Why Women Against Rape need to be heard in the poisoned waters of the Julian Assange case
The Julian Assange controversy rumbles on and will continue to do so for as long as he is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Which could be a while. If Assange tries to leave a leaked police document makes it clear UK security forces will arrest him. If the UK tries to physically remove him from the embassy they violate an international agreement between UN-recognised states as well as jeopardising the safety of diplomatic staff in every corner of the world. Stalemate.
I’ll spell out (again) where Bella Caledonia stands on this matter, We have not seen or heard any conclusive evidence against Julian Assange. No one has. These matters are for a court of law. We do not know for certain whether Julian Assange will be extradited to US if he returns to Sweden but it is a possibility that can’t be lightly dismissed. Nor have we seen conclusive evidence that the charges against him are a fit up by the US. (Despite claims that it will clear him the photo above (described here) isn’t conclusive one way or the other.)
But what we have seen is supposedly progressive people take an entrenched position and trade poisonous polarised abuse with those they don’t agree with.
Many feminists who, rightly, want to see Julian Assange answer serious sex allegations in Sweden have chosen to adopt the two women in the case as high profile symbols in the fight to have the crime of rape taken seriously. A justifiable position, yes, considering these are the most high profile rape allegations on the planet. But this is a high risk strategy. If it turns out that the two women were paid or manipulated into concocting charges to smear Julian Assange/Wikileaks, or to help ease extradition of him to the US, then many equality activists will have undermined their own political credibility as well as doing immeasurable damage to the future cohesion of progressive political forces.
This is perhaps the lesser of two evils. Much worse are the supporters of WikiLeaks who refuse to entertain the idea that the two women’s allegations may be genuine. Whatever anyone thinks about US foreign policy or WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, to dismiss out of hand the two women’s allegations is morally wrong and will anger, demoralise or hurt rape victims who need their story to be believed.
It is entirely possible that someone whose political activities serve the cause of peace, justice and transparency, and who is brave enough to stand up to powerful political opponents, may have a huge fucking problem with the way they treat women. Even up to the point of sexual abuse or rape.
Those who trade insults like “apologist for rape” or “imperialist stooge” – at those who doesn’t agree with them – need to have a long hard look at themselves in the mirror. They need to ask themselves where they got their second hand certainties from. And also in whose long-term interests they are serving. It is not the cause of women’s equality or feminism, nor the cause of freedom of information nor opposition to US foreign policy.
For these reasons Bella is republishing an important contribution to this polluted debate. The brave principled Women Against Rape women can’t be dismissed as “apologists for rape”. As if. Nor as politically naive. They make pertinent points. Please bookmark this article and re-circulate it widely, especially if/when the Assange debate gets too polarised.
We are Woman Against Rape but we do not want Julian Assange extradited.
For decades we have campaigned to get rapists caught, charged and convicted. But the pursuit of Assange is political
When Julian Assange was first arrested, we were struck by the unusual zeal with which he was being pursued for rape allegations.
It seems even clearer now, that the allegations against him are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction.
Justice for an accused rapist does not deny justice for his accusers. But in this case justice is being denied both to accusers and accused.
The judicial process has been corrupted. On the one hand, the names of the women have been circulated on the internet; they have been trashed, accused of setting a “honey trap”, and seen their allegations dismissed as “not real rape”. On the other hand, Assange is dealt with by much of the media as if he were guilty, though he has not even been charged. It is not for us to decide whether or not the allegations are true and whether what happened amounts to rape or sexual violence – we don’t have all the facts and what has been said so far has not been tested. But we do know that rape victims’ right to anonymity and defendants’ right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty are both crucial to a just judicial process.
Swedish and British courts are responsible for how the women’s allegations have been handled. As with every rape case, the women are not in charge of the case, the state is.
Whether or not Assange is guilty of sexual violence, we do not believe that is why he is being pursued. Once again women’s fury and frustration at the prevalence of rape and other violence, is being used by politicians to advance their own purposes. The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will, usually to increase their powers, this time to facilitate Assange’s extradition or even rendition to the US. That the US has not presented a demand for his extradition at this stage is no guarantee that they won’t do so once he is in Sweden, and that he will not be tortured as Bradley Manning and many others, women and men, have. Women Against Rape cannot ignore this threat.
In over 30 years working with thousands of rape victims who are seeking asylum from rape and other forms of torture, we have met nothing but obstruction from British governments. Time after time, they have accused women of lying and deported them with no concern for their safety. We are currently working with three women who were raped again after having been deported – one of them is now destitute, struggling to survive with the child she conceived from the rape; the other managed to return to Britain and won the right to stay, and one of them won compensation.
Assange has made it clear for months that he is available for questioning by the Swedish authorities, in Britain or via Skype. Why are they refusing this essential step to their investigation? What are they afraid of?
In 1998 Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London following an extradition request from Spain. His responsibility for the murder and disappearance of at least 3,000 people, and the torture of 30,000 people, including the rape and sexual abuse of more than 3,000 women often with the use of dogs, was never in doubt. Despite a lengthy legal action and a daily picket outside parliament called by Chilean refugees, including women who had been tortured under Pinochet, the British government reneged on its obligation to Spain’s criminal justice system and Pinochet was allowed to return to Chile. Assange has not even been charged; yet the determination to have him extradited is much greater than ever it was with Pinochet. (Baltasar Garzón, whose request for extradition of Pinochet was denied, is representing Assange.) And there is a history of Sweden (and Britain) rendering asylum seekers at risk of torture at the behest of the US.
Like women in Sweden and everywhere, we want rapists caught, charged and convicted. We have campaigned for that for more than 35 years, with limited success. We are even having to campaign to prevent rape victims being accused of making false allegations and imprisoned for it. Two women who reported visibly violent attacks by strangers were given two and three year prison sentences.
But does anyone really believe that extraditing Julian Assange will strengthen women against rape? And do those supporting his extradition to Sweden care if he is then extradited to the US and tortured for telling the public what we need to know about those who govern us?
(First published in Guardian’s Comment Is Free)