The Saudi Arabia of Feminism
Over a period of years, Assange has both personally expressed ideas which vilify feminism and Sweden’s limited anti-rape laws, and has paid lawyers to assert that rape is not rape.
Although his defenders frequently try turning all discussions about this issue to whether he is guilty of the serious crimes Sweden is conducting a criminal investigation over, the issue for feminists is broader.
Feminists’ aim in passing anti-rape laws and campaigning for a better approach to rape cases by the state is not merely to promote better handling of rape by the judicial system, but also to reinforce public understanding that rape is wrong. When high-profile activists spend several years exerting their considerable influence to encourage their supporters – many of them young men – to repeat rape excuses, myths and ideology and to vilify anti-rape laws – this has a detrimental effect on public consciousness, and sends the feminist gains on these issues backwards.
This article will begin with a summary of some of this rape-attitude promotion by Assange (in person or via a proxy) and will contain more detail beneath that.
A barrister working for Assange in late 2010, James D Catlin, did not merely make arguments defending Assange in a legal setting, but wrote a widely-read article which created the impression that:
Julian Assange has never rebutted any of these claims made in his defence.
A few weeks later, Assange commented about the Swedish proceedings to a journalist that “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism…. I fell into a hornets’ nest of revolutionary feminism.”
In a December 2010 hearing by the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Assange’s lawyers argued that the conduct alleged (that Assange penetrated one woman while she was sleeping, to which she had not previously consented) “would not amount to rape in most European countries” (paraphrase by Court), which the Court expressly disagreed with.
At Assange’s July 2011 High Court appeal against his extradition to Sweden, his lawyers made various claims on his behalf that undermine the feminist understanding of sexual assault and rape, and undermine anti-rape laws that already exist.
His barrister Ben Emmerson disputed the accuracy of the claims against Assange but also argued that even if they had been true, such actions would not constitute sexual assault or rape.
This includes the allegations that Assange penetrated (without a condom although knowing she did not want unprotected sex) one woman while sleeping, and hence while unable to consent.
Emmerson characterised this as an “entirely consensual sexual encounter”.
The Assange case has since emboldened many men to protest that penetrating sleeping women is fine so long as they have been previous sexual partners, so this case has considerably undermined feminist advances on women’s sexual autonomy.
This section contains more detail about the summary above.
A barrister paid by Assange issued the following rape myth endorsements and slurs against feminists and Swedish anti-rape laws in Crikey on Dec 2, 2010. Because the piece is so lengthily noxious we will intersperse our objections in italics:
When it comes to Assange rape case, the Swedes are making it up as they go along
by Melbourne barrister James D. Catlin, who acted for Julian Assange in London in October. | Dec 02, 2010 1:19PM |
Apparently having consensual sex in Sweden without a condom is punishable by a term of imprisonment of a minimum of two years for rape. That is the basis for a reinstitution of rape charges against WikiLeaks figurehead Julian Assange that is destined to make Sweden and its justice system the laughing stock of the world and dramatically damage its reputation as a model of modernity.
Obviously, this is a lie. If it were true, Swedes would not manage to procreate legally. The criminal proceedings do, however, include the allegation that Assange penetrated his partner without a condom despite her having made explicit that she did not want unprotected sex. Catlin has equated a consensual sexual act with a nonconsensual one and ignored the violations (and danger to the woman) inherent in the difference.
Sweden’s Public Prosecutor’s Office was embarrassed in August this year when it leaked to the media that it was seeking to arrest Assange for rape, then on the same day withdrew the arrest warrant because in its own words there was “no evidence”. The damage to Assange’s reputation is incalculable. More than three quarters of internet references to his name refer to rape.
He has supporters all over the world – and a lot of sympathy from those who view him as the ‘rape victim’ – while the two women have little public support, especially not the public support of an embassy. Their names are known by men who view them as agents provocateurs and are intent on ‘teaching them a lesson’. They have had no reason to feel safe.
Now, three months and three prosecutors later, the Swedes seem to be clear on their basis to proceed. Consensual sex that started out with a condom ended up without one, ergo, the sex was not consensual.
More lies. The criminal proceedings about this issue cannot be reduced to that matter, and clearly involve allegations about Assange’s lack of concern about the women’s boundaries.
For three months Assange had been waiting in vain to hear whether media statements by and for the two female “victims” that there was no fear or violence were going to be embellished so the charges might be carried forward due to greater seriousness. Such statements would stop a rape charge in any Western country dead in its tracks. Rape is a crime of violence, duress or deception. You can rape someone by deluding them into thinking you are someone else or by drugging them or by reason of their young age but essentially it’s a crime of violence.
This is rape apologism in that it implies that penetrating a sleeping woman, as Assange allegedly did, is not rape. It is rape apologism in that it implies that ignoring a woman’s stated desire only to be penetrated if a condom is worn, would not be rape. It is rape apologism in that it denies that physically forcing a situation on a woman that she has not chosen is rape, regardless of whether or not it fits into her own idea of ‘violence’. By repeating these myths, Catlin is telling all the rapists who do these things that they should feel free to continue.
The women here are near to and over 30 and have international experience, some of it working in Swedish government embassies. There is no suggestion of drugs nor identity concealment. Far from it. Both women boasted of their celebrity connection to Assange after the events that they would now see him destroyed for.
Presumably we are to infer that the women were too sophisticated – or old? – to be raped or sexually assaulted. This is trivialisation of rape, since it places the onus for rape on the victim rather than the perpetrator. This is victim-blaming. And women do not always have the luxury just after having been sexually assaulted, of either having acnowledged to themselves what was done to them, or of being frank with everyone about the crime. Brushing over the events, or pretending outwardly that things are fine, are understandable short-term coping mechanisms, especially in a society where, once an accusation is made known, the victim immediately becomes the accused.
That further evidence hasn’t been confected to make the charges less absurd does Sweden no credit because it has no choice in the matter. The phenomena of social networking through the internet and mobile phones constrains Swedish authorities from augmenting the evidence against Assange because it would look even less credible in the face of tweets by Anna Ardin and SMS texts by Sofia Wilén boasting of their respective conquests after the “crimes”.
In the case of Ardin it is clear that she has thrown a party in Assange’s honour at her flat after the “crime” and tweeted to her followers that she is with the “the world’s coolest smartest people, it’s amazing!”. Go on the internet and see for yourself. That Ardin has sought unsuccessfully to delete these exculpatory tweets from the public record should be a matter of grave concern.
As before. We should be concerned that part of rape culture is the idea that there is one, ‘perfect’, way for victims to behave after being raped, and that people will judge them for both being ‘too frank’ about rape after the event, and for not being ‘frank enough’. We should be concerned that rape victims need to worry about what they have said and done after the event.
That she has published on the internet a guide on how to get revenge on cheating boyfriends ever graver.
Aside from Assange not being her ‘boyfriend’, this evokes the common denigration of women who protest sexual or other assault as being ‘jealous’ over the ending of a relationship, even though false rape claims are known to be extremely rare. It repeats the common denigration of rape or sexual assault victims as being motivated by revenge for some other insult rather than being truthful. Such a post is no reason to suppose she agreed with inventing such charges.
We note that Assange has, via his lawyers, claimed that the actions she detailed would not constitute sexual assault. Which adds weight to the idea that he has no major opposition to such actions.
The exact content of Wilén’s mobile phone texts is not yet known but their bragging and exculpatory character has been confirmed by Swedish prosecutors. Niether (sic) Wilén’s nor Ardin’s texts complain of rape.
If you text after being raped, be sure to be frank about what was done to you, no matter how upsetting you find that.
But then neither Arden nor Wilén complained to the police but rather “sought advice”, a technique in Sweden enabling citizens to avoid just punishment for making false complaints. They sought advice together, having collaborated and irrevocably tainted each other’s evidence beforehand. Their SMS texts to each other show a plan to contact the Swedish newspaper Expressen beforehand in order to maximise the damage to Assange. They belong to the same political group and attended a public lecture given by Assange and organised by them. You can see Wilén on the YouTube video of the event even now.
This implies that the two women may have been conspiring together the whole time. It attempts to avoid the possibility that the two women experienced some similar treatment from Assange owing to being in the same political circles, and later discussed this with one another, including discussing how best to seek justice for this treatment.
Of course, their celebrity lawyer Claes Borgström was questioned as to how the women themselves could be essentially contradicting the legal characterisation of Swedish prosecutors; a crime of non-consent by consent. Borgström’s answer is emblematic of how divorced from reality this matter is. “They (the women) are not jurists”. You need a law degree to know whether you have been r-ped or not in Sweden.
This is trivialising of rape culture and its insidious effects on us. We are taught that rape happens when someone jumps out at us at night, outside, and that we are never coerced into into it or otherwise pressured by someone who is acting as though they think the entire thing is fine. So, no matter whether we consider ourselves feminists, it can still be hard for us to acknowledge that a violation has taken place.
However, one of the alleged victims – AA – did make a public statement to the effect that she characterises Assange’s treatment of her as sexual assault or molestation – which concurs with rather than contradicts the characterisation by the Swedish prosecution – and we are not aware that she has retracted this. Nor are we aware that the other alleged victim, SW, has disputed the Swedish prosecution’s characterisation of her complaints.
In the context of such double think, the question of how the Swedish authorities propose to deal with victims who neither saw themselves as such nor acted as such is easily answered: You’re not a Swedish lawyer so you wouldn’t understand anyway. The consent of both women to sex with Assange has been confirmed by prosecutors.
We bolded the final sentence to highlight just promotive this is of sexual violation. Catlin has just told the many people reading this article that if you consent at any stage to some form of sexual activity with a man, then for subsequent sexual violations by him that he knows you have not consented to, you have no grounds to complain. This is appalling.
Proposed reforms of Swedish rape laws would introduce a test of whether the unequal power relations between the parties might void the sincerely expressed consent of one party. In this case, presumably, the politically active Ardin, with experience fielding gender equity complaints as a gender equity officer at Uppsala University, had her will suborned by Assange’s celebrity.
Surely there is no intended message here of ‘she confected her claim because her feminism gave her a prior bias’. There does seem to be a suggestion though that merely being a feminist makes a woman unrapeable, and means any alleged attacker should be assumed innocent (and to be the authority on whether or not the woman had “sincerely expressed consent”), and that the woman should be assumed to be a liar.
The prosecutor coming as she does from a prosecution “Development Unit” could achieve this broadening of the law during Assange’s trial so he can be convicted of a crime that didn’t exist at the time he allegedly committed it. She would need to. There is no precedent for it. The Swedes are making it up as they go along.
A great deal more damning evidence is yet to be revealed about what passes for legal process in Sweden, such as Assange’s lawyers having not received a single official document until November 18, 2010 (and then in Swedish language contrary to European Law) and having to learn about the status of investigations through prosecution media announcements but make no mistake: it is not Julian Assange that is on trial here but Sweden and its reputation as a modern and model country with rules of law.
In other words, Catlin is unsure that his readers are yet sufficiently convinced that Sweden’s formal anti-rape procedures are anti-men, so he is trying to muddy the waters with his own account of future legislation! Nice work if you can get it.
Mr Assange is now wanted on suspicion of rape, sexual coercion and sexual assault. It is important to him that it is known he has not yet been charged with any crime anywhere else.
Mr Assange regards himself as a victim of radicalism. “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism,” he said. “I fell into a hornets’ nest of revolutionary feminism.”
The Wikileaks Watch website (a must-read) contains this comment about the issue of ‘no charges’:
In the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service charge a suspect when police have gathered enough evidence to bring criminal proceedings. Sweden has a different process, which the High Court summarised quite clearly (see Ground 3):
“Although it is clear a decision has not been taken to charge him, that is because, under Swedish procedure, that decision is taken at a late stage with the trial following quickly thereafter. In England and Wales, a decision to charge is taken at a very early stage; there can be no doubt that if what Mr Assange had done had been done in England and Wales, he would have been charged and thus criminal proceedings would have been commenced…. On this basis, criminal proceedings have commenced against Mr Assange.”
Thus, stating that Mr Assange has not been charged implies that criminal proceedings have not begun. This is absolutely not the case. It would be more accurate to say that Mr Assange has been avoiding being charged, or that he faces charges immediately upon his return to Sweden.
Is penetrating a sleeping woman really rape? If she wakes up and does not prevent him from continuing, does this constitute retroactive consent?
While we cannot be certain what did happen with Assange, since his lawyers have made the high-profile claim that such retroactive consent is possible, we need to address this.
At the July 2011 UK High Court appeal hearing against Assange’s extradition, his barrister Ben Emmerson argued that his alleged victim SW, by failing to stop the sexual encounter when she allegedly awoke to find that he had penetrated her, would thereby have given retroactive and ongoing consent to it.
Blogger Jack of Kent assesses here whether such actions would constitute rape under English law.
He notes that both the Magistrates’ Court and High Court found that “It is clear that the allegation is that he had sexual intercourse with her when she was not in a position to consent and so he could not have had any reasonable belief that she did.”
We agree with Claire Montgomery, acting in the High Court hearing for the Swedish authorities, who criticised Emmerson’s High Court arguments for “effectively winding the law on consent back to the 19th century”.
As Montgomery noted, “At best, the words ‘I let him’ amount to submission, not free consent”. Waking up to find that a choice so fundamental to one’s sexual integrity has been denied one does not enable “free consent”.
As The Guardian reported,
On to the testimonies about Assange – Montgomery, acting for Sweden, says she sees them very differently. “They are describing circumstances in which they [the alleged victims] did not consent without coercion. They were coerced by physical force or were trapped.”
….Montgomery said the fact that the woman may later have agreed to let Assange continue did not change the “initial” act. “She may later have acquiesced,” said Montgomery. “That didn’t make the initial penetration anything other than an act of rape.”
Montgomery said SW had later told a friend that Assange “had unprotected sex with her when she slept”….
She told the friend she had been “shocked and paralysed” and had “not really understood at first what was happening”, said Montgomery. SW’s boyfriend had told police that “this is a woman who never had unprotected sex”, judges heard.
There is no indication of free choice in this account, so we have to oppose Assange’s legal team’s assertion that while they are not stipulating that the allegation about his actions towards SW is accurate, it would not constitute rape even if true.