Assange and the Fallacy Fanboys


The Julian Assange rape case, as I’ve asserted elsewhere, is separate and distinct from the ongoing Wikileaks fallout. However, as with most such celebrities in a sudden and potentially career-ending scandal, the advent of the rape allegations against him have caused any number of conspiracy theorists to emerge from the woodworks — not only to defend Assange as the victim of an international conspiracy perpetrated by the Evil American Empire, but to simultaneously smear the two women who allege he took advantage of them, using any number of rape myths to do so. Among the more galling of these fallacies is the repeated assertion that the allegations against him are “sex by surprise”, which is in actuality a “polite company” euphemism for rape in Sweden.

In taking to the field on various forums discussing the rape allegations, Stephanie Zvan has evidently noted some disturbing trends amongst those conspiracy theorists and other fanboys. She’s begun cataloguing them in the following posts:

How Must She Behave To Have Been Raped?:

There is one more thing I do know, though. This guy shouldn’t be allowed near a single traumatized rape victim, much less in a professional capacity, if he believes that the alleged victim’s behavior tells us she wasn’t raped. Here’s his evidence:

I’ve spent much of my professional life as a psychiatrist helping women (and men) who are survivors of sexual violence. Rape is a hideous crime. Yet in Assange’s case his alleged victim – the gender equity officer at Uppsula University – chose to throw a party for her alleged assailant – after they’d had the sex that even Swedish prosecutors concede was consensual.

Even ignoring the fact that the way to characterize the sex as consensual is to claim that consent, once given, cannot be revoked for any reason (which I think we’ve dealt with above; let me know if I need to repeat myself again), this is bullshit and he should know it’s bullshit. There isn’t one damned thing that all rape victims do or don’t do in common. They don’t all get scared. They don’t all get angry. They don’t even all show that they’re upset.

Assange and the Presumption of Innocence:

However, the presumption of innocence has also been adopted, to varying degrees, as a social standard for protecting the reputation of those accused of a crime. It’s in the conflation of the legal and social standards that the problem arises here. Fanbois want this standard to be applied to Assange in the court of public opinion the same way it is in the legal system. However, at the same time, they are willing to convict Assange’s accusers of lies, hysteria, and complicity with a global governmental conspiracy.

I’ve seen two defenses of this practice. The first is to note that the accusers are not charged with anything in Sweden. In addition to this argument coming from the same group who insist it’s meaningful that Assange has not had charges formally filed, making all parties equal in this respect, this is part of that conflation of legal and social systems. A social double-standard is still a social double-standard (rising to the level of hypocrisy in this case) even if the legal status of the two parties were different, which they aren’t.

The second defense of this practice isn’t something I’ve seen baldly stated, but it’s implicit in the idea that anyone not raining down on the heads of the alleged victims is saying Assange is guilty. That’s the assertion that in order to maintain Assange’s innocence, the women must be considered to be lying.

This is the false dichotomy.

Assange and the Victim Conspiracy:

What is in dispute? Whether this information has any value in determining whether the women experienced what the charges say they experienced. A reminder:

She said the first complainant, Miss A, said she was victim of “unlawful
coercion” on the night of 14 August in Stockholm.

The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.

The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used.

The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on 18 August “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”.

The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on 17 August without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.

In order for the women’s behavior to tell us anything, it should be something that is common in women who are not rape victims but uncommon among women who have been raped.

Assange and Real Rape:

This version of the “real” rape argument requires two things. (1) There is no confusion about what rape is. (2) All rape is the one thing or it isn’t rape.

I’d like to think this whole discussion would be evidence for the widespread confusion over rape and leave it at that, but I believe it’s important to understand the ongoing change in legal and societal definitions of rape that has happened within the lifetime of many people discussing this situation.

Not so very long ago, rape was generally considered a property crime in the West, with a long, biblical history. The punishment recommended for rape in Deuteronomy (22:25–29) depends on whether an unmarried woman is betrothed or not; i.e., whether she is the property of her future husband or of her birth family. This translated into a legal landscape in which those deemed to have some claim on a woman were broadly exempt from rape charges. It codified stranger rape as the gold standard for rapes.

Please read them all, if you have any intention of arguing about whether Assange is innocent, guilty, should be tried, or should be acquitted, especially if you are not a member of any Swedish judiciary body. These posts could easily be considered a primer for those people jumping into the debate attempting to argue that Julian Assange is “obviously innocent” and/or a “victim of conspiracy”, since the most intellectually defensible position — yes, exactly as with the question of God — is to assume that in absence of any evidence, you do not have sufficient information to believe one way or another, but to default to the null hypothesis, which is to believe that nothing happened unless the evidence is forthcoming. One cannot simply dismiss the women’s claims on the basis of the lack of evidence, insofar as it has not been gathered and presented yet. The rape trial has not happened, and while you can presume he’s innocent, you must also presume that the women are innocent and are making their allegations in earnest. Stop trying to build a case based on circumstantial evidence about the women, and rather allow due process to run its course. This is one of the few such rape trials that might actually be treated seriously, if only due to his celebrity, but it should be held up as a model for how rape trials should take place.

You know, except for all the screaming fanboys that appear to want nothing other than poisoning the well for some reason or another. What are THEY guilty of, and what is THEIR motivation? Or, is that gauche of me, accusing the accusers of being guilty of something? Wouldn’t want to try to argue something indefensible, now.

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