Slutwalk and Assange: can it be salvaged?

// 1 October 2012

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slutwalk 55.jpg

Different feminists have differing opinions about whether or not Slutwalk is a positive step for women. Some aren’t comfortable with the name, others fear that women wearing “slutty” clothes make the protest into an event more about pleasing the male gaze than protesting rape.

I, however, think it is great. I’m not overjoyed at the name, but I understand that it came from a very specific context, and is being used for that reason. What I have really appreciated is how supported I have felt, as a survivor, from a distance as I look through the photos of all the worldwide marches. The banners, the placards and the no-compromise attitude has empowered and strengthened me, on a personal level, and I am really thankful to all these women around the world for that.

Slutwalk London took place last weekend, and as with previous ones, I followed it on Twitter and, later, on Flickr. But then, a few days later, Slutwalk London tweeted,

“We support Women Against Rape. We think Assange should be prosecuted, just that he should not be extradited to Sweden because it is likely he will then be extradited to the US and treated the same as Bradley Manning. We are not saying the women lied or that they should not get justice. But we think he should stand trial here. It is pretty clear the authorities are not pursuing Assange because of the rape allegations. Look at how the authorities treat rape victims – they don’t give a damn. 93 out of every 100 reported rapists go free. Also, look at how the UK acted when Spain requested that Pinochet be extradited. Pinochet (a Chilean dictator) was responsible for the death, rape and torture of thousands of people, crimes far greater than Assange’s. But the UK government denied Spain’s extradition request and let Pinochet go free – because they didn’t care about the people who died because of Pinochet just as they do not care about these women. The pursuit of Assange is not about protecting rape victims or anyone else. They want him to be extradited to the US to face trial and be imprisoned there so he can’t expose what the US government does anymore. We can’t let this happen because the things Wikileaks exposed will help stop wars and the rape and murder they bring happen in future. Let him stand trial here.”

The reference to Women Against Rape is in relation to an article they wrote supporting Julian Assange… An article which, when I first read it, truly shocked me. If WAR are coming out in his support, then who is left to support victims?

So to read the same sentiment from Slutwalk felt like it was intensifying a betrayal. And the way they worded it, “We think… we think… we think…” made it sound like they were talking for all who had marched. Everyone at Slutwalk thinks…?

This made lots of people understandably angry, especially people who had attended the march. Slutwalk Edinburgh and Slutwalk Toronto have also spoken out against this statement.

Sarah Ditum wrote in the Guardan,

[…] Slutwalk London has inadvertently lined itself (and its unwitting supporters) up with an unappealing gaggle of rape apologists and victim blamers.

So when someone called Anastasia Richardson tweeted this morning that their original statement had been her opinion, not the opinion of Slutwalk London as a whole, is it too little too late to limit the damage that many people felt was caused by their original statement? I’m not sure.

My own opinions on Assange are clear. Wikileaks was good, Assange running away from rape charges was bad. Assange supporters smearing the alleged victims and downplaying rape is appalling. Has Slutwalk fundamentally betrayed their own cause? It certainly makes me feel less positive and has diluted, for me, the message it is supposed to send out.

[The image is a photograph of a Slutwalk march. There are numerous women with banners reading, “No means no” and one that reads, “I am not public property”. At the front is a large, wide banner reading, “Still not asking for it”. It was taken by Phil King and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

Rhiannon Lockley // Posted 1 October 2012 at 9:39 am

I missed these comments from Slutwalk London until I saw the apology on facebook. It is disappointing to see something which is associated with so much positivity for survivors in terms of stating on no uncertain terms that rape is always unacceptable attached to the kind of excusism the movement is meant to fight against. I think the problem is over simplifying the argument – you can believe Assange should face due process like any other alleged rapist and still disagree with him being tortured or executed – the assumption is that he will be automatically handed over to the US but this is a separate issue.

I took part in the Birmingham slutwalk and wrote a bit about the Assange stuff a couple of weeks ago here

Laura // Posted 1 October 2012 at 9:41 am

Assange has enough people fighting his corner, and almost all of them have displayed horrific rape apologism and smeared the alleged victims. There was no need for either WAR or Anastasia/Slutwalk London to make a statement supporting him in any way and thus align themselves with these people. WAR’s statement was gleefully held up by these rape apologists as “proof” that not all feminists/women’s rights activists believe the allegations and has been used to add credence to their theory that Assange has been set up. I can’t begin to imagine how hurtful it must have been for the alleged victims to see women who are supposed to stand up for rape victims saying that their alleged abuser should not face prosecution in Sweden.

I’m glad Anastasia has apologised, but I’m slightly concerned that she personally has taken responsibility for this when the original statement used “we”, appeared to have been written by more than one person and was very much based on WAR’s argument. Was she really solely responsible for it? I think she’s done fabulous work setting up Slutwalk London and should not be solely held to blame for the statement if it wasn’t her idea alone.

LauraB // Posted 1 October 2012 at 4:38 pm

He *couldn’t* stand trial here, could he? I was under the impression that he can’t even be charged unless he’s under arrest in Sweden?

Philippa Willitts // Posted 1 October 2012 at 6:50 pm

As far as I understand it no, he couldn’t.

Paul Frame // Posted 1 October 2012 at 9:43 pm

The lesson appears to be verify what your social media account is saying.

The “It was my own personal views” to a cynic rings hollow, but that’s probably just me.

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