out on a chance to offer a meaningless tautology: “Rape is rape.”

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One thought on “Akin, Assange, and Questioning Rape

  1. It is incredibly offensive and insensitive to suggest that the actions of a woman following a potential assault can be used to prove an act was consensual. Human emotions are far too complex to make any sort of an argument along those lines, those doing so are dishonest and self-serving. Craig Murray and others should be ashamed of themselves. At the same time, it does seem plausible that these two women went to the police seeking to force Assange to submit to an STD test, and the US/Swedish authorities, who desperately wanted a way to discredit or otherwise gain a legal mechanism to control Assange, being given an inch, took a mile. On August 20th the Swedish police issued 2 arrest warrants, one for rape and one for molestation. This information was given to the news who immediately ran “Julian Assange Rape Arrest Warrant” as a top story, only for the rape warrant to be withdrawn the next day. (I have read claims that this is a violation of privacy for charges to be leaked in this way, I’m the wrong person to ask whether that is true or not.) At least one of the women involved felt this was an unfair and disproportionate use of her overture to the police. Clearly these women objected to Assange’s behavior, but it definitely appears that the US, acting through the Swedish authorities, took this dispute and leveraged it into a way to discredit Assange. 1) The fact that the arrest warrant for rape was withdrawn 24 hours later strongly suggests this decision was opportunistic and disingenuous, and instead of being filed in good faith, was filed for the purpose of creating headlines which brand Assange as an accused rapist or perpetrator of sexual assault. 2) The investigation into the lesser dispute gave them a legal basis to extradite him to Sweden at whatever point in the future they found convenient. People have claimed that if he is extradited from the UK to Sweden, the minute he lands he will be extradited to the US. I don’t think this is necessarily true- it seems more plausible that the investigation by Swedish police will be used as a pretense to keep him incarcerated in Sweden until the US finds it convenient to charge him in the US. People have also argued “If the US is so set on prosecuting Assange why wouldn’t they just extradite him straight from the UK? The UK would obviously comply with a US extradition request given how close the two countries are, so if they arrest him and send him to Sweden when there is nothing stopping them from sending him to the US, it shows he isn’t at risk of being sent to the US. This proves Assange is lying when he says he fears extradition to the US, he is using that as an excuse to avoid facing the accusations against him in Sweden. If he wasn’t guilty of sexual assault, he wouldn’t be refusing to leave the Ecuadorian embassy would he?” It is entirely possible the US is absolutely planning to bring him to trial at some point, but they would prefer to do it at a time of their choosing. Were it not for the Swedish investigation, Assange would have the opportunity to travel to a country outside the reach of US law enforcement before the indictment or other evidence against him is ready. While the discussion in the US media has been dominated by the accusations of sexual assault against Assange, the potential criminality of the leaked cables and whether they put people in danger by not being released unredacted, Wikileaks is much bigger than just Assange and about much more that the one batch of cables. The US government and Obama administration feels deeply threatened by the mission of Wikileaks and its desire to provide true anonymity to any whistleblower, anywhere. This is why their funding was cut off with such prejudice. The Obama administration wants to move towards a system where anyone who releases information that embarrasses them (or incriminates them) is forced to disclose their identity as well, which means they can be charged with leaking classified administration. The punitive treatment of Bradley Manning is partly to send a message to anyone who might follow in his footsteps, but I would guess the US is also taking its time in order to ensure that the case creates a legal precedent which can be used against future whistleblowers. They will get the conviction they want against Manning first, then use this to get the conviction against Assange they want. The Swedish detention of Assange serves the purpose of allowing the US to put their prosecution of him “on hold” until they have all their ducks in order, more or less. We don’t know the true story of what happened between Assange and these two women, and until they are given a day in court, all anyone can do is speculate. Assange absolutely needs to answer the accusations against him and I am sincere when I say that. My guess is that these women would not have gone to the police if they did not truly feel wronged by him, and it seems more than likely he violated their trust by not respecting their request he use protection. I am speculating here, but it looks like he used his celebrity and (self-aggrandized) image as the “man behind Wikileaks” to convince all the women he could to sleep with him, and since he didn’t feel like using a condom, he did as he pleased. That is truly detestable behavior, it’s an abuse of privilege and power, and I am inclined to think the guy is a bit of a scumbag, honestly. The two women who feel wronged by him deserve to have their grievance against him heard in court, and he should suffer whatever consequences result from legal proceedings. At the same time, it is truly reprehensible for the US media to ignore the fact that those accusations are being used by the Obama administration in their war on whistleblowers and anonymity, and their coverage has been absurdly biased towards the message the administration desires. If it is true that these women went to the police in order to request Assange submit to an STD test (something outlets like the New York Times are avoiding acknowledging), only for that to be exploited by US authorities, the media has an obligation to report it. Most high profile US media figures, reporters, and professional bloggers seem to be in attack mode on behalf of the administration, and have no interest in getting to the bottom of what is a complex and ambiguous situation. Sorry if that is excessively long, repetitive or rambling- I have no doubt the above gets something wrong somewhere, and the real story is more complicated. But these are things which are willfully ignored in the US MSM. It’s unconscionable. @Riversteiner

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