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

by  and 

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)

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  1. EdinburghEye says:

    Julian Assange has “not even been charged” because due process according to Swedish law says that he can’t be charged until the police have interviewed him. So that point is irrelevant.

    The brave principled Women Against Rape women can’t be dismissed as “apologists for rape”. As if.

    I found their article very sad when I first read it: I still do. I find it sad and frustrating that your reaction to the Assange case is to republish an article by his defenders.

    It will be, quite literally, twice as difficult for the US to extradite Assange from Sweden once he has been extradited there from the UK.

    No one has yet shown how or what the US could charge Assange with that would let them extradite him.

    Assange is entitled to due process. So are the two women whom he admits to having non-consensual sex with, and The only person standing in the way of this is Assange himself.

    But does anyone really believe that extraditing Julian Assange will strengthen women against rape?

    Yes.

    Because arguiing that a heroic man doesn’t deserve to be treated like any other criminal when all he did was allegedly rape and sexually assault a couple of women, and he himself doesn’t think that’s a very big deal – that’s the usual BS about women and rape.

    For an organisation like “Women Against Rape” to argue that so many rapists escape justice, what does it matter if one more does? undermines their claims to be an organisation that supports women and opposes rape.

    And that’s sad.

    Why

  2. bellacaledonia says:

    Sorry but you are one of those who has pounded the Twittosphere shouting (anonymous) abuse at anyone who doesn’t agree with you. Whether you are right or wrong you’ve done as much to poison the waters as anyone. Now you have the unbelievable barefaced cheek to claim that a respected and brave organisation like Women Against Rape undermine “their claims to be an organisation that supports women and opposes rape.” Go and have a lie down and think about what you just wrote. Bella Caledonia has repeatedly stated its position. Don’t even attempt to rewrite it to suit your own polarised agenda.

    KW

  3. EdinburghEye says:

    Thanks Kevin: it always makes me feel better when men tell me I’m being too emotional about rape.

  4. bellacaledonia says:

    I didn’t say you were you being too emotional about rape. I said you were being abusive to people who don’t agree with you on Julian Assange case.

  5. noheroes says:

    Many (and I think I can say, most) feminists don’t agree with Women Against Rape’s intervention. Bonnie Greer briefly debates Lisa Longstaff here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/24/conversation-julian-assange-extradition?INTCMP=SRCH

    IMO, their stance boils down to a misunderstanding of the Swedish and international legal process which does not, however, mean that we shouldn’t also fight an attempted extradition from Sweden to the US on completely different charges. They overestimate the importance of one individual whilst underestimating the extent to which those unequivocally supporting Assange have attacked and undermined feminism.

    “But does anyone really believe that extraditing Julian Assange will strengthen women against rape?”

    Yes. The alternative: that he carries on being defended from facing any charges – which may well mean he is acquitted – has entirely negative implications for the left and for the amazing work Wikileaks has done.

    “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.”

    Even if this were to be turn out to be true, the only principled option for us would have been to make sure the charges are investigated.

    Also, I think any cohesion has to be founded on a real commitment to pro-feminism.

    “’ll spell out (again) where Bella Caledonia stands on this matter”

    Honest question: where else has this been spelled out apart from posting up a fact sheet which endorses Assange?

  6. bellacaledonia says:

    “Even if this were to be turn out to be true, the only principled option for us would have been to make sure the charges are investigated.”

    Totally agree these charges should be taken seriously and investigated. I’ll part company on this issue with anyone who doesn’t recognise that as a point of principle.

    But its not the only principled position. It is one of many in a complex case. Another is ‘Innocent until proven guilty’. Sometimes it is forgotten that we’re talking about an innocent man here, who has neither been charged nor found guilty of any of the allegations (and I fully take your point about Swedish law not charging suspects at beginning of an investigation).

    Another principled position is a recognition that high profile opponents of US foreign policy are likely to be smeared or destroyed. This is both common knowledge and widespread practice. It astonishes me that otherwise intelligent people refuse to even acknowledge this may have happened to Julian Assange.

    If these three fairly basic points of principle could be agreed by all progressives, feminists, leftists, anti-imperialists with an interest in this case then maybe the levels of abuse could have been avoided, and the debate become less susceptible to manipulation from outside.

    Bests, KW

  7. Graham says:

    It has been widely reported that the Extradition Act 2003 does not require a potential extraditee to have been charged with any offence. The relevance that the Women Against Rape article seeks to place on the fact that Assange has not been charged relates to the assertions that:

    (1) “[he] is dealt with by much of the media as if he were guilty”; and

    (2) “the determination to have him extradited is much greater than ever it was with Pinochet”, whose guilt for the same crime but carried out with extreme brutality, and more serious crimes (mass torture and mass murder) were “never in doubt”.

    This potential solution was floated a week ago but I’ve not seen any discussion of it: http://www.firmmagazine.com/features/1182/Julian_Assange%3A_should_he_stay_or_should_he_go%3F.html.

  8. douglas clark says:

    KW,

    I agree with you that it has to be a ‘given’ that Assange has to answer questions on his actions.

    It seems to me that he must answer the questions that are now being asked by the Swedish authorities. But Sweden have, apparently, been complicit in surrendering people to the USA through rendition:

    http://www.hrw.org/news/2006/11/09/sweden-violated-torture-ban-cia-rendition

    Which ups the stakes a lot. And makes Assanges’ bail jumping a bit more understandable.

    Perhaps we need to convene a Camp Zeist type of solution?

    This is a particularily difficult case. It appears to me at least that there is an enormous amount of capital invested in the outcome by the US, a range of folk who are feminist or anti-feminist and people who think that his case can be decided by the ‘mob’. None of these people appear to recognise that this should only be resolved by due process.

    I believe in due process as the least corrupt way of determining any outcome. I wish more people did.

    Quite how we get due process in this case is the conundrum.spoke……

  9. douglas clark says:

    Dunno how the .spoke… ended up here. Please ignore.

  10. Stevie says:

    I thought David Allen Green did a great job of explaining why Assange wouldn’t be extradited in the New Statesman. The abuse he got from the oddball cultists who have attached themselves to Assange (or that he has cultivated) was quite something. I’m also not seeing a battle of progressives or leftists I see a bunch of old reactionaries, rightwing libertarians, conspiracy nuts and woman haters being the most vocal in supporting Assange with most people on the left wishing he would just jump on a plane and get it over with. He would either be exonerated or be convicted.

    It’s become such a toxic subject that I actually am reticent to post a comment on your piece. The problem being the more crackpots Assange attracts the less relevant Wikileaks becomes which is a great shame.

    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/david-allen-green/2012/08/legal-myths-about-assange-extradition

  11. Barontorc says:

    Just asking, if there had been no wikileaks would this matter ever have come up?

  12. EdinburghEye says:

    Two points: Amanda Marcotte “Even Assange defenders who claim they want Assange to face his accusers seem to be directing anger at everyone but the person who likely bears the most responsibility for the current situation. They’re mad at Sweden for not brokering a deal that would shield Assange from extradition to the U.S. They’re mad at the U.S. for hanging on to the option of prosecuting Assange for WikiLeaks-related crimes. They’re mad at the British government for threatening to arrest Assange. But they don’t seem to hold Assange responsible for creating this situation in the first place.”

    And: Sweden has a much better history of standing up to the US and refusing to cooperate with rendition than the UK does. “In 2008 AL Zery was awarded 500 000 dollars in damages by the Swedish government for the wrongful treatment he received in Sweden and the subsequent torture in Egypt. “

  13. Doug Daniel says:

    Well, clearly Women Against Rape are just #RapeApologists…

    Personally, I’m tired of the whole circus now. Assange needs to be questioned by the authorities in Sweden, but it’s difficult to see how there could even be a fair trial now. If found innocent, Assange would forever be seen as a rapist in some people’s eyes, and if found guilty the two girls would forever be seen as US stooges in other people’s eyes.

    I can’t help feeling that this could have been handled so much better in the first place, and now every twist to the story adds another layer of complexity, making things worse and true justice increasingly difficult to obtain. If the Swede’s are truly serious about this case, then they should be doing all they can to just get it sorted out and stop dragging along. If that means setting up some sort of Camp Zeist situation, then just bloody go ahead and do it!

    Of course, if those who believe it’s all a US plot are correct, then having him holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy having his name continue to be blackened essentially performs the same function as having him locked up…

    Regardless of how it all pans out, I don’t see how the cause of getting rape taken more seriously has been helped by some quarters ignoring the idea of innocent before proven guilty; and seeing people shout “rape apologist!” at anyone who so much as questions the idea that this is a simple case, or suggests that there’s a possibility he isn’t guilty, has been utterly depressing.

  14. Daniel: “I can’t help feeling that this could have been handled so much better in the first place,”

    Yes. Julian Assange should have shown up to be interviewed by the police in Sweden on at least one of the dates on which he was requested to attend: 28 September, 6 October or 14 October 2010.

    That Assange chose to leave Sweden, refuse to return, fight extradition to the end to the line, and then apply for asylum in Ecuador, is nobody’s fault but his own. None of his claimed reasons for doing so stand up – he didn’t believe in August 2010 that Sweden was an unsafe place for him to live with regards to the US, and the only difference that a month made was that by 1st September, the public prosecutor had decided there was sufficient evidence to open a charge sheet for rape and sexual assault against him.

    As for the idea that we are just plain not allowed to review the evidence and decide what we think of Assange’s behaviour: well, the vicious attacks and dismissal of those of us who point out the two women tell a realistic and credible story and that Assange has had due process and full respect for his legal rights all the way, has been … an eye-opener. As Marcotte asks, would there be the same *handwave* of dismissal of the violent crimes with which Assange is charged if they were anything but rape/sexual assault by a man on two women?

    A good article which rebuts the conspiracy theories Naomi Wolf has been promoting by reference to the source documents in Swedish points out:

    “When the prosecutor on 12th October was informed that Julian Assange would not show up on 14 October she indicated her intention to issue an EAW if he did not attend for an interview.”

    “When the preliminary investigation was re-opened on 1st September Julian Assange was suspected of rape and other sex crimes. On the 15th September Björn Hurtig, Julian Assange’s Swedish lawyer, was told that Julian Assange was not under arrest and had no restrictions on his travel. That message could be interpreted as if Julian Assange wanted to flee Sweden to avoid interviews he could do so and he would not be stopped. The message was not that Julian Assange was cleared of suspicion and that he was a free man.

    Why wasn’t Julian Assange arrested? It seems like Julian Assange gave his lawyer and the prosecutor an impression that he would come in for an interview to clear his name. During the extradition hearing Björn Hurtig said that he was given the impression that Julian Assange was willing to come back to Sweden for an interview.”

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