Posted on Sat 18 Aug 2012 at 16:44 by Dan Higgins
This is about a man called Julian Assange. He's been wanted in Sweden for questioning over alleged crimes of sexual violence against two women almost exactly two years ago.
After fleeing Sweden, being remanded in custody in the UK under a European arrest warrant, losing appeals, skipping bail in the UK and then hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June this year, Julian Assange has been granted political asylum by the Ecuadorian government. Apparently this is to protect him from the violation of human rights he would suffer if he were sent to Sweden to answer some questions about events his defence lawyer has already admitted
were "disreputable, discourteous, disturbing, or even pushing towards the boundaries of what they were comfortable with", and where the prosectution alleged that Assange initiated sex with a woman while she was asleep.
Assange denies the allegations, saying that sex was consensual, and we should note that the Swedish offence of rape is drawn more broadly than that we understand in the UK.
Nevertheless, commentary on Assange's attempts to avoid being extradited to Sweden centres around whether or not Sweden would allow him to be shipped off to the US and possibly face the death penalty for espionage for his work in a rather famous organisation called Wikileaks. European Court of Human Rights and Swedish law on the extradition of people facing a death penalty or torture is explained here
by Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Joerle. The twittersphere, blogsphere and other platforms for 'liberal lefties' have also been abuzz with the assertion that the women accusing Assange of sexual assault are government plants and it's all a big ploy to get him on US soil, via Sweden.
The real news is that none of this should ever have been such big news. This is the horribly familiar theme and narrative of alleged rape cases that happen everywhere, all the time - this one just made it on to the international stage because of the legend status of the man accused, and his attempt to hide behind international conspiracy theories to avoid normal legal process.
Rapists can be rich, powerful, good looking, charity workers, family men with charming personalities, articulate men with good careers and a close relationship with their mother. And yes, a rapist could be the leader of a movement that redefines media freedom- although of course I accept that he has not been convicted. That's something that should probably be decided in a Swedish courtroom, not judged or dismissed on the basis of Assange's 'freedom warrior' status.
In a stunning bout of irony, the body of the Assange supporters' argument seems to be along the lines of 'it must all be a big plot to hand him over to the Americans because there is no way the UK or Sweden would take accusations of rape and sexual assault so seriously'. As statement after statement is released from Assange supporters calling everyone stupid and naïve for thinking a government would go to such trouble for such 'minor offenses', I've still yet to completely get my head round the 'doublethink' logic that people who instantly dismiss alleged rape cases as a conspiracy can tell the world with a straight face that 'the authorities' don't tend to take violence against women seriously.
The conspiracy merry-go-round has been eagerly jumped on by Wikileaks themselves, who have seized their popularity and vigilante hero status to perpetuate some breathtaking conspiracy theories about Women Who Lie. Their vehement solidarity for their founder peaked on the 15th July this year (unfortunately my birthday) when Wikileaks tweeted
: 'Despite not even being charged, Assange is the most rape-smeared man in modern history. 2x to 4x that of Dominique Strauss Kahn, depending on how you measure."
I'm not entirely sure how Wikileaks are scientifically measuring the numbers of evil conniving women pretending to be raped so they can bring down senior political Big Names, but it doesn't seem like the most accurate science.
In Sweden 10% of reported rapes result in a conviction, just a few percent higher than in the UK. We still live in a world where women who make rape claims are portrayed
as liars, or deserving of rape. If it's a global plot, it's a risky one.
This is about society's inability to understand and accept that men who attack women are not all hiding in alleyways wearing balaclavas and looking like sinister pantomime villains. This is about a worldwide misconception that men who are wealthy or powerful and could easily have consensual sex with any number of women couldn't possibly rape anybody because 'they wouldn't need to'. Or that once somebody has consented to sex once already, their continued consent is implicit til the end of time.
3 million women in the UK experience some form of violence against women every year. That's about equivalent to the population of Wales. Every day on your campus, you'll walk past a number of victims and a number of perpetrators. And if you're a signed up member of the Justice for Assange troupe
, I'm afraid you may only be protecting the latter.
Finally, if you're passionate about protecting citizens from unfair criminal arrests that contravene human rights, here is a better place to go http://freepussyriot.org/