Archive for the ‘rape’ Category

Even if Julian Assange is exonerated to the satisfaction of all and sundry, it will still be true that:

  1. Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, and plenty of other people with far less influence have published information about Assange’s accusers, including their names and enough personal information to allow the truly sadistic types to locate and harm them. (Though I suppose some might make the argument that this would be a form of justice if the accusers were lying. Because women who lie about being raped deserve to actually be raped. We’ll give them something to lie about!)
  2. Michael Moore and others have mischaracterized the nature of the accusations against Assange, repeating the tired “sex by surprise” and “broken condom” rumors rather than acknowledging that Assange is actually accused of using force to hold one woman down and penetrating another while she was asleep, acts which would be considered rape under any definition. (Well, unless you’re Naomi Wolf. And if you’re Naomi Wolf, please, for the love of god, get a GRIP on yourself.) This was perhaps slightly understandable when the accusations first aired, when the reporting was spotty and Assange’s attorneys were making disingenuous statements and no one had yet thought to ask Professor Google about whether the Swedish legal code really criminalizes unprotected consensual sex (for crying out loud, of course it doesn’t; as Kate Harding said on Twitter, “Seriously, where the hell do @MMFlint, @KeithOlbermann & friends think Swedish babies come from?”), but by the time Michael Moore got around to sneering about this on Countdown there was just no excuse for repeating that mendacious bullshit.
  3. Sady Doyle and various other feminists who have spoken out on this subject have been subjected to rape and death threats. Speak out against rape culture and watch, amazed and repulsed, as various misogynistic creepy-crawlies slither out of the woodwork to try their damnedest to make you regret it.
  4. Trolls (many of whom were clearly men tweeting from fake or anonymous accounts; what are they afraid of? It’s not like they’re going to be threatened with sexual violence) are posting rape jokes and other pretty vile stuff under the #MooreandMe hashtag because, oh lolz, you guys, there are like so many women who have been raped reading those tweets right now, and we will make them so sorry for that, we will remind them that they’re not safe, not anywhere, not ever. And it’ll be hilarious.

None of these things will cease to be true at any point. None of these things will cease to be completely and overwhelmingly fucked-up at any point.

And women like me who have been fortunate enough never to have been raped are watching this unfold, and some of us are feeling that sinking dread, that nausea, that comes with the realization that if we ever are raped, this is also what we will face if we make the mistake of thinking we deserve to be heard. I can’t speak for all of those women, but I know that for me, at least, this has been horrifying enough to witness even from my relatively comfortable vantage point. I’m not an accuser and I’m not high-profile enough to draw attention; I’m nobody, really, just some person tweeting and re-tweeting and clicking links and snickering at Keith Olbermann’s repeated flounces.

But I’m also watching very, very carefully. And wondering who will rape me, and how much society will punish me for it.

I know that regardless of the outcome in this situation, I have nothing to answer for. I wonder if rape apologists can say the same.

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So. Julian Assange.

Is that guy blond, or what?

There have been plenty of smart people who’ve written plenty of smart things about the allegations of rape against Assange. I may or may not have something smart to add to the conversation, but first I want to link to the two best pieces I’ve read on the subject so far, which each approach it from a different—and worthwhile—perspective: the first is from bfp at flipfloppingjoy, and the second from Maia at Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty.  They’re both excellent posts, but I’m grateful for bfp’s in particular because it led me to interrogate my own feelings on this subject a bit more closely and to understand what is and is not valuable about the way I’ve approached it.

My response when I read about the allegations, and the reaction to them, was entirely reflexive. The part of me that hates the way that we talk about rape, and rapists, and rape victims—the part that wrote this post—went straight into myth-debunking mode. And while I think that’s useful and appropriate, for reasons I’ll elaborate on in a bit, it’s also something that requires some deliberation. Because that discussion cannot be about criminal retribution. I agree with bfp completely—and have said as much in the past—that an appeal to the state to dispense justice carries with it terrible consequences. Ultimately, whatever power we invest in the state is power that will, as bfp said, be used against us.

But that doesn’t imply that consequences shouldn’t be discussed at all, because consequences can be part of prevention. What I think it does imply is that we should work to redefine those consequences as something to be enforced by the community, rather than by the state.

And that means talking about rape culture.

Rape culture attempts to protect rapists from social consequences, e.g. shame and isolation, by normalizing, minimizing or flat-out denying instances of rape. This is made easier or more difficult by the rapist’s power relative to the victim’s, because power bestows an assumption of credibility and credibility determines who will be believed and supported. So to some extent rape apologists work to widen that power/credibility gap, and anti-rape activists work to narrow it. One way this often plays out is that victims are slandered and made unrapeable. This is why rape prevention so often focuses on deconstructing narratives about victims, e.g. what they look like and how they act, because those narratives exist to narrow the definition of “rape victim” until it excludes almost all women and precludes the possibility that they will be taken seriously if they step forward.

But there’s another way to widen that gap, and it can be even harder to confront because it relies not on defaming victims (something which runs the risk of being perceived as unjust) but on delineating the boundary of “those who commit rape” in such a way that all assumedly-decent people will fall outside of that boundary. This implicitly strengthens the credibility of many men who are accused of rape by stipulating that rape is not something they could possible have committed. Put another way: if rapists are terrible people, it simply follows that people who are not terrible cannot be rapists. And thus men who are viewed positively by their communities as a result of their social privilege— “good” men; “family” men; “pillars of the community”— cannot, by definition, commit rape. Which not only robs their victims of the chance to be heard and believed, but also ensures that rape accusations will only ever be taken seriously when leveled at men with very little social privilege to begin with. And this simply reaffirms our belief that those men, themselves, are hardly human.

We’ve essentially defined rape out of existence except to the degree that acknowledging it suits our purposes, and allegations against men like Julian Assange and Roman Polanski provide an opportunity to confront that dynamic in a way that can receive wide exposure. So I do think that this is an important discussion to have. Undermining rape culture is a necessary part of, as bfp says, “ending rape to begin with, rather than punishing after the fact.”

But. While this discussion is important, I also think it’s a bit of a red herring.

Because Julian Assange is not WikiLeaks.

The former is being held without bail in Sweden; the latter is the focus of a far more ominous and dangerous campaign being conducted in the form of denial-of-service attacks, the freezing of accounts, and government disruption of the public’s attempts to support the organization financially (whether online or via snail mail). The fact that Assange has been subjected to politically-motivated persecution (and he clearly has; to believe otherwise would require some fairly naïve assumptions about the importance typically given to the prosecution of rape as a crime) is in large part a result of his success at making himself the face of WikiLeaks. This was arguably a bad decision on his part, and it’s not one that we, the public, are required to affirm by continuing to conflate the individual and the organization.

WikiLeaks would be stronger, and Assange himself would likely be safer (though I suppose the damage is done on that count), if the two were thoroughly decoupled. If we’re invested in the fate of WikiLeaks as an organization, we need to be aware of the threats being posed to it directly. Concern for Assange is understandable given the possibility that he may be extradited to the U.S. and forced to stand trial for espionage, so I’m not advocating that we all maintain a position of cold indifference to the risks he faces.

But we can’t preserve transparency by defending Julian Assange any more than we can end rape by punishing him.

Images from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/r_sh/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/nigsby

Look carefully at the title of this article.

Then read the article itself.

Am I missing something here, or is this headline in no way supported by the actual content? The headline claims that Zoe Williams hacked Facebook and is now in jail after falsely accusing her ex of rape. But the story itself only states that she falsified a Facebook message from her ex to herself which “threaten[ed] her if she did not drop the rape charges.”

And this therefore proves that the rape accusation is false? This proves that he didn’t rape her? What?

Williams admitted to fabricating the Facebook message, but I see no evidence (either in the Huffington Post article, or the Telegraph piece it links to) that she confessed to also having fabricated the allegations themselves. Her attorney made the following statement: “She felt the police were not taking seriously the complaints of rape she made to them, so she decided to invent this message and sent it to herself in the hope that it would strengthen her complaint.” Knowing what I do about the criminal justice system and rape cases, I misdoubt that she and her charges probably were, in fact, treated dismissively by the police (as most rape charges are, regardless of their merit or lack thereof). Which means her fabrication of the Facebook message is entirely in keeping with a narrative in which the rapes actually occurred.

That said, it’s also in keeping with a narrative in which she accused him falsely. I’m not claiming that the rapes did occur, either. I’m mostly interested in the open-and-shut tone of the media coverage and how little there is to support it; without a very careful reading of what Williams actually said versus what’s implied, anyone reading these pieces would come to the conclusion that she admitted to making the whole damn thing up. Rape coverage in mainstream media is uniformly terrible, of course, but I find this example particularly illustrative of our society’s willingness to believe that women who make rape accusations are all lying sluts who want to ruin a man’s life out of petty female vindictiveness.

You see a similar dynamic at the intersection of rape and mental illness. Victims with mental health issues may make claims of rape or sexual assault which sound bizarre or are clearly impossible (e.g. claims of being raped “psychically”, or by aliens, or by government agents who can walk through walls), and rape crisis advocates may simply shrug and funnel them to mental health service providers. But that the claimed assault is impossible does not necessarily preclude that a real sexual assault may have occurred in some other form. This may be the victim’s way of processing the trauma from the event, or it may be the only way she’s capable of expressing what was done to her. And yes, it’s possible that she wasn’t actually assaulted. But we can’t write off certain victims simply because they don’t act the way we think victims should.

Aside from the complicating factor of mental illness, rape victims may also be, quite simply, assholes. They may be dishonest, or manipulative, or cruel, or bigoted. They may be verbally abusive to health professionals or advocates. They may be volatile and angry and rude. In other words, they may be flawed human beings. Because, as it turns out, flawed human beings can be raped too.

I know next to nothing about Zoe Williams. And I don’t really need to know anything about Zoe Williams other than those things which are demonstrably true: she made an accusation of rape against her ex. She hacked his Facebook account to send a message to support her claim of rape. She admitted to having done this and is now serving four months in jail for, presumably, defamation. In a society where women who reported rape to the police could expect to have their charges taken seriously, yes, her actions would be quite damning, but we don’t live in that society. And while the falsified message should of course be thrown out of court (and no doubt would have been, had the case been pursued), its existence really doesn’t prove a damn thing one way or the other.

I do understand the argument that her actions call her credibility and integrity into question. But immoral liars can still be raped; shouldn’t the facts of the case, rather than the plaintiff’s character, be the determinant of guilt or innocence? I reject the idea that unblemished virtue should be sine qua non of one’s designation as a believable victim, that any woman who has ever told a lie (or who is not a white middle-class modestly-dressed virgin who’s disinclined to drink heavily) can therefore be safely presumed to be lying about having been raped.

Because if I were a rapist, that would make it very easy for me to select my victims, wouldn’t it?

Brownfemipower has a great guest post up on Feministe about citizenship and sexual assault. I can’t possibly do it justice with a summary, so I recommend clicking through and reading the whole thing.

I found this bit particularly poignant: “[Ending sexual violence] will require taking a good long look at what many feminists are deeply invested in: a nation/state response to sexual violence.” This is painfully apt in that quite a lot of anti-rape activism assumes that there is, and should be, a place for the criminal justice system at the table of proposed solutions. We struggle over how to make the police and the courts more responsive to sexual assault, how to support victims through the process of reporting and trial, how to draw media attention to abysmally low conviction rates. But these methods offer no recourse to the women most susceptible to sexual violence: those designated as illegal—whether in the technical or figurative sense—by the state. And as BFP points out, that designation, in addition to excluding them from traditional (read: white, middle-class) avenues of obtaining justice, also renders them vulnerable to state violence (including re-victimization should they report their assaults).

Of further concern is that when the system is responsive, it’s often in the service of destroying communities of color. Turns out that relying on a white-supremacist and patriarchal system to administer justice to victims of white supremacy and patriarchy is darkly ironic at best.

I think there’s some recognition of this in mainstream feminist activism. I know my advocacy training touched on the additional barriers faced by immigrants and women of color in seeking services. It was framed as a bit of consciousness-raising to get us to think about why, for example, not every victim of violence would jump at the chance to get the police involved. And most activists have a vague understanding of the limitations of the justice system, if only because we see how it fails even the “good” victims.

But these issues were presented as largely tangential; there was no real in-depth criticism of our approach as a whole. There was no discussion of whether our investment in making the criminal justice system more responsive to sexual violence might actually serve to reify said system’s power and, by doing so, increase the vulnerability of the populations both excluded and targeted by it. A courtroom victory is seen as a triumph by activists, but doesn’t that just legitimize the role of the state in meting out justice?

There have always been people excluded from that system, and they’ve had no choice but to develop their own methods of recourse and survival, e.g. models of community/restorative justice, or the testimonios BFP mentions in her post. But these forms of activism receive little recognition by mainstream organizations working to end sexual violence. I’m a certified sexual assault advocate, and I’d never heard of them until I started reading bloggers like BFP. In this as in so many things, we white feminists tailor our approach to the women who look like us, at the expense of the women who don’t.

And thus we become complicit in the same system we claim to want to destroy.

For my very first (real) post, I would like to talk about something awesome: rape apologism!

The inspiration to discuss this comes from this post by Amanda Hess, which is pretty great. I really have no complaints about the post itself insofar as it does exactly what it sets out to do: counter victim-blaming by carefully deconstructing the ways in which the “flash your cash around in a bad neighborhood, get robbed” analogy is terrible. I am all in favor of this approach, generally. It’s an important part of anti-rape activism.

But, you will notice that this post contains many words, far more than it would take me to simply say, “Amanda Hess wrote this post and it’s pretty great.” I kind of do have some criticism, is what I’m saying. Not with the actual content of the post, but with what these types of posts tend not to contain: an attempt to challenge the very problematic concept of “responsibility” which underlies all of these victim-blaming analogies. If only I had my own blog in which to discuss the things that I feel other bloggers are not addressing to my satisfaction!

…right.

So here’s an example of the sort of statement I routinely see go unchallenged:

You’re not to blame for being raped simply because you did X, but you need to accept responsibility for engaging in such high-risk behavior. [Insert COMPLETELY SUCKY analogy here.]

More often than not, we actually let this stand. We start arguing about why a woman’s body is not actually like a stack of twenty-dollar bills you carelessly left hanging out of your pocket (and, I mean, why does this require explanation, why), when what we should be doing is pointing out the ways in which this is a completely nonsensical thing to say.

In all fairness, this argument is a slippery little fucker. Annoyingly, it exploits our cultural fetish for the concept of personal responsibility, but more importantly, it hinges on an obfuscation of the meaning of the word “responsibility” and is difficult to respond to without engaging in a logical fallacy. After all, blame always implies responsibility, but responsibility does not always imply blame.

Success, in this case, lies in arguing that it is not functionally possible to separate the concepts of blame and responsibility when discussing a negative outcome. In that context, they’re synonymous; it’s just that responsibility does not imply blame when the outcome is positive. To say, “You’re responsible for the company reporting record profits, but you’re not to blame” sounds odd, but is not logically inconsistent. Compare that with the following: “You’re not to blame for the fact that you smoked four packs a day and now have cancer. But you are responsible for it.” We recognize that this sounds suspiciously like hair-splitting because we’re not twisting ourselves into semantic pretzels to deny that we believe, as a society, that smokers who get cancer are in fact to blame for their condition.

This all probably seems quite obvious. But I see people tripped up by it all the time.

I’d also argue that the wording of the statement itself is a tacit acknowledgment of the fact that it serves as cover for rape apologism, because it’s intentionally imprecise. It’s quite rare to hear: “You need to accept responsibility for the consequences that resulted from your high-risk behavior.” That’s a bit too bald and difficult to deny the implications of. (First rule of victim blaming: make sure no one realizes you’re actually blaming the victim!) The preferred way to phrase it is: “You need to accept responsibility for your high-risk behavior.”

Which, okay, sure. I accept responsibility for wearing a short skirt. I made that decision entirely of my own free will, of sound mind and body, etc. We’ve now concluded that I am responsible for my clothing choices: well done! In the interest of full disclosure, I’m also responsible for those horrid acid-washed jeans that I thought were the shit in 8th grade, and for wearing navy blue with black on occasion. I am all for personal responsibility!

oh I see now. What rape apologists actually want is to make me responsible for the assumed consequences of my clothing choices. I almost didn’t realize that, because of the way the sentence was constructed! This is all very clever!

Posts like Amanda’s tend to focus on how the concept of rape as a consequence for certain actions—all actions which fall neatly under the umbrella of “being around men while female”—is flawed, and that is important, so I don’t at all intend to seem dismissive of that sort of analysis. But I think it’s important not to cede rape apologists even the tiniest bit of ground. Back them into a corner. Force them to admit that they are, in fact, blaming victims for their own rapes. The more intellectually honest among them might even admit that they’re doing exactly that, because, see, twenty-dollar bills and bad neighborhoods and blah blah burble blah, at which point it’s time to deconstruct analogies. But first things first. Imprecise language is a cover; don’t let it stand.

Force it to sit in the naughty chair.

Forever.