Dec 162010

Never mind that for the most part I am a huge fan, at the moment I am just the teensiest bit annoyed with Michael Moore for having this to say about the Assange rape charges,

For those of you who think it’s wrong to support Julian Assange because of the sexual assault allegations he’s being held for, all I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey. Please — never, ever believe the “official story.” And regardless of Assange’s guilt or innocence (see the strange nature of the allegations here), this man has the right to have bail posted and to defend himself.

Yes, I agree, the charges do seem strange,  and I do support Assange’s work (we’ll get to that in a few paragraphs) and of course he should have the right to defend himself. But treating the charges dismissively because Assange’s work is for the greater good isn’t okay because men,  powerful dudes included, do have a wee bit of a history of using their penises in inappropriate ways while their accusers get trashed (1), even by so-called progressives who all too often are dismissive and trivializing of the charges (2).

As feminist author and attorney Jill Filipovic puts it,

just because the vigor with which Assange was pursued was clearly politically motivated doesn’t mean that the accusations against Assange are totally incredible, or that it’s unjust that he will have to face them.

And Feministing’s Jessica Valenti points to the absurdity of the way the case is being deliberately described,

The truth?  There’s nothing in Swedish law about “sex by surprise” or broken condoms.  (Here’s the penal code, see for yourself.)  And despite reports to the contrary, Assange’s accusers have always said that this was not consensual sex.

For more thoughts on this, see Footnote 2 below.

Troubling as the dismissiveness of rape charges for the greater good line of reasoning is, Grit TV’s Laura Flanders makes this additional and very salient point that regardless of the integrity of the rape charges, since when did rape charges become such an almighty Interpol priority, not that it wouldn’t be a good idea if they did, but the answer of course is when they are politically expedient, and certainly not out of sudden concern for the welfare of the alleged victims:

let’s be clear, he should face the charges. But since when is Interpol [the investigative arm of the International Criminal Court at The Hague] so vigilant about violence against women? If women’s security is suddenly Interpol’s priority — that’s big news!Tell it to hundreds of women in US jails and immigration detention centers — who charge that they can’t get justice against accused rapists — or women in the US military (two of out three of whom allege they’ve experienced assault.) In Haiti hundreds of unprosecuted cases of rape in refugee camps could use some of Interpol’s attention…

…It seems we only care about women’s bodies when there’s a political point to be proved.

And there we get to another point of great dis-ease; it serves a lot of powerful agendas to prosecute Assange for rape, but for the overwhelming majority of rapes, that is not the case. As Meredith Tax points out, never mind Interpol, even the International Criminal Court which is supposed to prosecute rape cases is doing a piss poor job of it.

At the crux of it, women’s human rights are routinely and systemically ignored unless it serves the political agenda of patriarchy to shine a light on the pandemic abuse of women. We only trot out women’s rights when they are convenient. The examples are endless.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently made a surprise appearance at the TED Women conference.  She told the audience that if you give women equal rights, the whole nation will be more stable and secure.  Indeed.  Maybe we could try that in the United States?  Passing an Equal Rights Amendment, ratifying CEDAW,  and insisting on equal pay would be a good place to start.  Imagine if we took that approach to security instead of waging endless wars against other countries.

And what about the rights of women in Afghanistan that we are allegedly defending? As MADRE’s Diana Duarte says so succinctly,

It is not only valid but also necessary to reject the conflation of support for Afghan women’s rights with support for the war.  This conflation has obstructed our view of what alternatives may exist.  It has blocked us from recognizing that perpetual war clamps down on the space that women have to build solutions for their future.

And then there is the U.S. military which is being sued for access to rape records in an effort to determine the extent to which the military has addressed the appalling rates of sexual assault and lack of prosecution thereof in the ranks,

“Much of the information about the extent and cost of the (military sexual trauma) problem, along with the government’s reluctance to prosecute offenders and treat victims, is not in the public sphere,” the lawsuit states. “The public has a compelling interest in knowing this information, given the potential enormity of the problem, the emotional and financial cost that it imposes on military service members and the increasing number of women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

It goes on and on–in New York, rape crimes have been deliberately covered up,

until exposed through a series of recordings as well as an FBI report, New York City police officers had been covering up sex crimes with the full knowledge and even the direction of their superiors. In fact, it seems likely it’s still happening.

So those rapes should be covered up, but the charges against Assange are the stuff of Interpol charges? Just a bit of a double standard.


I have been thinking a great deal about the juxtaposition of the issue of Assange’s exposure of government and corporate secrets while being accused of a crime that all too often is also shrouded in secrecy.  In the end, the common thread is power, which so often depends on secrecy at the expense of truth, be it in the personal or political realm.

Many intelligent and thoughtful people, while acknowledging that much of what has been exposed thus far is quite troubling, are concerned that Wikileaks endangers the secrecy necessary to function in the corporate and political world. (3) That however makes the assumption that keeping those systems functioning as they are is a good idea, and that is what we need to re-examine because for the most part, if there wasn’t something offensive if not illegal about what is being kept secret, those in power would not be so concerned about keeping those secrets.  And in the end, wouldn’t we be better served by those in power acting honorably in a way that would pass the test of transparency?

And so we  need to ask ourselves, just what is it that the powers that be are afraid will be exposed and subsequently lost by these revelations.  And the answer is one word, Patriarchy, and this is why:  In the process of leaking documents, Wikileaks and Assange have gifted the power and commodity of secrecy.

In an essay by Israeli writer Erella Shadmi, Trapped By Patriarchy in the anthology Women and the Gift Economy we get an understanding of why gifting secrets that are needed to maintain power is so terrifying to patriarchal structure in both the public and private realm.  While she refers to Muslim and Israeli societies, her analysis is universal to patriarchy.

Muslim tradition puts revenge and honour up on the private and public agenda of every believer. And Israeli modern culture is dominated by the Culture of the Freiher. Freiher is a vulgarism meaning “sucker.” The culture of freiher defies a person that is ready to give way, to be used, to forgive. Such a person is viewed as one that does not care for his honour or power. For example: you are a freiher if you yield to other drivers. And especially, you are a freiher if you talk with “terrorists,” if you let your wife dominate you. In a culture of the freiher you do not take responsibility for your mistakes, you do not share your ideas lest they be stolen, you are never weak lest you are exploited. So you learn to manipulate, to lie, to exploit people, to hide your feelings.

Wikileaks has dared to question the culture of freiher and the very structure of patriarchy in a way that we must defend and from which we cannot go back. Yet that very act also demands that we respect and fully address the personal charges against Assange, no matter how badly brought they have been, while at the same time not allowing them to be used as an excuse to undermine the defense and imperative of freeing ill-conceived secrets.


In an effort to keep the body of this essay at a manageable size, I have pulled a lot of important material into the footnotes because it is crucial to the full understanding of the issues addressed above.

(1) In this case, this has been done in particularly frightening ways. The Washington Examiner reports,

Posting their addresses and phone numbers isn’t intended to encourage vigilantism, but to send a bigger message to women like Ardin and Wilen – if you lie about being raped, this is what will happen to you. Your anonymity will be compromised, your life will be laid bare for all to see, and your name will be destroyed. No rape shield law or journalistic ethic can protect you. You will suffer as the man whose name you vindictively dragged through the mud has suffered.

I want women to see that their choices have consequences. If enough false rape accusers have their identities and personal data exposed to the jeering Internet hordes, others will think twice before they accuse men of heinous crimes for petty and selfish reasons.

(2) A few non-negotiable facts that we should get straight from the get-go in this conversation:  Rape and sexual assault are the most under-reported and prosecuted crimes in the world. Yes, a few rape charges are false, most aren’t. And yes some rapes are committed by women and some of the victims are men, but mostly it is men that commit these crimes and women who are the victims.  And to be clear–the basis of these claims comes from the U.S. Department of Justice, the World Health Organization, etc.

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action & the Media and  editor of  Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, suggests that statements like Moore’s and other progressives amount to just one  more incident of what she aptly calls a Rape Apology Day,

Keith Olbermann used scare quotes around the word rape as though the charges themselves (which are that Assange held one woman down against her will, and in a separate incident raped another while she was sleeping) were silly, and everyone from Glenn Beck to Naomi Wolf rushed to belittle the accusers, along the way employing every victim-blaming, rape-denying, slut-shaming trope ever invented, from “they’re just lashing out because they got their feelings hurt” (that’s both Beck and purported feminist Wolf, paraphrased) to my personal non-favorite, popular blogger Robert Stacy McCain’s suggestion that women who consent to any kind of sex are sluts who deserve whatever happens: “You buy the ticket, you take the ride.”…

…As soon as a rape accusation makes it into the news cycle (most often because the accused is famous), it’s instantly held up against our collective subconscious idea about what Real Rape (or, as Whoopi Goldberg odiously called it, “rape-rape”) looks like. Here’s a quick primer on that ideal: The rapist is a scary stranger, with a weapon, even better if he’s a poor man of color. The victim is a young, white, conventionally pretty, sober, innocent virgin. Also, there are witnesses and/or incontrovertible physical evidence, and the victim goes running to the authorities as soon as the assault is over.But let’s face it, actual rapes almost never match up to this ideal. Most rape victims know their attacker (estimates range from 75 percent to 89 percent), most rapists use alcohol or drugs to facilitate the assault (More than 80 percent, according to researcher David Lisak), not weapons, and most of the famous men whose accusers receive media attention aren’t poor men of color. But once the accusation hits the news cycle, whatever pundit gets there first uses the non-ideal details of the alleged assault to argue that surely, we shouldn’t take this seriously, and other pundits nod their head in agreement.

And investigative journalist Lindsay Beyerstein adds,

It is curious that charges against Assange were brought, dropped almost immediately, and later reinstated. The fact that authorities were so quick to charge Assange based on uncorroborated testimony should raise questions about whether prosecutors are treating him differently from your run-of-the-mill alleged sex criminal. However, it’s pure rape culture apology to argue that so-called “he said/she said” cases should be automatically dismissed in favor of the alleged rapist.

We can agree that the legal response to what Assange allegedly did reeks of politically-motivated prosecution without passing judgment on the merits of the allegations against him.

(3) Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW)’s Anne L. Weismann also makes the peculiar argument that Wikileaks endangers freedom of information by not working within the system,

At first blush, WikiLeaks’ disclosure of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables seems like a win for transparency and accountability in government. After all, these documents offer a never before seen window into U.S. diplomacy. But upon closer inspection, WikiLeaks’ document dump illustrates the perils of going outside the system, and is likely to result in less transparency in the long run.

For those of us in the transparency business, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) offers a useful tool to pierce government secrecy. Designed to let the public know what its government is up to, the FOIA mandates disclosure upon request, subject to nine limited exemptions. Those exemptions represent a congressional balancing of governmental interests, such as national security and investigative needs, against the public’s need to know. For agencies that stray off course, the FOIA provides judicial review, allowing courts to view requested documents in camera to determine if they were properly withheld. While the FOIA is far from perfect, it provides the public with a useful tool for scrutinizing government actions and policies balanced by oversight and procedural safeguards.

Also worth noting, Deanna Zandt has some excellent  commentary on the issue of internet rights and access,

When we face issues of free speech on the Net, we’re confronted with a severe reality in the harshest moments: we consider this here to be public space, but in reality it’s owned and operated by private companies. There is currently no set of accepted standards that say we have a set of rights online.

This is a crucial issue and with Net Neutrality in grave peril as I write this, if nothing else, we should seriously be thinking about the issue of how we access the internet and as PayPal, Amazon, Mastercard, etc. have proven, how easily that can be cut off.

Finally, I want to point to this weird example of the oft ignored sexism of the left. CommonDreams, in its  ongoing coverage of Wikileaks, ran this illustration without comment, the use of “Gentlemen” in the graphic apparently was not considered remarkable.  It should have been.

–Lucinda Marshall

 December 16, 2010  Posted by on December 16, 2010

  3 Responses to “Rape and State Secrets–It’s All About Power”

  1. I hope you are clear that anonymous and wikileaks are completely separate and different. the poster at the bottom is from anonymous… and anonymous is anonymous – a decentralized network of people (not even hackers!) who do not have a ‘centralized’ command – anyone can and does represent themselves as ‘anonymous’ – This poster was not passed through a central committee of any sort…it’s one guy with a computer making his move.

    PLEASE read up on things like this.

    Wikileaks and Assange have no responsibility and no control over the acts of the anon horde. Please be better than the mainstream media…PLEASE.

  2. I don’t see the Moore quote supporting your thought that he was “treating the charges dismissively because Assange’s work is for the greater good”. To me, it reads more like him saying to be wary because he assumes that the government cannot be trusted. Moore may or may not have the “greater good” inclination – certainly it often happens, and was in full bloom during the Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinsky incident. However, to my eye, the particular wording you quote doesn’t communicate that.

    As for the graphic, it did strike me oddly when I first saw it, but it’s not a product of the “left.” It’s by and for the group of hackers that had attacked sites that had denied services to WikiLeaks. Some of them were discussing a potential change in strategy.In this case, chances are pretty high that it literally was an all male crowd.

  3. Erik, even Moore got that his comments were possibly offensive, he has clarified them here in a way that makes him once again my hero,

    Regarding the graphic, I did not attribute that to Wikileaks and I get that they are not the same as Anonymous. However when we are looking at graphics that talk about “Gentlemen” giving “black eyes”, we probably should take note.

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