Rant the I’ve-forgotten-how-many: Julian Assange and his apologists, again.

Posted on 30 August 2012 by


Trigger-warning: post deals with issues of rape apologism and paraphrases and links to examples.

Yes, Assange is back in the news, and once again the lefty twitfacesphere is earnestly asking itself whether you should fight to prevent a rapist[0] from being extradited to face questioning for rape, if he thinks he might end up extradited somewhere else that hasn’t made an extradition request to be charged with something that isn’t actually a crime[1], and answering itself with the eternal red-faced shrug of inadequate rape laws and how we don’t support the bourgeois justice system anyway. To this, I call dangerous, cowardly bullshit, and I suggest that as a movement we clarify our priorities when it comes to dealing with abusive activists.

Rape happens every day, we are told, without the international forces of law and order chasing the perpetrator across national borders, through extradition hearings and their multiple appeals and finally into the embassies of Latin American nations. By the same token, we could answer, many people are daily brought to trial for crimes they’ve as good as admitted to without hordes of adulatory supporters in comic-book masks trying to interfere with the process because they don’t like the justice system. As I said in a previous post on the topic, if one rape allegation is being pursued, albeit for the wrong reasons, while others are dismissed, that doesn’t mean that that one allegation shouldn’t be pursued, it means that all those others should.

Yes, an anarchist just said that rape allegations should be pursued, yes, even by state justice systems, if a survivor has reported them to one of said systems in the hope of them being pursued. No, I don’t believe that prisons, courts, police or state authorities are generally good things, and no, I don’t think they’re ideally suited to deal with rapists in ways that are likely to reduce repeat offending, and no, I certainly don’t think they generally do a lot for survivors of rape and sexual assault. You know what else doesn’t do much for survivors? Ignoring their testimonies, letting perpetrators go free to continue assaulting people, making honourable exceptions for rapists with a lefty fanbase, or sitting around wishing for armies of avenging feminists on motorbikes with interesting tattoos to provide a handy exit from a moral quandary that, as a movement, we’d rather not face up to. The justice system as it stands isn’t worthy of the name and it’s certainly not the best way to deal with rape, and of course a survivor-led restorative justice process would be a better option, and if that fails, then top up my Piaggio Zip 50 and book me in for a tastefully subtle winged lizard at Artistically Inklined. But these are not realistic options, because we don’t live in a society that makes those options feasible for most people under most circumstances. So we use what we have, just as we might use the police, despite our feelings about them, if our houses are burgled or if our means of transport are stolen or if we’ve been getting death-threats from fascists who know where we live. This is no more hypocritical or contradictory than holding a newspaper over your head to keep the rain off because you don’t have an umbrella. Refusing to use the newspaper because it’s not as good as an umbrella – that would be contradictory[2]. In a light drizzle, you could go without and see it as taking a principled stand against newspapers and working to bring about the long-awaited umbrella, but that doesn’t mean you get to deny even that small, woefully inadequate shelter to those who are using whatever’s to hand in a downpour.

Just because we use the law when we have to, doesn’t mean we think it’s fit for purpose; its inadequacy doesn’t mean we can let rapists run free until the revolution, even those rapists who think they’re revolutionaries. Having well-known, reputable activists bouncing around the movement on their inflated egos, coercing, manipulating, assaulting and raping other revolutionaries and crying Conspiracy when anybody tries to hold them to account, does more damage to revolutionary causes than standing by while they are subjected to unreliable, inadequate and potentially politically vindictive legal processes. It is more damaging, because it says that our movement is more concerned with the safety and personal reputation of figureheads than the safety and bodily integrity of ordinary activists, particularly of women activists. We should have better ethics than the governments who grant diplomatic immunity to the likes of Strauss-Khan, or the Hollywood sycophants who closed ranks around Polanski. We should not be prioritising people like Assange over those whose safety he has violated.

So it really isn’t very much of a moral quandary for me. It’s about putting the safety of our spaces and the integrity of our movement above the comfort and impunity of an abusive arse. Admittedly, the way things are going, with anarchists detained by anti-terror police on their way home from international gatherings and political T-shirts barred from the Olympics, it might begin to seem plausible that the International Forces of Freedom and DemocracyTM would plot to manipulate International law just to rid themselves of a meddling whistle-blower[3]. If America were to call for an extradition on trumped up charges of espionage when Assange reached Swedish soil[4], then we could reasonably oppose it. I would oppose it mostly on the grounds that he belongs in a Swedish court answering charges of rape and sexual molestation, but if others wanted to oppose it on the reasonable grounds that what he did wasn’t espionage, or that we need to prevent a precedent that would endanger journalistic freedom internationally, I wouldn’t contradict them. None of this is any reason to oppose his extradition to Sweden.

Yes, we should protect investigative journalists from trumped-up charges of spying, but not by using our distaste for the legal system to protect rapists from answering charges of rape. This self-aggrandising pond-scum in his bubble of smugness is hiding out in an embassy, causing international incidents, acting like he’s the James Bond of the libertarian Left, revelling in his infamy, and everyone who defends his need to skip bail and stay out of Sweden is just feeding his delusions and his ego. I don’t suggest ignoring him until he goes away – I suggest treating him like we should be treating anybody who uses activist movements for self-promotion, sexual opportunism and abusive behaviour. I suggest making it clear to him, and to the many others who behave as he does, that when you show flagrant disrespect for the personal autonomy and freedoms of others, activists the world over will hold you to account, and stop fighting for yours.

[0] And yes, I’m starting this blog from the premise that Assange is a rapist, because what he has admitted to is rape, and his lack of comprehension of the law, consent and bodily autonomy doesn’t change that. Non-consensual sex is rape, and I have no interest in arguing with anybody who wants to dispute that definition, or talk about “allegations” and “investigations” as if he hadn’t actually admitted to putting his dick in a sleeping woman, without a condom, who had expressly told him that she didn’t want to have sex with him without a condom: fuck you, George Galloway, fuck you, John Pilger, and yes, fuck even you, Noam Chomsky, with your “Yes, the allegations should be taken seriously” followed up with all the reasons why absolutely nothing whatsoever should be done about them and Assange should get a medal.

[1] Espionage has been thrown around, which would be difficult to stick on somebody who isn’t working for a government. He couldn’t be charged with aiding the enemy or subjected to any of the draconian punishments that Bradley Manning faces in a military jail, because he is not a member of the US military. He can’t be charged with treason, as he’s not a US citizen. There is, in fact, nothing they could really stick on him, which is probably why, despite some senators blowing a lot of hot air about what they’d like him to face, they haven’t actually requested any extradition.
And no, of course they’re not going to promise not to: the US aren’t in the habit of offering impunity to people who’ve pissed them off. Nor will Sweden start conducting police investigations on foreign soil, no matter how graciously Assange invites them to – this is not done for very good reason, and it’s why we have extradition treaties. The reluctance of Sweden and the US to do as Assange asks has less to do with international conspiracies than bureaucratic procedures, which are not going to make exceptions or set dangerous precedents for a pissy little sex pest who is not nearly as important as he likes to think.

[2] Though just to be clear, deciding not to use the newspaper because you’ve had bad experiences with newspapers and you’d risk ending up just as wet and with bits of papier-mâché in your hair to boot, is a perfectly valid decision.
To be a bit clearer, if a survivor decides not to report their rape or assault to the police because the police will treat them like shit and they’ll get no justice anyway, that’s a valid decision, and an indictment of the police and the justice system, not of those survivors who do choose to report

[3] Or, to be more accurate, the co-founder of a website that publishes information from whistle-blowers, and does so without adequate safeguards (according to one of Assange’s many ex-supporters) to protect those whistle-blowers from facing far worse consequences than the ones he’s so strenuously avoiding.

[4] Though if they were going to, I don’t see why they don’t just request it from the UK, who have the same extradition policy with them as Sweden.