Wednesday 8 December 2010

Rape Allegations and Julian Assange

John Wight's comment on Julian Assange, Wikileaks, and the superpower fury he's brought down on his head is the best philosophical reflection I've read on the whole affair so far. But what John studiously avoids mentioning are the very uncomfortable allegations swilling around Assange's person, allegations that have turned out to be more serious than 'having consensual sex without a condom'. Unity has the full low down on the allegations here and some thoughts on sexual assault, rape and the Swedish legal system can be read here.

The left's response to the Assange rape claims has, unfortunately, tended to polarise it along
gender lines. Men, or at least, the mostly-male cadre of Assange supporters see it as a conspiracy, of aspersions designed to discredit the man who's exposed the machinations of the US abroad more effectively than Noam Chomsky's back catalogue. Admittedly, most people would accept their point that the allegations have surfaced at a suspiciously convenient time. But their opponents - mostly women, and mostly self-identified feminists - are arguing against the downplaying and trivialisation of the allegations. This is in the context of there still being problems of getting (for want of a better phrase) "women's issues" taken seriously by the left and the labour movement. And with cuts being made to rape crisis centres and women's refuges in Britain, it looks as though these problems will not be going away any time soon.

Is there a third way between the two positions? A middle way that can reconcile both parties? No. Only one of the positions is consistent with the politics of social justice, gender equality, and socialism. And that is the one feminist comrades are defending.

Let me put my cards on the table. I hold to the peculiarly bourgeois notion that Julian Assange is innocent until proven otherwise. I have no opinion on the veracity of the allegations made against him. But the allegations of sexual assault and rape are extremely serious. As crimes they are historically under reported due to psychological trauma, shame, fear of reprisal, cultural pressure, and the complex of ties working to keep women in their place. Of those that are reported, the incidence of false claims are extremely low - a 1996
FBI crime report found only eight per cent of claims were false. A 2005 Home Office study using a similar methodology arrived at an identical figure. Furthermore in Britain rape convictions are low - very low. While the general conviction rate is 34%, for rape it is only 6.5%. I do not know what the equivalent figure is for Sweden, but it is known to have the highest rate of reported rapes in Europe - whether this is a result of less stigma attached to reporting or because it has real higher rates of sexual violence than the norm is anyone's guess. Nevertheless, while these figures are subject to scholarly dispute, you have to take together the statistical evidence that exists for false claims, the low incidence of conviction, and the cultural pressures on rape victims to remain silent. This suggests to me that given the costs of making an allegation, every rape accusation should be treated seriously by the criminal justice system even before the facts of an individual case is known.

I don't see why Assange should be given a special dispensation. If his self-appointed internet bodyguards are interested in improving the quality of legal redress open to rape victims - and assuming most of them are on the left, they should do - they definitely must avoid tying themselves in knots over the sexual behaviour of their latest poster boy. No one wants victims of rape and sexual assault to suffer in silence: they deserve justice and the right to be taken seriously. So these people need to ask themselves a question. In their rush to defend Assange are their actions likely to encourage the victims of sexual violence to come forward, or keep them in the shadows?

Yes, Julian Assange has struck a mighty blow for the freedom of information. But equally, that does not absolve him from answering the case against him.


ID said...

Problem is, they are seeking to extradite him even though he has NOT been charged in Sweden. The 'allegations' that have been submitted as 'grounds' for extradition apparently do NOT consitute criminal charges. Which is very fishy. If they are not charges .... and most of them are not offences under British law ... then it simply lends credence to the idea that these are a pretext to isolate him and allow another extradition process to begin - to the United States.

Nor is it true that even all feminists are against Assange. One of his accusers is a radical-feminist, but actually, in the Guardian today, a leading women's activist writes:

"Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations (Report, 8 December). Women in Sweden don't fare better than we do in Britain when it comes to rape. Though Sweden has the highest per capita number of reported rapes in Europe and these have quadrupled in the last 20 years, conviction rates have decreased. On 23 April 2010 Carina Hägg and Nalin Pekgul (respectively MP and chairwoman of Social Democratic Women in Sweden) wrote in the Göteborgs-Posten that "up to 90% of all reported rapes never get to court. In 2006 six people were convicted of rape though almost 4,000 people were reported". They endorsed Amnesty International's call for an independent inquiry to examine the rape cases that had been closed and the quality of the original investigations.

Assange, who it seems has no criminal convictions, was refused bail in England despite sureties of more than £120,000. Yet bail following rape allegations is routine. For two years we have been supporting a woman who suffered rape and domestic violence from a man previously convicted after attempting to murder an ex-partner and her children – he was granted bail while police investigated.

There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women's safety. In the south of the US, the lynching of black men was often justified on grounds that they had raped or even looked at a white woman. Women don't take kindly to our demand for safety being misused, while rape continues to be neglected at best or protected at worst.

Katrin Axelsson

Women Against Rape"

Obviously these people have more sense that some of the feminists types that hang around the far left.

Just because people you know may be against Assange on this does not mean that those people are representative.

Gulfstream5 said...

Sweden was once the flagship of sexual freedom, but now even Swedish lawyers say that men need written permission to have sex there. Assange's mistake was that he did not have it rubber stamped and witnessed.

Nic said...

Good post, thanks. (Here via twitter.)

ID: I don't see how anything you're saying invalidates Phil's point. The defenders of Assange want to trivialise rape allegations. Feminists think they should be taken seriously, and that great leftie heroes (as Assange is apparently perceived in some quarters) shouldn't get a pass on rape allegations because they've done other good stuff. Yes, there is a *savage* irony in the fact that these allegations intersect with powerful political agendas, and so get to be taken more seriously, but that alone isn't grounds for dismissing them out of hand. We shouldn't assume he's innocent just because his enemies are exploiting this, any more than we should assume he's guilty just because the accusations were made.

Gulfstream5: That's the silliest sort of strawfeminism and I don't doubt for a minute you know it. But please, do continue to trivialise rape.

ID said...

"The defenders of Assange want to trivialise rape allegations."

Er, no. That is simply a smear. They just believe that these particular rape accusations are fraudulent and were concocted precisely to divide liberal and left opinion in order to make it easier for the US imperialists to lynch Assange.

That has nothing to do with trivialising rape. That's refusing to buy into something that looks suspiciously like a fraud.

andy newman said...

well not necessarily fraudulent, but there is sufficient grounds to worrk that he is not facing a fair process, and that he is the victim of a stitch up..

There are a number of unanswered questions about this case, where there will probably never be an answer. There are also a number of possible scenarios.

At one extreme, Julian Assnage could be an anti-social sex-pest, and only the unusually broad definitions of rape in Sweden have allowed that to be brought t the world’s attention

At the other extreme, the two women involved might have deliberately entraped him for political reasons, either as freelancers, or in conjunction with inteleigence services. this taking advantage of the stigma of sexual crimes, and the broad definition of such crimes in Sweden.

Or perhaps a borderline criminal complaint was brought that would not normaly have seen the courts, but US diplomatic pressure on Sweden, and leverage over some Swedish politicians has meant that Sweden has proceeded with a dubious prosecution they would otherwise not have.

We don’t know, we will probably never know. I certainly have no-where said that the women are workign for the CIA, even though at least one of them does have a history of association with a CIA funded anti-Castro group. I don;’t know if they are or not.

However, it is reasonable, given the scale of coincidence, to assume that US pressure has been brought to bear, at some stage. Certainly there is persuasive argument in support of this from the fact that he was denied bail in the UK.

But let us be clear; unless we think that there is a political reason for him being extradited, then there is no grounds for opposing the extradition. it is a slam dunk. there is a valid European Arrest warrant, he is accused of a crime under Swedish jursidiction; there is no argument against him being extradited.

the only reason that there could be a campaign against his extradition is if we beleive that the charges against him might be tainted by US government and CIA involvement.

that does not necessarily mean that the whole thing was a premeditated entrapment; the US authorities may have pursued an opportunity presented to them by luck; and pressurised the Swedes to take an unpromising case further than they normaly would; and there would aso be some incentivisation for any trial to acheive a guilty outcome.

So even were there substance to the womens’ claims, then Assange has the dice weighted against him, in such a way as to make his prospects of a fair trial debatable.

Phil, you shoudl also be cautious in assuming that a particularly vociferous minority of radical feminists are representative of womens' opinion. I was struck by the seeming prepondenderence of women in the photos of rallies in Australia in Assange's support earlier today.

andy newman said...

Another person Louise/Harly can accuse of misogyny:

Nicole Colson in Socialist Worker (US)

RAPE AND sexual assault are very serious charges that deserve investigation. But it's impossible to take the charges against Assange at face value given the nature of the attack on him by the world's superpowers.

Assange is wanted by Swedish authorities for questioning in connection with one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010.

Although the details remain unclear, reports suggest that Assange is accused of entering into consensual sex acts with two different women. In one case, he reportedly failed to wear a condom against the wishes of his partner; in another, he allegedly failed to stop during sex after a condom broke. Another allegation claims that Assange initiated sex with one of the women while she was sleeping.

These are disturbing charges. However, the idea that they should spark an "international manhunt," complete with an Interpol "red notice," should raise suspicions--especially concerning the timing of the Interpol notice so soon after the latest release of documents by WikiLeaks, to the fury of the U.S. government.

As Laura Flanders noted in

[S]ince when is Interpol [the investigative arm of the International Criminal Court at The Hague] so vigilant about violence against women? If women's security is suddenly Interpol's priority--that's big news!

Tell it to hundreds of women in U.S. jails and immigration detention centers--who charge that they can't get justice against accused rapists--or women in the U.S. military (two of out three of whom allege they've experienced assault.) In Haiti, hundreds of unprosecuted cases of rape in refugee camps could use some of Interpol's attention.

The same politicians and media pundits who have little to say about violence against women or women's rights in general are now suddenly very keen on bringing Assange to "justice." Meanwhile, as Assange sits in jail, the politicians and military officials who exposed by WikiLeaks for authorizing torture and massacres of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan will likely never face a day in court. All that shows how cynical and hypocritical this misuse of the legal system is.

One of the more striking aspects of the case is that Assange, according to his lawyer Mark Stephens, has not yet actually been charged with any crime. As Stephens noted in an interview with Sky News, Assange is still only wanted for questioning in Sweden--and that raises, he says, "a question of law" as to whether the Swedish prosecutor "is entitled to extradite him for the purpose of questioning."

Swedish prosecutors initially brought and then dropped charges against Assange in August. At the time, Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne said in a statement that Assange was "no longer wanted" and "is not suspected of rape." In September, however, the prosecutors revived the allegations. And the hunt for Assange began in earnest this month--not coincidentally timed with the latest release of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.

As Mark Stephens noted:

[W]hen you get a situation where the original charges were dropped by the senior-most prosecutor in Sweden, on the grounds that there was not one shred of evidence to even warrant an investigation, and then a politician intervenes a few weeks later and goes to another city and another prosecutor on the same facts, and she begins this kind of witch-hunt, then I think you really have got to worry about the impartiality of the system and the process.

skidmarx said...

I'm with Andy Newman on this one, though I find his argument that there is no political reason to oppose extradition a little confusing. If it walks like a duck...the questionable nature of the charges and procedure suggest that it is far more important to look at who benfits from Wikileaks being impaired than to worry about the political incorrectness of seeming to opposed to the attempt of the state to occasionally act to protect victims.
As someone I often have little time for normally has said (I paraphrase), "When Assange is banged up in the US and the rape charges are forgotten, are going to regret not standing up for him."

Chris said...

Andy Newman gave a number of possible scenarios, all perfectly valid but another could be the possibility that the women set him up because he is a celebrity. We have seen this with various sports stars in the UK. It seems to be that under capitalism (the best system of a bad bunch apparently!) this is a growing way for the attractive daughters of the working class to make some money.

How dignified!

Though if I were a betting man I would go for the political scenario.

Bemused said...

From what i read of the allegations (in the Guardian, I think) he had consensual (admitted by the women) penetrative sex with both women on consecutive nights, On one a condom broke. Following this the women got together (presumably shocked he shagged them both, the bastard!) and decided to complain to the police, claiming that on one occasion (not the others when they were happy not to use a condom) he had deliberately broken the condom. They were told this was grounds for rape and decided to press charges.

There was no violence used. This is plainly some kind of vindictive act against men (possibly) acting badly (as women have been known to also, shock, horror), and if anything an act of legal violence against women who really have been raped.

I doubt its anything to do with the CIA. It's just narcisistic weirdos.

Gary Elsby said...

I'm not sure why you suggest higher reported rape should equal a similarly high conviction rate.
The British system relies on gathering evidence which is then given to a second party to determine a 50/50 chance rate of conviction. No 50/50 equals no case to answer.
Your argument runs that a 40% or lower chance would equal a higher conviction rate by a jury that disagrees with 60% of the evidence of the accused.
A low conviction ratecertainly doesn't mean more rapists are at large, far from it.
A recent case centered ona young woman who was drunk when her 'rapist' 'attacked' her.
The judge asked her to verify that she consented whilst drunk (taken advantage of?)>She replied, yes.
The learned judge threw the case out as "Drunken consent, is consent".
The French fare better with the accuser and the accused sitting before a magistrate with no liabilities accepted on either part.
He/She then decides, upon questions asked, if there is a case to answer.
Similar to ours, but superior in answering points otherwise put before open court.

Unknown said...

My take on the matter:

Phil said...

Andy, I'm not naive enough to think the position I outline in the post above represents women views. But it was striking to see how quickly on Liberal Conspiracy, for example, the divisions more or less mapped onto gender.

I don't know if Assange is guilty or not. But we all know there are weighty cultural and institutional biases bearing down on women that discourages them from making a complaint. For that reason I'm not willing to casually dismiss the charges, no matter how convenient they are from the point of view of the US political establishment.

You're certainly not guilty of this, and nor is ID above, but THERE ARE people who've behaved abominably in dismissing the allegations out of hand. And these are people on the left who should really know better.

Phil said...

Gary, consider this point for a moment.

The average conviction rate of people charged with a crime in Britain is 34%.

The conviction rate for men charged with rape is just 6.5%.

Why do you think that is?

Matt Wardman said...

>Furthermore in Britain rape convictions are low - very low. While the general conviction rate is 34%, for rape it is only 6.5%.

Phil, that 6.5% has more to do with politics than legal process, and relates to convictions / allegations.

The Stern Report debunked the way the figure is used.

Matt Wardman said...

There is a good discussion of the extradition issues at Head of Legal:

Assange is not subject to an extradition process, but to a European Arrest Warrant, which is basically administrative.

There's also an audio interview with Assange's lawyer, which no one has noticed yet.

If you don't read them, there are half a dozen legal blogs around (HoL is one) which offer far cooler reflection on this type of q than politicos.


Boffy said...

Shami Chakrabarti made a good point on the Andrew Marr Show today, which is that it demonstrates the need for something approachinga trial that airs the basic facts of a case to be held before any extradition proceedings are allowed to take place, not just in this instance, but in all others.

Its also necessary not to allow the issue of Assange to drown out the much more important issue. As I've set out in my blog A Blatant Attack On democracy, this week has seen the same people who defend the right of Liberal politicians to openly lie about committing themselves to voting against increased Tuition Fees, also saw politicians in general defend the idea that politicians, diplomats and other state officials should be free to lie their heads off as a necessary part of the way Capitalism works, and at the same time as criticising China and others for restricting free speech, to support not only the attacks on Wikileaks, but to try to restrict the right to protest within what is considered acceptable parameters.

I think one of the most important things we should push for at the moment is a mass campaign of support for Wikileaks, and for opening the books entirely on the Capitalist State, and those organisations that are integrated with it such as the media, and ideological apparatus.

Phil said...

Cheers for the heads up, Matt.

Re: the stats, if the 6.5% figure refers to convictions as a percentage of all accuasations and allegations, regardless of whether the charge gets to court or not, can't the same be said of the larger figure from the general 'pool'?

Matt Wardman said...

The stats are curious, Phil.

First of all a comparison should be with other crimes of a similar seriousness - violence against the person.

Secondly, according to Baroness Stern, the allegation vs conviction (as opposed to charge vs conviction) figures have never been collected for other crimes so any comparison *can't* be made even if you want to.

(page 9)

Reading back to e.g., the previous "Gap or Chasm" report on attrition, there is no comparative data.

Comparatice charge vs conviction rates can be found, but I've not seen a big enough set to comment intelligently yet. Usually in Home Office crime stats.

Open to comment on this, I had not picked up on this point before.

Gary Elsby said...

A 34% conviction rate for PEOPLE (men?)charged with a crime means that 66% were either innocent of all crimes, or they 'got off with it' (a cop out).
I have to disregard that statistic as being horrendously flawed in comparison with a sex allegation of violence.

The conction rate of 6.5%, exclusively for males, means that 93.5% of MEN only were falseely accused or they 'got off with it'.

I take your positioning on this subject to mean that they got off with it.

How you compare the two values is mind boggling and I suspect your career involvement with the Universities suggests that even you consider this comparison to be worth no points. You just can't compare, and you can't compare a man only with a PEOPLE set of percentages.

The case and comparison falls dead.

If the view is that more men should be convicted, for convictions (statistics) case, then I say the law is right and the viewer is wrong.