The “We are not Julian” round-up

// 21 August 2012

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Well, it’s been a rather horrible week or so on the rape apologism front, hasn’t it? With Julian Assange in the spotlight again, the misogynists have come crawling out of the woodwork, culminating last night in Craig Murray naming one of Assange’s alleged victims live on Newsnight (followed by complaints that she didn’t behave as a good rape victim should).

This came hot on the heels of George Galloway’s assertion that Assange’s alleged behaviour was nothing more than “bad sexual etiquette”. Apparently, if you consent to sex with someone once, that gives them carte blanche to penetrate you whenever they feel like it. He also reminded us that sex is just something men “do” to women. The man is living proof of the desperate need to educate both adults and young people about the importance and meaning of consent.

These are just two high profile examples of the kind of rape apologism that has been springing up left, right and centre (all too often on the former).

In light of all this and the seriousness of the charges Assange is facing, it was quite frankly disgusting to see Assange’s supporters chanting “I am Julian” outside the Ecuadorian Embassy on Sunday. Though at least we can safely add them to our list of people we’d never want to fall asleep next to.

If you’ve been wondering why we haven’t covered the topic thus far, it’s because we’re struggling to find the spoons to address it. However, plenty of others have written some great posts, and I wanted to highlight a few here. Please feel free to link to any others in comments.

Firstly, some essential reading on the legal issues surrounding the case, in which David Allen Green busts a number of the myths being circulated by Assange’s supporters, including:

“Sweden should guarantee that there be no extradition to USA”

It would not be legally possible for Swedish government to give any guarantee about a future extradition, and nor would it have any binding effect on the Swedish legal system in the event of a future extradition request.

By asking for this ‘guarantee’, Assange is asking the impossible, as he probably knows. Under international law, all extradition requests have to be dealt with on their merits and in accordance with the applicable law; and any final word on an extradition would (quite properly) be with an independent Swedish court, and not the government giving the purported ‘guarantee’.

Also Sweden (like the United Kingdom) is bound by EU and ECHR law not to extradite in circumstances where there is any risk of the death penalty or torture. There would be no extradition to the United States in such circumstances.

Martin Schultz has more on the Swedish legal system.

Edinburgh Eye highlights a few stories from Ecuador that we’ll “never now hear from Wikileaks”, involving the suppression of free speech.

Moving on to feminist perspectives, Sian Norris questions Assange’s human rights credentials and asks “What about the women?”:

The danger of Assange supporters saying that the crime he is accused of isn’t rape and sexual assault is clear. It’s saying that women and girls who are raped in their sleep haven’t been really been raped. It’s saying that women and girls who didn’t fight back or who knew their attacker or willingly got into bed with their attacker, or went to a party with their attacker weren’t raped. And this is simply not acceptable. It’s not. It’s silencing. It’s invalidating the experiences of millions of women. The more Pilger, Chomsky, Moore etc. stand up there and mock the idea that a woman could be raped whilst she slept are mocking the millions of women and girls who have been.

Another Angry Woman thinks the best course of action now is to ignore Assange, and her post on the topic from June has also been doing the rounds:

In my ideal anarcho-utopia, there would be no courts and no extraditions (for there would be no borders). Sexual violence would be addressed through transformative justice and community accountability, with the needs of the survivor put first. But here’s the pinch: it requires engagement from everyone. It requires the Assanges of the world to stop running and start to accept that they have crossed boundaries. It requires the rape apologists of the world to shut the fuck up and stop spinning conspiracies, expressing deep misogyny and outright lying about survivors.

Many feminists have been voicing their frustration and disgust at the willingness of many on the Left (mostly men) to toss women’s rights aside in their pursuit of what they view as a bigger, more important issue (plus ├ža change, huh?).

Cath Elliot writes:

It’s like one minute feminism’s an attractive and right-on proposition for some men, but as soon as things start getting a bit iffy, as soon as one of their own comes under scrutiny, suddenly it’s all boys together and women’s opinions don’t count – or “bros before hos” as I’ve seen it referred to elsewhere.

And Stef Newton, who came into feminism through the left-wing student protest movement, is similarly disappointed:

The uncritical support of Assange from parts of the Left has left a very sour taste in my mouth. It comes from a culture of silence and fear. It has made me think twice, like when I have to think twice about getting a bus alone at night. It has shown me who is willing to silence my voice, and it has shown me how much work we still have ahead of us as feminists.

I’m not usually one for patting male feminist allies on the back, but in this context I did let out a little hurrah for Owen Jones, one of the few men on the Left who has publicly spoken out against the rape apologists.

So we’ve got angry all over the internet. Many of us have exhausted ourselves engaging with these apologists, often to frustratingly little avail. Now, surely, it’s time to harness this anger and act collectively to make our voices heard on the streets and show our support for rape survivors everywhere. If I could make it down to London, I’d be outside the Ecuadorian Embassy like a shot…

Photo of a placard that reads “Combat rape culture everywhere for everyone”, lying on a lawn next to a pair of black boots, by Alan Wilfahrt, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Philippa Willitts // Posted 21 August 2012 at 11:01 am

Thanks for a great post, Laura. The attitudes I have seen over the last few days have thoroughly depressed me, with more and more people coming out and defending frankly indefensible things. After big rows on twitter on Sunday I’ve had to step back from the whole issue because it was starting to make me ill, but I’m so thankful for the amazing feminists who are helping to make the world feel a bit bearable again by speaking out and keeping up the fight.

Rose // Posted 21 August 2012 at 11:23 am

This case makes me so angry.

I’m a lefty, I feel that all I can really call ‘mine’ is my body – but clearly many on the left would deny me that.

Under English law he would be guilty of rape, he is trying to push that there is a loop hole through which he could squeeze in Swedish law. IF he managed, he would be setting a legal presedent that would grossly endanger Swedish women.

He is playing celebrity and conspiracy theory to dodge justice. He plays on the idea that because he was involved in wikileaks he deserved special treatment, a reward – his victims were wikileaks volunteers too, what did they deserve?

This ties in so much with the occupy movement for me. They think they have some great social movement, I think they are doing more harm then good. I think they are just feeding their egos.

I would love to get involved with a huge peaceful, respectful social movement, calling for deep reform, but part of that would include feeling sexually safe with fellow campaigners.

They are the 49% , and they serve themselves.

sianmarie // Posted 21 August 2012 at 1:10 pm

thank you for including my post :-)

If i can be cheeky, i wrote another one too about Galloway’s response to Assange:


Ms. Equestrian One // Posted 21 August 2012 at 1:14 pm

Couldn’t agree more.

Soupy One // Posted 21 August 2012 at 1:21 pm

I think Cath Elliott put it best:

“…the Assange fanboys so adept at googling conspiracy theories etc, but so incapable of doing basic research on the law around rape…

Following the debates, even the occasional intelligent one, it seems to be the difference between those who priorities a political end, and those who connect to humanity and women.

Certain political activists had decided what the “line” is, and they are intent on arguing that irrespective of the misogyny and idiocy of their views.

If you need evidence of that look at @OwenJones84’stime line & you will see supposed socialists who obviously haven’t a clue about women or women’s rights (unless it’s politically convenient for them).

I remember the debates of 30+ years ago, depressing to see them rehashed and many on the (male) Left none the wiser.

JayneyR // Posted 21 August 2012 at 3:46 pm

I joined The F Word today as a direct result of this article which sums up precisely my feelings regarding this whole debacle.

For me it’s not even about Assange. That’s a case for the courts to unpick, if he ever bloody lets them. It’s about the knock on effect of this whole situation, in which men (and in some cases women) who I had previously looked up to and admired as right-thinking, fair-minded liberal people with respect for women and their rights have shown themselves to be rape apologists. I’ve lost count now of the times over the past few days in which I have been disappointed as yet another male friend or public figure, who previously purported to be a feminist, has scrambled desperately to defend Assange by stating unequivocally that penetrating a sleeping woman is not rape. It’s fine to suggest that we shouldn’t condemn the man until he has been found guilty by a court of law. It is NOT fine to suggest that the allegations themselves do not constitute rape. Because, clearly, they do.

This outpouring of rape apology and victim blaming both disgusts and depresses me. More than that, it’s left me wondering what men really think about women – do they really, deep down, believe that it’s ok to fuck a woman in her sleep? Are the respectful ‘hey I’m a feminist too’ chaps that I count as friends merely adopting this right-on persona as an approachable smoke-screen, when underneath their views on women’s rights are aligned with those of the worst kind of misogynists? I really don’t want to think that, and there are men in my life who are vocally disgusted with some of the comments made in the last few days. But the public response to the Assange allegations has had the unfortunate effect of making me question the motivations and beliefs of the men I know and this is hugely unfair. It’s unfair on them.

I don’t believe that all men are secretly a-ok with rape. But I do have to confess to feeling betrayed by the numerous male friends who have sat down with me and gently and condescendingly explained that of course it’s not rape to have sex with a woman who is asleep if she has consented to previous sexual activity. As a survivor of sexual assault, I feel like these men have let me down. But, also, as a woman I feel that these men have let me down. They have let all women down. It shows that we clearly have a long way to go in taking apart the rape culture in which we all exist today.

tom hulley // Posted 21 August 2012 at 8:29 pm

By his words Galloway shows himself to be a rapist and portrays Assange the same. These bullies are shameless. Most men are better than this. Women are not the enemy nor are they servants. I know they will speak eloquently for themselves. So contributing from a bloke’s viewpoint, I am certain that supporting an unqualified ‘no’ to rape will improve men’s lives enormously. This is far more important than socialism even though that also matters to me.

Lucy // Posted 22 August 2012 at 1:31 pm

Maybe I have been very naive so far in thinking that rape is condemned by the large majority of society – certainly the case of Assange has educated me that sadly, this doesn’t seem to be true at all.

The comments I have read on various newspaper’s websites and forums regarding the acts he is accused of – which, in my book, without a doubt constitute rape – have saddened and horrified me. For instance, one person claimed that since the women in question had previously consented to having intercourse with Assange, this equates to a sort of ‘universal’ consent, which – in crude terms – means he can f*ck them whenever he pleases. I was left open-mouthed and speechless by the fact that there actually are people who think like that.

What really makes me sad though is the fact that the whole wikileaks thing seems to be used as a carte blanche to excuse rape. Would this be the case for any other crimes? For instance, had he murdered someone or robbed a bank or what not, would it still matter that he is the wikileaks founder? I highly doubt it. Just goes to show how little really has improved in the past decades with respect to how women are treated and viewed within our society. As objects, that is.

Robert // Posted 23 August 2012 at 4:01 pm

So first a disclaimer: I’m not up on the details of the Assange case, so I really can’t comment on whether he’s guilty of rape or not. I’ll let the courts decide that.

Anyway, I’ve been contemplating lately about what should and should not be considered rape, and happened to stumble upon this article. There are of course some clear-cut cases, but I think it always isn’t so simple. For example, I’ve dated women who sometimes woke me up with sexual activity. Said sexual activity started while I was asleep – but is this rape? I don’t think so. I don’t “feel” like I was raped at all; rather, I took it as a pleasant surprise.

Of course, if something like this happened in a situation where there was no relationship history between the people involved, then it would be rape. But the “mere” fact that someone is asleep isn’t enough to make it rape. The nature of their relationship matters too – are they friends, are they partners, will they object upon awakening?

Sira // Posted 24 August 2012 at 9:35 am

One of the things that really gets my goat about this (though there are many, many things) is the way that people who are minimising the allegations are accusing those of us trying to continually point out how the law defines rape of devaluing the experience of “real rape victims”. They don’t seem to realise that they are blithely waving away the real experiences of many, many women (men too) who went through similar experiences and then struggled to get anyone to believe them, just as in this case, or even to tell anyone in the first place. They don’t seem to give a monkeys about the emotional impact on those survivors.

Laura // Posted 24 August 2012 at 9:51 am

Hi Robert,

I’m not going to get into a long debate about this here, because the topic is upsetting to many of our readers and lots of us are currently exhausted from going over the same issues in the past week or so. So I’ll just respond once and that will be it.

The definition of rape in UK law is:

_ A intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of B (the complainant) with his penis;

_ B does not consent to the penetration; and,

_ A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

So, no, the fact of being asleep does not make penetrative sex rape. It’s the lack of consent that does. Given that it’s impossible to give consent when you’re asleep, if the sleeping party did not explicitly consent to sex prior to going to sleep (or at an earlier date – for example, a couple in a relationship might agree that it’s something they would like to experience at some point and that the guy can go ahead and wake her up with penetrative sex one random morning), then it’s rape. It doesn’t matter whether they are friends, partners or nigh-on strangers. The only way you can know whether they will “object upon awakening” is if you talk about the possibility of waking someone up with penetrative sex prior to them going to sleep. If they don’t agree, then it’s rape.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a very clear understanding of consent as a society. When we have sex with someone, we’re somehow supposed to magically figure out what they want, rather than talking to them, because actually saying “would you like to do this now?” is for some reason seen as unromantic. So there will be cases, like yours, where consent isn’t explicitly given, but neither party views it as rape. The problem is that in some cases, one party will experience it as rape, without the other necessarily realising that they’ve done anything wrong. This is why I (and many other feminists) think we need to reassess the way we engage in sex and work to improve people’s understanding of what consent is and the importance of getting it.

It’s worth mentioning here that the sex pages of women’s magazines often suggest waking a guy up with sex as something nice to do to him, not always with any disclaimer about getting consent first, so I’m not surprised this has happened to you. I know you say you’re fine with it, but do bear in mind that you can’t always know what other people will feel about it, so if you think it might be a nice thing to do to a partner, make sure you ask them first and get consent – enthusiastic consent, in fact (i.e. she’s well up for it, rather than just acquiescing). If the element of surprise is part of the enjoyment, then talk about it at an earlier date and ensure you both agree that you’re happy to do it at some point in the future.

In the Assange case, the complainant says she did not consent to him penetrating her in her sleep. So the alleged offence is rape, regardless of whether Assange thought she wouldn’t object.

On a related note, if a guy is willing to have sex with a woman just because she doesn’t object, rather than because both she and him want to, I’d say he’s a nasty piece of work.

JayneyR // Posted 24 August 2012 at 10:26 am

I agree with the above comment. If a man or woman tells their partner that they would like to be woken up with sex, then fine. That’s their choice and the partner clearly has consent to be getting on with. But to just expect that their partner will wake up and go ‘wow, this is hot’ is optimistic and a person who does this is putting themselves in what is potentially a very dangerous situation. Legally, it is rape unless the sleeping partner has given prior and explicit consent that they’d like to wake up that way. To simply hope that they will be cool with it is playing a very dangerous game which could have severe ramifications on both parties.

Oddly, there seems to be a bit of a discrepancy between male and female feelings on this issue. The vast majority of women I have spoken to find the prospect of waking up to find their partner having sex with them appalling. They would genuinely see it as a violation. Most of the guys I have asked find the idea quite sexy and many assume that because they would enjoy it, most women would too. I’m not sure why this disparity exists but I think it just goes to highlight the importance of talking as a couple and setting your own boundaries that you both feel comfortable with. We don’t talk about sex enough.

Sira // Posted 24 August 2012 at 12:15 pm

In response to JayneyR’s comment about the discrepancies between male and female views on being woken up with their partner having sex with them, I wonder if it has to do with our different anatomical responses to stimulation.

Being woken up by soft touches and kisses in order to get you in the mood for sex is not the same as waking up with an erect penis stuffed up your vagina. Even awake, most women will not find it enjoyable to be penetrated without warning and generally partners who give a crap about them wouldn’t think that was an advisable route to pleasuring a woman.

A man putting his penis in a woman’s vagina without any of the accompanying foreplay is not thinking about making it fun for the woman. He’s just thinking about getting himself off.

And if he hasn’t asked about her views on the subject, he is by definition is violating the law in terms of consent and has committed rape, whether or not the woman turns out after the fact not to be upset about it – you can’t give retrospective consent.

There is an assumption also, that this is all done as part of a positive relationship, whereas it is certainly possible in many cases that this act is part of an abusive pattern of behaviour intended to dominate and degrade a partner who is experiencing other forms of abuse from the perpetrator as well.

On the other hand, the men who say it sounds like good times to be woken up by their partner initiating sex are talking about being stimulated by having their penises touched in a way that would be pleasurable for them and is designed to get them off. In the man’s view, the woman is intending to do something for him.

We cannot however generalise – some men may say this is great. Some men may not like it at all, especially if it is part of a destructive and abusive relationship, and an attempt to humiliate and dominate. And without consent it is still a sexual assault.

As far as I can see the differing views are partly to do with the fact that in both cases, the focus of the stimulation and pleasure is the man. A one side focusing on negative relationship context while the other ignores it.

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