Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rape and Wikileaks

This morning, I woke up, checked twitter, and had this:
Rape is being used in the #Assange prosecution in the same way that women's freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up! #wikilieaks
by Naomi Klein staring at me. It galled me so much I sent my first "@" reply to someone marginally famous, and went on with my day. But my mind kept returning time and time again to this idea, the idea that Assange is being railroaded as a way of getting to Wikileaks. And what it came down to is this: I don't care.

Don't get me wrong, I'm more or less okay with Wikileaks as an organization. This last round of leaks left me fairly unimpressed, as it was mostly just gossip; and the leaks before that about the Afghanistan war effort had the potential to place the American troops on the ground in danger and I was definitely angry about that. But at this point, I find the idea behind Wikileaks to be something worth exploring. And Tom Merritt is right when he says, "It is not against the law to publish this information." In that sense, going after Julian Assange more vigorously than any other person accused of the same crime is exactly what Naomi Klein is saying: Assange has attracted more attention for this particular, often overlooked, crime because of who he is and because of what website he runs. But Klein is completely incorrect in asserting that we should wake up to this reality, and that because Assange is being pursued in such a manner we should defend him and decry the pursuit itself. Instead, the question we should be asking isn't why is this particular case getting so much attention, but why aren't all of the other cases out there getting taken as seriously?

This is an issue completely separate from a defense of Wikileaks. We can discuss whether or not the application of these charges were politically motivated. We can discuss if this is a tactic being used to attack Wikileaks. We can discuss how unbalanced the application of this law may be. What we cannot do, what we should not do, is defend Assange based on the unbalanced application of the law because he may be doing something we find admirable in other quarters. Whatever you think of Wikileaks as an organization, I think we can all agree that if its spokesman and editor-in-chief has charges brought up against him, he should stand trial.

This, right here, is what makes rape an insidious crime. Those we admire, those we respect, we tend to minimize, deflect, or outright deny such a charge against them. What we as a society have got to come to realize is that a rapist can do good in other areas and still have raped someone. A rapist can be someone who does works we admire. A rapist can be someone whom we have previously respected, and whose political and ideological beliefs mirror our own. Which is why an organization or political thought should stand alone, divorced from its most vociferous defenders and/or creators. Wikileaks needs to stand or fall on its own merits, and we need to defend or decry Wikileaks on its own merits (or lack thereof). What we cannot do is excuse Julian Assange from even having to defend himself against a charge because such a charge may hurt his organization. Which is where Klein is wrong again. Yes, women's freedom was used as a battle cry in Afghanistan. Yes, it was the wrong cry, not in the least because we have done a piss poor job of securing the safety and freedom of women since entering Afghanistan. But Julian Assange may have actually committed rape. And there are laws against rape. And he can and should be charged with the crime. This isn't some nebulous "protect teh women" battle cry.

I don't know if Julian Assange is or is not a rapist. I know he is being held in connection to a crime. I know that the support he is receiving from Klein is, to be frank, beneath her. As Jessica Valenti highlighted, one of the charges facing Assange is not merely that he had sex with a woman without the condom she required but that he engaged in sexual intercourse with a sleeping woman. That last one? That's describing rape, pure and simple. It's rape, because a sleeping woman does not have the ability to consent to sex. These two women deserve their day in court. If their accusations are true, they deserve every measure of justice that can be awarded to them.

It is a shame that Wikileaks can be undermined because its editor-in-chief and spokesperson is alleged to have committed an act of sexual assault. But it isn't our shame. It is Assange's own, and it is a bed of his making. Our shame comes from the fact that we do not take every allegation of rape seriously. Our shame comes from the fact that we leave rape kits untested, that we victim-blame, that we use horrifying and damaging excuses like "women don't do that" or "boys will be boys" or "what were you doing there, anyway". Our shame comes from the strange idea that to assent to one sexual act is to assent to all sexual acts, that anything less than "no" is "yes", that enthusiastic consent is too hard a criteria to meet, that enthusiastic consent is not sexy because it makes sex into a negotiation. Sex is a negotiation. Sex is about communication. Sex is about boundaries, about which ones can be crossed by whom and when. Sex is about recognizing that if your partner wants sex with a condom, you'd better damn well put on a condom. Sex is about recognizing that if you don't have an already established understanding that starting while your partner is sleeping is both okay and relished, you can't do that. Sex is about stopping when your partner asks you to stop, tells you to stop, for whatever reason zie does so.

Our shame is that people feel comfortable defending Assange because that we are taking this particular sexual assault seriously deviates from the norm.

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