Julian Assange’s rape defence based on Julian Assange not knowing what “rape” means

From this article: Julian Assange’s lawyer makes graphic defence during extradition hearing, it seems that Assange’s defence amounts to “she didn’t fight back”.

But rape is defined as “sex without consent”. It isn’t defined as “sex where the person didn’t physically put up a fight”. When your defence against rape accusations depends on re-writing the definition of the word “rape”, it kind of makes you look like a rapist.

A quote:

“Sexual encounters have their ups and downs, their ebbs and flows. What may be unwanted one moment can with further empathy become desired. These complex human interactions are not criminal in this country.”

Um, actually, unwanted sex is criminal in this country, and we call that “rape”. I’m pretty sure they call that “rape” in Australia too.

Barf barf barf puke.


Some thoughts on openness, freedom, and structure in large-group conversations

Shakesville [1] is one of my favourite blogs. It isn’t really just a blog, it’s a virtual utopia, an online space that is free of all those forms of discrimination and marginalization that are so common in everyday life, that we hardly notice them. It is a space in which a very high level of discussion of feminism and other social justice topics takes place. And it has one of the most restrictive comments policies I have ever seen:

Comments are open to anyone as long as they don’t traffic in racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, ageist, sizeist, or otherwise overtly objectionable commentary based on people’s intrinsic characteristics. Differences of opinion are welcome; no one has ever been nor will ever be banned on a difference of opinion alone. Hate speech, rape apologia, rape jokes and metaphors, violent imagery, threats, trolling, concern trolling, derailing, playing the Oppression Olympics, pointless belligerence, sockpuppeting, silencing tactics, accusations of bad faith, disrespecting the mods, including ignoring them, telling contributors what they should be writing about or how they should be writing about it, and/or invoking the blogmistress’ personal experience to use against her, or doing the same to any of the contributors, mods, or other commenters, could result in any of the following: Your comment edited to remove offending material, your comment replaced with an incredibly sophomoric paraphrase, your comment deleted, and/or your commenting privileges revoked. [2]

I spend a fair amount of time reading feminist blogs. Normally any discussion on a topic such as Rape Culture is flooded with comments such as:
— You think all men support rape but this is not true.
— I don’t believe the rape statistics you quoted.
— But men have problems too! [Long and off-topic description of some of the problems faced by men.]
— The statistics you quoted included date rape, but that isn’t “real” rape.
— Can you please explain to me what ‘Rape Culture’ is, I really don’t understand.
— I agree with what you’re saying but your tone is too angry and this only hurts your cause.

At Shakesville these are considered to be ‘Feminism 101’ comments, because they all include questions or false assumptions which would go away if the poster read the ‘Feminism 101’ page. As such these comments are (mostly) not allowed. This avoids the (extremely common in feminist blogs) situation that Feminism 101 comments are repeated over in over, in endless permutations, and those readers who do know their Feminism 101 get caught up in responding to them, with the result that the discussion never gets past the 101 stage.

Shakesville has a team of moderators who between them ensure that comments are moderated in real time, with the Feminism 101 comments, as well as more obvious troll comments, removed – this must add up to more than a full-time job, divided up between several people. Commenting is sometimes turned off at night, and turned on again the next morning, to give moderators a break.

A lot of thought and effort is put into the policing of Shakesville. Although anyone is welcome to comment, the restrictive comments policy makes Shakesville a walled garden, open only to those who have a certain level of understanding of feminism. It is because of this policing that the advanced level of discussion that takes place at Shakesville is possible.

I find it fascinating that adding extra restrictions creates a new freedom to have a type of discussion that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

In a previous post I talked about having been involved in a queer cafe. Queer spaces are arguably spaces where an extra set of restrictions are imposed: you aren’t allowed to say anything homophobic, you aren’t allowed to question or judge other people’s gender presentations. It is the imposition of these extra restrictions that creates a space in which queer people experience a level of freedom and safety that might not be possible outside of those spaces.

‘Openness’ is a catchword that is associated with the Free Software movement, and also with Wikipedia – yet both of these have been criticised for being spaces where antisocial behaviour is allowed to flourish [3][4]. It may be that in some cases ‘open’ spaces are spaces where bullies are allowed to be bullies, without restriction.

This problem was addressed by the feminist Jo Freeman in her famous pamphlet “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” [5]. Freeman pointed that in groups that claim to have no leaders and no hierarchy, an invisible, informal hierarchy can creep in, which may be more vicious and harder to fight against than any formal hierarchy.

The answer seems to be what could be called “structured openness”; having a formal structure or set of rules which actively counteracts the tendency towards hierarchy.

One example that comes to mind: a friend of mine is a member of a co-operative that runs a wholefoods shop. The co-operative has a rule that when a new member joins, for the first two months they are not allowed to speak in meetings or take part in decision-making. I was surprised when I heard this, since it sounded quite hierarchical to me, but according to my friend the rule actually encourages equal participation. When a new person joins they naturally defer to others because they don’t know how things work yet. The other members might in various informal ways make it clear to the new person that they are expected to defer to the wisdom of the more experienced co-op members. As a result the new person might end up still thinking of herself as “new”, and might be treated as such by other members, for a very long time. With the two-month rule, it is clear to the new member and to everyone else that once the two-month mark is passed, the apprenticeship period is over and they are expected to participate equally. In this case a formal hierarchy was imposed for the purpose of preventing the formation of an informal one.

Another thing that comes to mind: when I first got involved in activism meetings were open to all and anyone was welcome to speak whenever they wanted. Sometimes this worked well, but many meetings devolved into a shouting session, with the same two or three people continually interrupting each-other, while those who weren’t comfortable with this aggressive discussion style never got a word in edgewise. These days most groups use a slightly more formal meeting style, in which people have to raise their hands in order to speak, and sometimes techniques such as go-rounds or small-group discussions are used to make sure that everyone has a chance to make their voice heard. These techniques don’t always work perfectly, and consensus decision-making can at times be an extremely frustrating process, but nevertheless a formal structure is being used to counteract informal hierarchy.

Could the techniques used by activist groups to combat informal hierarchy be adapted for use in online spaces? And if yes, what new kinds of online communities would we create?

[1] http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/

[2] From http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/01/commenting-policy.html accessed 7 Feb 2011

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/02/02/where-are-the-women-in-wikipedia/a-culture-of-editing-wars

[4] http://www.codeanthem.com/blog/2010/03/should-you-judge-a-developer-by-their-open-source-contributions/

[5] http://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm

A quick case study in rape apologism

‘Rape apologism’ means that saying rape is not really that bad, or that rape is OK in certain circumstances, or that rape should not be taken seriously and survivors of rape do not deserve justice, or that rape in certain circumstances isn’t rape at all.

Perhaps you are thinking, “But no-one would say such things, and if they did they certainly wouldn’t be quoted extensively in the Guardian!” Well, read on…

I’m referring to this article, which made me so angry I almost felt physically sick: Julian Assange faces ‘man-hater prosecutor and media trial’ in Sweden

Rudling said he was not a supporter of Assange or Wikileaks but had taken an interest in the case after finding on the internet tweets sent by “Miss A”, one of the two women, in the hours after the alleged offences, in which she had asked if anyone was holding a crayfish party which she could attend with Assange, and later tweeting from the party that she was “sitting outside. with the coolest and smartest people. that’s amazing”.

The implication here is that, because Miss A sent a cheerful-sounding tweet and invited Assange to a party, she couldn’t possibly have been raped. Except that in real life it’s common for people who have been raped to try to normalize their experience, to behave as if nothing happened. Sometimes people are so shocked by what happened that it takes time for them to even accept that what happened to them was rape.

Rudling also translated for the court another document he had also found on the internet, entitled “A 7-point programme for legal revenge”, apparently posted by Miss A in January 2010, but deleted in November. The last point included the admonition: “Remember your victim has to suffer as much as he made you suffer.”

This isn’t actually true [1], but that isn’t the point. The point is that whether or not someone is a feminist, or hates men, or has written a document about getting revenge, does not determine whether or not that person was raped.

Assange had been subject to “trial by media”, and it was “hyperbolic and irrational to suggest there was wickedness involved” in Assange’s sexual behaviour, he said.

Ah, “hyperbolic” and “irrational”. Why not just use “hysterical” too while you’re at it? It’s so easy to dismiss accusations made by women: you don’t have to address the accusations at all, you can just claim, apropos of nothing, that the accusers are crazy.

All relationships had “moments of frustration, irritation and argument”, he said. “It doesn’t mean that the police are entitled to slip between the bedclothes.”

Assange is not accused of having a “moment of frustration, irritation and argument”, he is accused of rape. Accusations of rape should always be taken seriously. To attempt to re-brand an accusation of rape into lovers’ quarrel is to dismiss and silence all rape survivors. Whether or not Assange is guilty, it is still very, very wrong to trivialize an accusation of rape in this way.

But for me, this last quote is the real kicker:

After three “utterly consensual” sex acts, she had objected to Assange having sex with her again without a condom, but “she let him continue”. “It’s not natural to call this rape.”

This is a classic description of date rape. To feminists who are used to hearing the accounts of rape survivors this description is gruesomely familiar. A woman is with a man she trusts, a man she may have had sex with in the past. What she doesn’t know is that the man thinks that because she gave consent once he is now entitled to do whatever he wants to her, whether she consents of not. He rapes her. The victim at this point is in shock. Having been raped once, she might consent to further sex out of a desire to get the ordeal over with as quickly as possible, or out of a psychological need to normalize the situation. She might tell herself it wasn’t rape, and behave in a way that seems outwardly normal.

Look at the quote again: the speaker offers the fact that the woman had had consensual sex with Assange as evidence that she couldn’t have been raped. Apparently rape isn’t really rape if the victim has previously consented to sex with the rapist. The speaker also says that “she let him continue”. What does it mean to “let someone continue”? It basically means to “not fight back”. In the speaker’s view rape isn’t rape if the victim doesn’t physically fight the attacker. However in reality victims of rape often don’t physically fight back, for a variety of reasons.


…she had objected to Assange having sex with her again without a condom, but “she let him continue”

is a description of rape. Rape is sex without consent, and in the scene described here it is clear that consent is absent.

Finally, I love the sentence, “It’s not natural to call this rape.” The speaker is a man who I presume has never been raped, he is describing something that feminists and rape survivors have been saying for decades IS rape, and yet he thinks that HE should get to decide what can “naturally” be called to be rape.

This is classic rape apologism: real rape is when a virgin is attacked, beaten, and raped by a stranger, and then immediately runs to the police to ask for a rape kit. All other kinds of rape, the vast majority of rapes in fact – date rape, partner rape, or rape where the victim did not behave the way a rape victim “should” – are not really rape, and the victims should just shut the fuck up about it!

I am a huge supporter of Wikileaks. But for for the sake of all survivors of rape, present and future, I hope Julian Assange does stand trial. Based on the words of his own supporters it sounds like he is probably guilty, and if this is the case I hope he goes to jail.

[1] http://jezebel.com/#!5711600/how-aol-news-started-the-sex-by-surprise-lie