Rape, legitimate and illegitimate

Round 873 of “there’s rape and then there’s just getting a little frisky.”

Naomi McAuliffe lays it out.

Yesterday, US Representative Todd Akin reinvented female biology by telling us that we can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape”. But there is a rich history of rape being redefined to suit the occasion; whether it is former Presidential candidate Ron Paul’s concession that victims of “honest rape” can get an abortion or the Roman Polanski rape of a 13 year-old which wasn’t “rape-rape”.

All of these manoeuvres have an ulterior motive – either to outlaw abortion in all circumstances or to exonerate an accused celebrity. What they can all draw on and feed is the belief that there is “bad rape” and “excusable-under-the-circumstances-well-not-really-very-rapey rape”. While we roll our collective eyes on the issue of abortion and say “Well that’s the Christian Right in America for you”, the defence of some Grand Men uses the same intellectual dishonesty.

It is dishonest because it is 50 years since the sexual revolution and yet some still relegate women’s rights at the first sign of trouble.

Don’t they though. That’s where we came in. “Uh oh – you’re saying I can’t ask a woman to hook up whenever I get the opportunity?” Women’s rights relegated! “Uh oh – Richard Dawkins thinks this is a fuss about nothing?” Women’s rights relegated! “Uh oh –  women are saying skeptic gatherings can be shitty for women?” Women’s rights relegated! “Uh oh – women are criticizing things DJ Grothe said?” Women’s rights relegated!

We know that myths propagated globally about condoms which in turn contribute to high HIV/AIDs rates. We know that women not being able to insist on condom use leads to higher STI infections and unwanted pregnancies. We know that women and men should be able to insist on when and how they have sex without coercion. And yet when a woman alleges that a request to use a condom was refused in Sweden then, well, it’s not treated as a credible rape allegation.

Assange supporters need to deploy mind-bending feats to dismiss these allegations. They need to forget everything they know about sexual rights, about sexual equality, about due process, about the rule of law and about justice.

And they have to name one of Assange’s accusers on Newsnight, as Craig Murray just did, even though that’s…against the law.





  1. Fin says

    I don’t think you need to do particular contortions in the case of Assange. He has not been charged with anything, he has not been found guilty of anything – if it was the case that he had been found guilty, then the contortions would become necessary.

    If that was the case, I don’t think there’s any excuse for it, although I understand that many people feel – instinctively – that if someone is a good person they can’t do a bad thing, so it follows that if someone does a bad thing, they can’t be a good person (which subsequently makes all of their other actions bad, including, for example, releasing diplomatic cables of super-powers).

    However, the way the Swedish authorities have been pursuing this is very suspect – not wrong, or persecutory, exactly, but it definitely has the feel of something odd.

    Of particular note is the fact that the extradition procedure was for the purposes of the Swedish prosecutors interviewing Assange, something which Assange has agreed to, and the Swedish prosecutors have refused with no explanation.

    I know the subject of rape is emotionally charged, and that it is often difficult to prosecute, but we should not let our emotions (particularly our frustration) get ahead of us. The presumption of innocence should still hold, especially, when the accused has not even been charged.

  2. Josh Slocum says

    And that has what, at all, exactly, to do with naming the alleged victims on a national news show Fin?

  3. Fin says

    Absolutely nothing, because I was not talking about that particular point. I was talking about the prejudicial attitude people seem to be taking (on both sides of this), and how that is damaging and bad in both this particular case and in a general sense as well.

    It is prejudicial to assume either one or the other or both of the women are lying about their encounter.
    It is also prejudicial to assume that they are telling the absolute truth.

    I’m sorry, I don’t hold with the tabloid idea of trial by media. I can’t judge whether he did it or not because I don’t have access to all the facts of the case, and neither do you, and neither do Swedish prosecutors at this point (which is why he has not yet been charged). Further and better particulars are required.

    If he is guilty then he should face the punishment. If he is not, then he’s not.

  4. Josh Slocum says

    Who here do you believe is indulging in trial by tabloid? I see nothing in this post that indicates that. Remember-we, those of us here, are not the Daily Mail. If you’re frustrated with tabloids, please aim at them.

  5. Fin says

    “Assange supporters need to deploy mind-bending feats to dismiss these allegations. They need to forget everything they know about sexual rights, about sexual equality, about due process, about the rule of law and about justice.”

    It’s funny, the accusation that Assange supporters (of which I am not) are accused of forgetting about “due process, about the rule of law, and about justice”, which is exactly what is dropped in the New Statesman article: It is assumed that Assange is guilty of these acts, implicitly. There is no presumption of innocence – there is only one use of the word “alleges” or its variations, and that is in the sentence:

    “And yet when a woman alleges that a request to use a condom was refused in Sweden then, well, it’s not treated as a credible rape allegation.”

    Which has the same problem as almost all writing on this subject. It takes a particular stance on the issue which should be abandoned (by both the pro- and anti-Assange camps): That there is one particular version of events that is well known, understood and been tested by adversarial argumentation. Which is not the case.

    This is what I mean by “trial by media” – there is a particular account being given here, which is not necessarily the case, and can’t, as yet, even reasonably considered to be the case. It is entirely possible that it is the case, but that has not yet been proven, one way or the other.

    So it is prejudicial to talk about it as though it has been.

  6. Josh Slocum says

    You don’t seem to understand that no one in this post, or in the post quoted, is arguing that Assange is guilty. They’re pointing out that we can’t even get to the place where an allegation is considered credible enough to be tried because of pervasive rape culture.

  7. A. Noyd says

    Fin (#3)

    I was talking about the prejudicial attitude people seem to be taking (on both sides of this), and how that is damaging and bad in both this particular case and in a general sense as well.

    Damaging to who? Damaging to what? Be specific.

  8. says

    It seems to me that what Akin was trying to do is define away pregnancy-related rape.

    Only the most rabid, right-wing fundamentalists agree with the position that women shouldn’t be able to get an abortion after they’ve been raped. Unlike the fundamentalists (and Akin), most Americans aren’t monsters.

    But to Akin, if you get pregnant, then it wasn’t rape. Therefore, you don’t get an abortion.

    Voila, with the stroke of a definition, rape-related abortions are no longer a problem. Cuz it wasn’t rape if you got pregnant. You must have secretly “wanted it”.

    Blame the victim.

  9. says

    Actually, I get what Fin is saying. And what’s more, I can kind of understand why Fin might think she’s already decided that Assange is guilty.

    However, I disagree with that interpretation of what Naomi is saying.

    The problem, Fin, is not that any of us have already decided that Assange is absolutely guilty. The problem is that the world culture is such that people can actually insist that what happened isn’t rape.

    Yeah… sure… the women could have been paid by government agents in order to nab Assange on something illegal so they can imprison him and take down Wikileaks.

    However, the women could also be telling the truth and Assange raped them. Their accusations could very well be utterly coincidental to Wikileaks and have nothing to do with it. They may not even care about Wikileaks.

    But we can’t ever know unless these are treated as legitimate rape accusations and are taken to court.

    It’s that simple.

  10. Atticus_of_Amber says

    Re post from the previous thread:

    The Assange issue is, unfortunately, even more complicated.

    Assange stayed in Sweden for about a month after the women went to teh police and the police starged investigating (thw women originally wnet to the police to see if they could force Assange to have an STD test, it was the police who brought up the idea that he might be charged with offences). He submitted himself for several interviews. Despite the fact that every time he was interviewed, the transcript mysteriously appeared in the next day’s local newspaper, he co-operated with the police on several occassions.

    The police did not charge him but said the investigation was ongoing. He has still, to this day, NOT BEEN CHARGED WITH ANY OFFENCE.

    He asked if he could leave Sweden. The prosecutors said yes he could. So he left.

    The Swedish prosecutor changed her mind and asked him to come back for questioning. He said he would answer questions by phone, videolink or in person in England but he would not return unless he was charged.

    The Swedish government then issued a RED NOTICE. A red notice is a pre-emptory European arrest warrant for exceptional circumstances. It overrrides many of the usual procedural safeguards. It is usually reserved for dangerous criminals – terrorists, mafia members, war criminals. It is worth noting that duirng the Libyan uprising Gadaffi was the subject of only a YELLOW NOTICE.

    Note, despite the RED NOTICE the Swedes haven’t yet charged him with anything, the notice is just to force him to come to Sweden to answer questions.

    Assange says he will answer any questions by phone, videolink or in person at the Swedish embassy in London. He won’t go to Sweden voluntarily unless charged. If he were charged, he could be the subject of ordinary extradition proceedings – but safeguards apply there that do not in the case of a red notice.

    In Virginia, a grand jury is sitting in a matter related to the prosecution of Bradley Manning. Subpoenas have been issued by teh grand jury to several people seeking evidence regarding Assange.

    Sweden has a rather disturbing recent history of extrajudicially rendering people (even its own citizens) to the USA in terrorist matters.

    Something smells *very* fishy here.

    I should also say that what Assange is accused of *is* rape in most jurisdictions and, even where it isn’t, it tends to fall within a lesser offence like “sexual molestation”. And in any jurisdiction its sleazy, unacceptably immoral conduct.

    But Assange *has* denied the claims – and he has not even been charged with anything yet.

    Also, there is evidence to suggest that at least one of the women (Ms B the younger one) hasn’t actually made a complaint against him and was quite upset when the police started treating the matter as a criminal offence – she had just gone to the police to see if she could force him to get an STD test. On the other hand, the other woman (Ms A, the one he was staying with) apparently *is* claiming rape. But there are some real problems with her story – such as a series of tweets and text to friends after the alleged rapes was supposed to have occurred in which Ms A writes of how much she is enjoying having Assange stay with her, organises a party for him, gossips about his sexual appetite (and complains about his lack of personal hygiene), etc. It *seems* that it was not until Ms A found out about Ms B that she made a complaint. Now, while that is far from determinative (especially given the nature of the allegations here), it sure makes the prosecution case weaker than it would be otherwise. In fact, that weakness may well be why he still hasn’t been charged with anything – it could be that they want to question him because the only way they can put together a reasonable case is if he admits to certain things (like penetration while the woman was asleep, or taking off the condom without telling her – both of which would be bad behaviour and probably criminal, I hasten to add).

    But that is all really beside the real point, which is that Assange is yet to be charged with anything, Sweden has used an extraordinary anti-terrorist measure to get him back to Sweden, the US is currently conducting a grand jury against Assange on charges of espionage and Sweden has a rather sleazy history of rendering people to the USA.

  11. says

    Wow, Assange apologist ahoy. Um, do you have cites for any of these allegations?

    The one victim was attacked while she slept and held down.

    The other victim consented to sex with a condom, but later on he either took it off or penetrated her without a condom, at which point she realized what was going on and objected. Gee, agreeing to sex under certain conditions but not others—-and having one’s consent bulldozed over—sounds an awful lot like rape to me.

    It’s funny how people elide the bit about the consent only to sex with a condom, and how the second act completely changes conditions.

  12. Atticus_of_Amber says

    Yes, and if those allegations are true, they clearly amount to rape. I’ve said that.

    But Assange has denied the allegations. And the Swedish authorities have not even charged him yet. And he co-operated for weeks while he was in Sweden. And then he asked, and was given permission, to leave Sweden. And he’s offered to co-operate in every way short of returning to Sweden. And he’s offered to actually return to Sweden IFF he’s given assurances that he won’t be sent on the US.

    Moreover, there are some serious inconsistencies in the evidence as it stands. In a common law country, it would not be surprising that he hadn’t been charged because the case against him would have very iffy prospects of meeting the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard. That’s probably why teh police want to speak with him *again* – I suspect they want to try and get admissions from him to shore up a weak case.

    As I keep saying, this case is not nearly as simple as people seem to want to believe.

  13. says

    Most of the recent debate is about whether there are “lesser” category of rape than the standard rape prosecuted in normal criminal courts. I have nothing to add to the discussions here.

    But I believe there is still a case for a “greater” category of rape: “rape as an act of war”.

    The point isn’t to identify nuances in the experiences of the victims. It is to identify differences in the perpetration, which can then be prosecuted in different ways.

    I understand that such rape can be considered a “crime against humanity” which can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. (Although I am not aware that this has been done yet). This shifts the level of responsibility. Prosecuting the individual rapists during war is likely to be hard. The aim should be (as well) to prosecute those who instigated the actions. (A crude analogy is “murder” versus “genocide”, where in the latter case people who didn’t pull the trigger can be prosecuted).

    (I’m in the UK, which has ratified the ICC. The USA hasn’t).

  14. dirigible says


    “But that is all really beside the real point, which is that Assange is yet to be charged with anything,”



    “Assange is not wanted merely for questioning.

    He is wanted for arrest.

    This arrest is for an alleged crime in Sweden as the procedural stage before charging (or “indictment”). Indeed, to those who complain that Assange has not yet been charged, the answer is simple: he cannot actually be charged until he is arrested.

    It is not for any person accused of rape and sexual assault to dictate the terms on which he is investigated, whether it be Assange or otherwise. The question is whether the Swedish investigators can now, at this stage of the process, arrest Assange.”

  15. daveau says

    I can’t remember quite where I picked this up last night, but it was certainly MSNBC. The unspoken point is that if you get pregnant, it wasn’t really rape. As every (fake) scientifically literate person knows, if one is really raped, the hysteria will throw off your hormonal balance, and you can’t conceive. Therefore, if you conceive, it was because you subconsciously really wanted to be raped. Therefore, not rape.

    The figure of 32,000 rape pregnancies each year in the US is sickening. The unspoken number of STD transmissions must be worse. Not to mention the actual number of rapes, which is over 640,000, as the pregnancy figure is around 5% of cases.

    It’s a good thing that women can’t vote…

  16. No One says

    from a Global Post article:

    This is not Akin’s first wander into controversial territory about rape. Talking Points Memo reports that Akin once voted for a voted for an anti-marital-rape law, but only after questioning whether it would allow women to use accusations of rape as a “tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband.”

    Try pulling apart this piece of mental taffy.

  17. says

    Mitt forced a women to give away child after Mormon soft rape !
    Mitt is a lifetime Mormon cult servant, Sunday teacher , priest.
    This RAPE language also contained in a abortion bill Ryan co-sponsored last year.

    Mitt can never separate religion form politics. religions was business life for Mitt. President Mitt the priest is middle east age like…just many more crusades…

  18. eric says


    It’s funny, the accusation that Assange supporters (of which I am not) are accused of forgetting about “due process, about the rule of law, and about justice”, which is exactly what is dropped in the New Statesman article

    The supporters who published his accusers name DID forget (or intentionally subverted) due process and the rule of law.

    I think that’s a fairly uncontroversial statement, given that the information release was illegal and against due process.

  19. says

    This one really makes my head hoit! I guess I’d want to know is: how often and with what rigor does Sweden seek extrddition of alleged rape cases. Regardless of the wrongness rape, the ‘enthusiasm’ the Swedes are showing in perserveing in this cas IS highly suspect. Assange has only to look at the record of the horrendous treatment of Bradley Manning and the U.K’s recent threat to storm the embasy of an autonomous nation to be afraid. Even if he IS guilty, would the punishment that will be meted out by the US government (ultimately) be justified?

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