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There’s no such thing as “Sex By Surprise”.

As I mentioned in the Wikonspiracy post a few days ago, I recently got into a knock-down drag-out fight on Facebook. I don’t want to expose you to blog drama, but it involved me falling prey to one of my weaknesses — assuming that people who act like they have an ulterior motive for repeatedly asking a question that gets repeatedly answered satisfactorily, actually DO have an ulterior motive. It also involved the repeated assertion that Julian Assange was accused of “sex by surprise”, rather than any actual rape charges, and despite several links stating otherwise, it took one specific link stating that the charges were read out in court to finally get my sparring partner to apparently realize (though not admit, mind you) that line of argumentation to be specious. It also ended with me being called a lying sack of dog shit. In front of a number of people I would like to count as my regular readers.

That notwithstanding, despite the conversation going that way (and not, certainly, in any direction wherein the participants were inclined to dialogue), I can’t help but continue to think that people who claim the charge against Julian Assange was “sex by surprise”, are just trying to pull something.

What that something is, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s an attempt to arraign the entire Swedish justice system as absurd. While the Swedes have a provision that allows for people to bring charges against partners who may have given them STDs knowingly, the so-called “sex without a condom” charge, their justice system isn’t particularly different from the States, except that the fines for the various levels of sexual assault are much less stringent. I suspect the proviso is also grossly mistranslated, as it appears to merely be a proviso of the rape law, meaning any such charge would fall under the header of rape in general. People referring to it as a “sex without a condom” charge are therefore also, by all appearances, trying to pull something.

In both cases, it could also just be that these poor translations lead to very meme-worthy ideas of difference, preying on people’s natural xenophobia — e.g., look at how different those dumb Swedish people are! Look at how dumb their charges are, compared to our great legal system!

Whether because of xenophobia, or because people have some sort of vested interest in defending Assange out of misplaced hero worship for his mostly-good act in creating Wikileaks, these memes play into the hands of those with no idea how serious rape is as a crime, or with some very twisted ideas of same.

From Stephanie Zvan’s Now We’re Just Haggling, an example, apparently ingrained into popular culture in the form of a joke.

I retell it here in its modern form.

Him: Would you please sleep with me? I’ll shower and treat you well. I’ll make sure you enjoy it too, and I’ll wear a condom to protect you. What do you say?

Her: Sure, why not.

Him: Let’s do it without the condom?

Her: What? No! What kind of idiot do you think I am?

Him: Well, we’ve already established that you’re a slut. Now we’re just haggling over how I get to use you.

I don’t think I’ve heard a bit of apologetics over the charges, including those indulged in by Assange’s Australian attorney, that didn’t amount to that in the end. Sums up the whole attitude toward women’s sexuality pretty well.

Every single apologetic about the rape charges that I’ve seen have a) insinuated that they were entirely trumped up so the US could get their hands on him; and b) suggested that the charges were not rape, or even charges, but that he was accused of “sex by surprise”. This includes apologetics from some people that I respected greatly, including my friend on Facebook. While his side of the story is that he was merely repeatedly asking for evidence, and that Stephanie unfriended him over his having asked for evidence, and that I have assumed from the outset that Assange is guilty and was merely dodging the question of evidence for there actually being any charges.

The problem here is that, I’m guessing, every single article that said friend had read, referenced the same single source for the “sex by surprise charge” meme — that being Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens. He certainly did an excellent job in picking a particular phrase to scarequote, because that lie got halfway around the world in no time flat!

Feministe explains the importance of countering this meme, regardless of Assange’s guilt or innocence.

Whether withdrawal of consent is what actually happened here is impossible to tell, so I’m not suggesting that Assange is a rapist or that these charges are 100% definitely on-point; I have no idea. But neither do the commentators who are saying that Assange did nothing more than have sex without a condom. And it’s important to counter the “haha sex by surprise those crazy Swedes” media narrative with the fact that actually, non-consensual sex is assault and should be recognized as such by law. Consenting to one kind of sexual act doesn’t mean that you consent to anything else your partner wants to do; if it’s agreed that the only kind of sex we’re having is with a condom, then it does remove an element of consent to have sex without a condom with only one partner’s knowledge. To use another example, if you and your partner agree that you can penetrate her, it doesn’t necessarily follow that she has the green light to penetrate you whenever and however.

These words are absolutely true. George W. said it even better, though:

Consent in a sexual setting is always conditional. If your partner is doing everything right you might be in bliss one second, but you still have the right to draw a line in the sand with your own body. You may love the blowjob you are getting but draw the line at the finger she’s slipping up your asshole. You may like being tied to the bed but have your ornithophobia kick in when she pulls out a feather. Hell, you may just love everything that’s happening until her dirty talk reminds you of your perverted Uncle Louie. Consent is conditional- end of story. As a man, I am in the enviable position of being in the ultimate position of power in most of my sexual encounters- so this conversation gets layered with even more complications when the consent is withdrawn by the non-dominant partner.

Every single person has the fundamental right to withdraw consent, to have ultimate control over their bodies. Every single person. Whether it is me, my wife, some girl in a tight dress and a chip on her shoulder I picked up at the bar, or a five hundred dollar prostitute; every human being has a right to conditional consent. Get that through your thick skull because it is important.

Unless you’ve internalized that message, I demand that you reread those last two blockquotes again. Keep rereading them until you’ve understood and fully synthesized their meaning. This is important. This is the crux of why I have probably lost a friend very recently, via my need to fight with SIWOTI in the last 48 hours.

Now, if you’ve fully comprehended the meaning of those blockquotes, you’re well prepared to recognize the importance of this one, from a Swedish national.

First of all, let me put this straight: there is no such crime as “sex by surprise” in Sweden. Assange is charged for rape, sexual harassment and duress, and this is, what is called in Swedish legal terms, on “sannolika skäl;” a classification that means that the prosecutor has enough evidence to make her believe it is likely the verdict will be in her favour. There is fairly strong evidence, then, it is not charge pulled out of thin air. “Sex by surprise” or överraskningssex as it would be translated in Swedish is slang for rape. It is a term that is used when speaking about rape, but jokingly, or keeping it light, a word that brings with it positive connotations, which makes the word inappropriate in itself, but it is nevertheless synonymous with rape.

That Assange’s lawyer managed to muddy the water as well as he has with this particular meme is deplorable, for any number of reasons. One that comes immediately to mind that I haven’t yet covered though — consider the flipside of it. What if you were sodomized against your will, charged the perpetrator with rape, and international media made a mockery of your case because of the existence of THIS meme? Wouldn’t you feel fucked just a little more, after-the-fact?

Comments

  1. says

    Remember over at Stephanie’s blog when a commenter said that he didn’t see anybody being an apologist for Assange? Go read my comment thread…..
    Do you ever get a comment that is ignorant on so many levels that you don’t know where to start? Oh well, hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go.

  2. says

    O.K. so I finished my reply….Do you think I was too polite? Should I have used stronger wording?
    Here is the meat of his comment…

    What I disagree with is when people fail to recognize that there are degrees of consent. There is a huge difference between a husband or boyfriend pressuring his wife/girlfriend into reluctant sex, and someone who abducts a woman he doesn’t know off the street and then beats and brutality sodomizes her for hours. People who ignore this difference and insist on treating all forms of sexual coercion as perfectly equivalent really piss me off.

    Seriously, he just said that.

  3. says

    If anything, you were not angry enough. What a prick. So it’s not rape unless it involves violence and abduction. I can’t help but wonder whether people saying that kind of bull are trying to make themselves feel better about some incident in their own pasts. *shudder*

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