To whom it may concern,
I am writing in response to the article titled ‘Julian Assange is a political prisoner, not a fugitive from Justice‘ in the latest edition of The Hastings Independent. In my response to this article I do, of course, take into consideration the nature of an opinion based article and rather than an attack on the paper, a paper that I fully support as a positive voice for the local community, or the individual journalist, I would like this to be read as a critical evaluation of some of the opinions expressed.
The dominant narrative around rape needs to change. We live in a world where the accuser, or more correctly the victim, of sexual violence, abuse and rape is the one who’s opinion on events is scrutinised. This idea reinforces the idea that the opinion of the woman, the victim of abuse, is false until proven to be correct. This is surely the wrong way round, in any progressive society one should always look to the victim of oppression as the holder of the truth, of course this will not always be the case but this is the correct starting point, and therefore this article not only mocks the importance of consensual sex, rules and regulations to prevent rape and the victims of rape, but aligns itself with the alleged criminal, with the oppressor, illustrated in the closing statement, ‘Je suis Assange’.
I would like to state at this point that I am naturally in support of Wilileaks, the critical analysis of those in power and freedom of information, in fact it is in that exact spirit that I refuse to except the dominant narrative, reinforced by this article, around issues of rape. The article suggests that the alleged victims of these crimes should provide ‘details’ of the crimes and suggests that the two women have been in contact with each other to discuss their shared experience, as if it is a bad thing for potential abuse survivors to communicate, these opinions when incorporated with the ideas raised around a ‘propaganda lie’ that is invented by the media is a very dangerous theory. The idea that there is some sort of grand conspiracy theory, in which the states of the Western World orchestrated fake rape claims is not only obscene and offensive but also devoid of any critical or intelligent thought.
I would now like to move into some factual issues in the article. The suggestion that a £500 fine for ‘Sex by Surprise’ is the be all and end all of the claims against Assange is simply factually inaccurate. If the journalist had done any form of independent and critical research he would realise that ‘Sex by Surprise’ is a poor translation of the Swedish word ‘överraskningssex’, a slang term synonymous with rape. The £500 figure comes from the fact that during the sexual act with one of the women the condom broke, yet Assange is accused of refusing to stop the act of sex, in Sweden this is a crime punishable by a £500 fine. This may seem odd to you, but this is undoubtedly due to the regressive attitudes and legislation around rape and sexual abuse in the UK and the USA. The wider issue here however is around consent. Assange, according to the police interview with one of the females victims, ‘failed to comply with the appeals to stop’ during sex. It does not matter when the appeal to stop sex is made, if one of the participants removes consent the other individual(s) must comply, otherwise this is rape. This is a crime. This must not, as suggested in the article, be dropped after one interview with Assange. Why should the Sweedish state have to work on this vile man’s terms, to the contrary he should comply with the law, and a very progressive law I must add.
The real problem with this article is that it builds on the broader narrative that victims of sexual abuse are guilty. Assange is no hero. What about the alleged victims? They want to see justice. We need to shift the patriarchal views that woman’s claims and bodies are subordinate to that of their male counterparts, I would expect this to come from a paper like yourself. Please do reply.
Thank you for your kind words and support. Thank you for your critique. To be honest I was anticipating some controversy when we published the original article and your reply is very well stated. As the editor of the Features section I made the decision to print the article.
I’d agree with your sentiments challenging rape culture and victim blaming. I’d agree that dismissing the claims of the two women involved is problematic, although critical thought and references were used to demonstrate how these allegations have been used in an attempt to extradite Assange to the United States under extremely unusual circumstances. That opportunities to pursue the allegations of rape have been passed up by the Swedish authorities for the sake of keeping open the possibility of extraditing Assange to the US, which seems to be the primary interest of the authorities in this case. Under normal circumstances Assange would be able to give a defense of himself without fear of being extradited to the US.
The intention of the article is to demonstrate that, the interest of the UK, US and Swedish government is not to bring Assange to justice for the alleged crime of rape; their interest is an extraordinary rendition and a lengthy detention for the crime of publishing Wikileaks.
There seems to be two predominant stances regarding Julian Assange: ‘he is a rapist that has avoided a trial’; ‘he is a whistle-blower illegally persecuted for publishing US military secrets’. One would make Assange an oppressor, the other, the oppressed. For some reason these stances seem incompatible. Whilst neither of us have access to the truth of the rape allegations, I think it would be good to consider the possibility that both of these things might be true, or neither of them.