A very quick note on Assange

// 23 December 2010

photo of julian assangeUnfortunately I haven’t had the time to blog about or fully research the Assange case, but I do want to quickly say that:

1) Certain people on the Left need to realise that all kinds of men commit sexual assault against women, including groundbreaking political activists, and supporting WikiLeaks does not require an automatic defence of Assange’s alleged actions.

2) Sexual assault victims around the world are routinely disbelieved and fail to see their cases brought to court. This does not mean they are all liars. Nor does the possibility that powerful people with ulterior motives pushed the Swedish authorities into action in this particular case mean that the women in question are liars.

3) Naomi Wolf is categorically wrong when she refuses to accept that a man having sex with a woman while she is asleep is rape (trigger warning for description of sexual assault), and she does women a huge disservice by failing to accept the importance of active consent. She does not speak for this feminist.

Image by espenmoe, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 23 December 2010 at 9:47 pm

#mooreandme on Twitter has given me some hope… but honestly, i wish this case wasnt so in the public eye, because whatever the results are, and whatever the truth is, its going to reinforce the idea that women lie about this stuff routinely, purely because people wont believe it either way. for what it is worth, i do assume it to be a set up purely because it is a rape case being taken seriously (how cynical) not that it means i necessarily think nothing happened, but really, it risks demonising the victims if they are so, and even if they arent, i dont think they deserve the negative attention they are getting from hackers and such. the case seems very interesting to so many, but honestly im not very interested. id rather show interest after the its been through courts

polly // Posted 23 December 2010 at 9:50 pm

Thank you.

Holly Combe // Posted 23 December 2010 at 10:12 pm

Well said, Laura. It’s been such an overwhelming news item that I have to admit I haven’t known where to begin. I think what you say here is spot-on. I know this has already been included in the 13 December round-up but, as Laurie Penny says:

The substance of the allegations is for the courts to decide. So why does the left-wing logic run that Assange is one of the good guys – and everyone knows that good guys don’t rape, particularly not good guys who are the public face of crusading international whistle-blowing organisations?

Schnee // Posted 24 December 2010 at 1:42 am

I agree.

Yet another criticism has been that the Swedish laws show a very broad interpretation of sexual assault.

The details of the assault charges that were published on the Guardian’s website, (and which Assange’s lawyers with astounding irony objected to having been leaked) show behaviours that many, many women have probably had to endure from arrogant and disturbingly disrespectful men.

So the Swedes are wrong ?

Absolutely not. Women should NOT have to put up with this kind of mistreatment.

Frankly, if this man had any kind of common decency, he would have gone back to Sweden to be interviewed by the public prosecutor when he was due to do so, instead of telling his friends in London that he wouldn’t do so. He should acknowledge and accept what he has done, pay the fine – it is my understanding this crime is punishable by a fine – and tell the world that he’s ashamed of what he has done and that no-one should treat women this way, instead of squealing that he hasn’t done anything wrong.

Vicky // Posted 24 December 2010 at 3:10 am

Well said. I’m getting thoroughly fed up of the rape apologists who keep popping up to declare that Assange has to be innocent (usually mentioning some disturbing myths about rape in general as well). The people I know who have been saying this sort of thing would all define themselves as politically liberal and progressive, and they would be horrified at any suggestion that their attitudes might be misogynistic. Whenever I manage to delude myself that sexism and liberal politics are incompatible, something like this happens to teach me exactly how naive I am.

Josie // Posted 24 December 2010 at 9:47 am

Great post Laura. I am such a Naomi Wolf fan – ‘The Beauty Myth’ is one of my favourite books – but I am horrified by her response to the Assange case. She really should be ashamed and she’s doing a lot of damage to feminism’s profile

Andrea // Posted 24 December 2010 at 7:05 pm

Disclaimer: I am a lesbian who hasn’t had sex with a man for over ten years, so maybe I “just don’t get it.”

Additional disclaimer: This comment will be sexually explicit.

I agree with some basic premises here and also find some specific defenses of Assange to be problematic, but some balance in analysis is necessary; we must understand that, yes, charges of rape have always been used by patriarchal structures to oppress certain types of males who threaten aspects of those structures. The classic historical case would be allegations of rape which often followed the public discovery of consensual sex between black men and white women in the Old South, sex which itself challenged the dominant racial hierarchy. In these scenarios, the woman, facing shame, would essentially need to assert that coercion occurred in order to save face and retain social standing. This parallel only goes so far in terms of relating to the Assange case, but it’s important to note that in fact it’s well-documented that rape charges have often been a weapon wielded by patriarchy against its opponents.

Should we at least note some of the obvious facts that others have brought up? That one of the women posted on twitter about how awesome she thought Assange was after the alleged rape occurred, and even threw a party for him?

Also, I believe “the importance of active consent” is a FAR more tangly issue, in terms of actually ethically defining the crime of rape, than some feminists are willing to acknowledge, and I’d welcome more debate on this subject.

Much of sex is spontaneous. Queer sex is often spontaneous. Straight sex is often spontaneous.

If it makes a woman feel sexy to wake up a man with whom she had sex the previous night by performing fellatio upon him the next morning, is she a rapist? I in fact know several females who’ve related stories indicating that they’ve done just this; all of them consider themselves feminists.

If a woman on a date with a man who explicitly indicated that he finds her attractive decides to initiate a sexual encounter by putting her hand underneath his pants and touching his penis, without him initially overtly verbally indicating that he wanted this to happen, is this rape?

In the above situation, what if the man then says, “I’m not in the mood right now,” and the woman stops once this statement is made? Did the fact that a sex act occurred that he did not want to occur automatically mean that rape occurred? Or does the fact that the woman immediately stopped after being told “no” mean something different?

What if a woman performs the same act upon her long-term boyfriend, and he says, “I’m not in the mood right now,” and she responds, “I can get you in the mood,” and continues touching? And within a minute he becomes aroused and changes his mind?

I don’t have an easy answer, but I know from life experience and from discussions with others that, in fact, very rarely in sexual experiences, either with new partners or with a long-term partners, will each and every sexual act be preceded by the question, “Is it ok if I ____?” Some degree of fairness, leeway, and emotional understanding in analyzing sexual encounters seems appropriate.

I also absolutely don’t believe that heterosexual penetration itself should be granted any sort of “special status” above other sex acts which would necessitate a special form of “actively granted consent” for this specific act which is somehow not necessary for any other acts. I’ve had sex with a number of women in my life; in many encounters, after making out for a little while I might find the other’s hand touching me through clothing; that might move on to fingering, and from there to oral sex, all without me ever actively saying “yes, I want this to happen.” Now — if I became heartbroken upon learning that one of these women, who I imagined myself to be “exclusive” with, had also been having sex with another woman, would I weeks later be able to describe such an encounter as rape, despite never thinking of it as such either when it occurred or in the days after it occurred?

tom hulley // Posted 26 December 2010 at 4:25 pm

spot on, laura, it needed saying

Victoria // Posted 27 December 2010 at 6:23 pm

I agree with Andrea. I think issues of consent are much more complicated than we like to think. Stupid example, but come to think of it, I’ve never explicitly told my boyfriend of 18 months that I want to have intercourse with him. It’s just something we do. And enjoy.

Pete // Posted 27 December 2010 at 6:38 pm

“He should acknowledge and accept what he has done…”

Well, it is unclear what he has/hasn’t done as we don’t know all the facts and until proven guilty by a court of law, he is (legally) an innocent man. He was also in Sweden for a number of weeks when these charges were put forward and no one would interview him (but perhaps he could have done more to ensure he did get an interview with prosecutors).

However, the women who have brought the charges against Assange should not have their case dismissed by Assange supporters because the Swedish authorities have dealt with things in a cack-handed way. It is clear that a number of Swedish authorities accept the case has been mishandled, but that shouldn’t be used as clear cut ‘evidence’ that the rape allegations are false or part of a conspiracy. All allegations of rape should be dealt with equally and taken seriously, no matter what the situation.

What I don’t understand is why Swedish prosecutors wont speak to Assange in the UK, as his lawyers claim they have offered. This would surely help them ascertain Assange’s side of the story, whilst speeding things along in terms of building up their case against him and comparing the claims of either side.

Who knows whether Assange is refusing to return because he has committed rape or is fearful of being extradited to the US by the Swedish government. I can fully understand his fear of the latter development, so there should be some kind of agreement that ensures he is dealt with in a court of law regarding the rape allegation, whilst not facing extradition.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 27 December 2010 at 7:40 pm

‘Much of sex is spontaneous’ – this is precisely what men who sexually assault women claim because males must never be held accountable for their sexual violence perpetrated against women. If we believe this to be acceptable then I should be entitled to steal any male’s wallet because he ‘invited me to steal said wallet by not saying no and/or leaving his wallet visible in his pocket.’ However allowing one’s wallet to be visible does not mean I would not be prosecuted.

Same applies with women’s sexual autonomy or it would if male supremacy did not exist. However, women’s bodies and sexualities do not belong to them – instead they are men’s property and hence rape is never rape unless a male defines it so.

No one has the right of presuming to know precisely what sexual acts a woman wishes to engage in, which is why it is essential to ensure the other party is actively agreeing rather than assuming silence means consent. There is that ‘little issue'(sic) of power and given men continue to be accorded greater socio-economic power than women we should not be surprised so many women know their sexual desires/wishes will always be ignored because men supposedly know what women want and it is identical to the male’s demands/wishes.

Furthermore it is not unknown for female survivors to dissociate from having been subjected to male sexual violence and given male sexuality continues to be promoted as ‘dominating and controlling’ it is not surprising so many female survivors do not immediately accept a male(s) has/have raped them. This is rape apology in action wherein as always the focus is on the female survivor’s behaviour/actions and the male’s behaviour/actions are ignored or invisibilised.

Schnee // Posted 27 December 2010 at 8:06 pm

In response to a couple of the points that Andrea makes, I would say that one of the major issues for both complainants was Assange’s repeated reluctance to use a condom and his failure to use one during the sex he initiated whilst the woman referred to as ‘Miss W’, was asleep. Both women expressed distress to other people about the situation with Assange, before going to the police and before talking to each other.

It is Assange’s defence team who are (understandably) using the text and twitter messages to imply that the women were not dissatisfied with the situation until they found out about each other, whereas the co-ordinator of the Swedish Wiki-leaks group told police that the woman referred to as ‘Miss A’ was in fact concerned with Miss W’s fears about STDs and Assange’s refusal to be tested.

The question of whether penetrative penis to vagina or anus sex is a special case is a vexed question. I think Andrea makes some extremely good points about the question of consent, but I would like to float this argument without meaning to cause any offence.

I would argue that same-gender sex has as its basis, a greater level of equality than opposite-gender sex. I’m not arguing that non-consensual sex cannot take place between same-gender partners, simply that there is an inbuilt inequality in opposite-gender sex because of the prevalent and pervasive patriarchal nature of society and the fact that in theoretical terms, it is sex between a physically stronger sex and a weaker one.

To compound this, sexually transmitted diseases are far more easily passed on through penis penetrative sex and this does seem to be an overriding issue in this case.

Both of these points can be seen in the account of one of the sexual encounters between Miss A and Assange when she repeatedly tries to reach for a condom and he holds her arms and pins her legs to stop her from getting one.

Qubit // Posted 28 December 2010 at 2:39 pm

Andrea, I don’t get your comment. Assuming a one night stand relationship, where partners don’t know what each like sexually then of course the woman who wakes a guy up by performing oral sex is commiting sexual assult. Even in a relationship this could be the case but there might be other pre-established conditions to do with consent then.

However just because the woman had sex with the man gives her no right to assume he enjoys oral sex or wants it with her. Similarly what he wanted sexually last night doesn’t reflect what he wants in the morning.

I find the question quite offensive actually because you are suggesting consent should be defined as what someone doesn’t object to even if they are unconscious.

Sarah AB // Posted 28 December 2010 at 3:21 pm

I don’t dispute Jennifer’s point that men have more socio-economic power (on balance, and particularly within a global context) but I don’t think that automatically maps onto every single transaction (sexual or otherwise) between men and women. I thought Andrea raised some very interesting points.

Anna // Posted 28 December 2010 at 9:32 pm

‘If it makes a woman feel sexy to wake up a man with whom she had sex the previous night by performing fellatio upon him the next morning, is she a rapist?’

Unless she’s got previous consent, yes she damn well is.

polly // Posted 29 December 2010 at 4:44 pm


“The classic historical case would be allegations of rape which often followed the public discovery of consensual sex between black men and white women in the Old South, sex which itself challenged the dominant racial hierarchy. In these scenarios, the woman, facing shame, would essentially need to assert that coercion occurred in order to save face and retain social standing. This parallel only goes so far in terms of relating to the Assange case, ”

It doesn’t relate to the Assange case AT ALL. That I can see.

You seem really confused on the law (in the UK) on rape Andrea, so let me clarify it for you.

Rape is defined by the sexual offences 2003. Here’s an explanation of the ‘consent’ part (nicked verbatim from the rape crisis site)

“The Act has three important provisions relating to consent. They are:

•A statutory definition of consent

•The test of reasonable belief in consent

•The evidential and conclusive presumptions about consent and the defendant’s belief in consent

Section 74 defines consent as “if she agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice” . In the offences of rape, assault by penetration, sexual assault and causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent, a person (A) is guilty of an offence if (s)he:

•Acts intentionally;

•(B) does not consent to the act; and

•does not reasonably believe that B consents.

Deciding whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents (subsection (2) of sections 1-4). It is likely that this will include a defendant’s attributes, such as disability or extreme youth. This is a major change in the law and the Act abolishes the Morgan defence of a genuine though unreasonably mistaken belief as to the consent of the complainant. It means that the defendant (A) has the responsibility to ensure that (B) consents to the sexual activity at the time in question. It will be important for the police to ask the offender in interview what steps he took to satisfy him that the complainant consented.


I’m not qualified to comment on Swedish law, and very much doubt most of those sounding off about it are either.

polly // Posted 29 December 2010 at 4:53 pm

Oh and just to clarify something else Fellatio without consent isn’t rape, (under the sexual offences act 2003) but it would be sexual assault. If a woman performs such an act without consent, or a reasonable belief in consent, she would have committed sexual assault. So anyone thinking of doing it on someone who’s asleep should have ensured they consented when they were still awake.

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