Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Asylum for Assange. But what about the women?

So, the Guardian reported last night that Julian Assange had been offered asylum in Ecuador

The Ecuadorian government, like many of Assange’s supporters, believe that extradition to Sweden to face questions around rape and sexual assault allegations will lead to extradition or even rendition to the USA, where he might face the death penalty or be imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. 

This is in spite of the fact that Sweden will not extradite anyone for political offences, will not extradite anyone to face the death penalty, and will not extradite anyone if their life or human rights are threatened. 

Sweden are also pretty good at not rendering people too – particularly since 2006 when a diplomatic row broke out between the government and the USA over rendition flights.  This is quite a contrast to the UK who are happy to try to extradite people on evidence gained by torture and are potentially very, very guilty of rendition

Now, every time I write about Assange, a few accusations pop up on Twitter and in the comments. So let’s get this straight. I do not believe Assange should be extradited to the US. I absolutely am against him being sentenced to death or being imprisoned in Guantanamo. I have and always will be against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and have campaigned and written about both. In my day job I write about and research the death penalty in America, and their use of torture in Guantanamo bay. I think it is a disgrace that in the UK we even have an extradition policy with a country which last year was ranked number 5 in the nations that carried out the most death sentences. 

But do I think that he should be extradited to Sweden to face questioning around sexual assault and rape accusations? Absolutely. 

It’s a fact worth repeating that the crimes Assange are accused of are rape and sexual assault. The accusations were described by his defence as follows: 

"AA felt that Assange wanted to insert his penis into her vagina directly, which she did not want since he was not wearing a condom … She did not articulate this. Instead she therefore tried to turn her hips and squeeze her legs together in order to avoid a penetration … AA tried several times to reach for a condom, which Assange had stopped her from doing by holding her arms and bending her legs open and trying to penetrate her with his penis without using a condom. AA says that she felt about to cry since she was held down and could not reach a condom and felt this could end badly."

“'They fell asleep and she woke up by his penetrating her. She immediately asked if he was wearing anything. He answered: "You." She said: "You better not have HIV." He said: "Of course not." She may have been upset, but she clearly consented to its [the sexual encounter's] continuation and that is a central consideration.”

This is not having sex without a condom (which, by the way, if a woman asks you to put on a condom and you refuse and still have sex with her, that’s a total violation of her bodily autonomy). It’s not ‘sex by surprise’ (which, again, is not a thing. Men aren’t led around by wandering penises that surprise! fall into women). It’s rape and sexual assault. 

One of the most chilling things in the statement is this line here:

“She may have been upset, but she clearly consented to its [the sexual encounter's] continuation and that is a central consideration.”

No. I’m sorry. That’s not correct. Penetrating someone who is asleep is rape, it isn’t and can never be consensual. Because you cannot consent when you’re asleep. And being upset, but not fighting back or kicking out is not a sign of consent to the continued act. The violation has already happened, and very often when a woman is raped she won’t fight back because she’s afraid of further violence. As CWASU write in the rape myth busting page of their website:

"To be raped is the worst thing that can happen - so you would resist to the utmost"
Many women assess their attacker, and make moment by moment decisions about their survival. In many circumstances, women being sexually assaulted fear for their lives. When rapists have a weapon, or threaten the victim, most will strategise for their own survival by not unduly alarming or aggravating their attacker; they follow his instructions in order to stay alive, and this may include not making a noise or resisting. Being raped is not worse than being dead or permanently injured - opting to submit is a rational decision, made in a context where there are very few choices or options.

It isn’t the woman's behaviour that matters here. It’s Assange’s alleged behaviour – sexually penetrating a sleeping – an unconscious – woman. 

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. 

And when these high profile men and women appear on TV, telling the world that penetrating someone when they sleep isn’t rape, it’s ‘sex by surprise’, how much harder is it for women who have been attacked this way to name what happened to them? How much harder is it to believe that the crimes committed against them should and will be taken seriously? 

Sometimes when I read the support for Assange, I feel that we’re in Animal Farm – where everyone is equal but some people are more equal than others. 

Here’s a man who claims to be a human rights activist, who claims to be for freedom of speech. Yet, his supporters believe that his human right to live free from violence is more important, more valid, than the rights of his alleged victims to live free from violence. That his right to avoid questioning (a right which doesn’t even exist) is more important than the right for his alleged victims to see due process and justice. 

And Assange’s disrespect for human rights goes further than this. His previous employers, Russia Today, are owned by the Russian government. A government, in case we forget, that is currently involved in two huge cases of human rights violations – as well as many more that we don’t hear much about in the news. They’re the government that are currently supporting Assad’s murderous regime in Syria,  who, like Assange’s US enemies, are killing civilians in a war. And they’re the government who you’ll know, unless you’ve been with Curiosity on Mars, are currently trying to send Pussy Riot to jail and labour camps for daring to sing that Putin needs to go. 

Then of course there was his naming of the sources for many of the Wikileaks cables, a leak too far that put the lives of many brave men and women who were standing up for free speech in serious danger. 

And now there’s his cosying up with Ecuador, a country who doesn’t care much for free speech and freedom of the press and have been criticised by Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, and who have a pretty unpleasant attitude towards the Indigenous population.  In fact, it seems Correra’s concern for Assange is more motivated by ‘proving’ that he is more pro freedom of speech than his actions would suggest. 

I’ve kind of given up on Assange cheerleaders giving a flying fig for women’s rights and bodily autonomy, or even the due process of the law. But surely the whole mission of Wikileaks is compromised when the leader is taking money from a government controlled TV station who parrot the words of a repressive regime? When they compromise the freedoms and human rights of the very people who helped them name the crimes that they did so well to uncover? When their leader accepts asylum from a country that doesn’t care for freedom of speech? 

None of us know if Assange is guilty or not, despite what that stupid Ballad of Julian Assange song says. What we do know is that he is wanted for questioning on allegations of rape and sexual assault. We know that the crimes he is accused of are rape and sexual assault and nothing else. We know that Sweden’s extradition policy and stand against rendition mean it would be unlikely he would end up in the US. And we know that in Sweden, two women are very, very unlikely to ever see due process happen. To see justice. And thanks to the voices of his cheerleaders, our understanding that women can  be and are raped in their sleep, our accepted understanding of consent, and the voices of rape victims across the world, have been severely undermined. 

No comments: