Why the UN panel is so very wrong about Assange

If anyone hasn’t already heard about the UN findings on Assange’s “detention” in the Ecuadorian embassy, here’s the detail by Marina Hyde

There are a lot of people arbitrarily detained in the world, and it’s great that the UN will take up and publicise these cases, putting public pressure on the governments concerned. However, the very fact they reviewed this case at all raises huge questions about what the heck they were trying to achieve.

This is a case which is so not arbitrary, it has been through 8 different legal proceedings, which at every one Assange was represented by a legal team of his own choosing.

This is not even a case of detention, but of someone hiding. Assange can leave at any time he chooses. Of course, if he chooses to leave, he will face the repercussions of breaking his bail conditions in the UK, and needing to be questioned about some serious allegations in Sweden. He is hiding from both of these things, not being detained by anyone.

By taking this case, the UN is completely undermining it’s own ability to talk about arbitrary detention. Because either they are talking rubbish, or the EU is talking rubbish by issuing and enforcing arrest warrants. So any future cases immediately have to ignore pressure from either the UN or the EU. Great move for human rights around the world, very clever.

By giving Assange an advance copy of their findings, allowing him to grand-stand and make ridiculous “poor me” statements, the UN has completely undermined it’s reputation for independence and neutrality.

The UN has also put it’s own arbitrary statute of limitations on rape and violence against women. Women’s rights around the world are a vital part of the UN’s work – whether that’s addressing FGM, rape as a weapon of war, representation of women during peace talks, the UN’s own “he for she” campaign… I could go on.  Just today, the UN is trying to draw attention to the massive problem of FGM around the world but this isn’t being spoken about – instead, Julian Assange is headline news, again.  This decision by the UN has basically said that it will uphold inconvenience to men over and above the right of women to have allegations of assault properly investigated following due process. Women can no longer trust the UN to be independent and stand up for their rights.

So this decision is not only ridiculous, it is hugely dangerous for women across the world. The UN urgently need to address this, to maintain it’s own reputation for defending human rights – for the sake of those in arbitrary detention, and for the sake of all women around the world.


The real danger behind the loud stupidity

Of course I’ve been angry about the stupid comments from George Galloway, Ted Akin and others this week, just as I was with the Ken Clarke comments last year. To me, it’s simple – sex needs to be consensual, anything else is rape. And I’m really not quite sure how that’s a contentious comment.

A lot of great commentators have written about these comments, and so I’m not going to rewrite them here.

These comments were at best misinformed, and people running for office (or sitting on the House of Representatives Science committee FFS) really shouldn’t be so misinformed. I’d go further and say these comments were dangerous – adding justification to any rapists that if they’re not holding a knife to a woman’s throat then what they are doing is ok.

The bit that I find really dangerous is when this kind of speak – from elected representatives – is seen alongside this report about representation in the senior ranks of the Civil Service.  I’ve already spoken a lot about how much our politicians are white and male, and they are now ‘rolling this out’ to the civil service.  While Gus O’Donnell managed to leave a Civil Service with an equal balance of men and women at the top, a lot of the women have moved on recently, and there’s now a real danger that these top posts will go to men again.

I do understand the arguments against affirmative action – that individual merit should be the most important factor.  Except it’s not all about individuals.  It’s about the group of people running the country, and them all looking exactly the same.  If the criteria that they use to recruit is valuing what they are already good at, then they will keep on recruiting people that look like them.  That doesn’t mean that people with different skills are less efficient, it simply means they are different.  And that is the problem with crying “affirmative action isn’t fair”.  It is fair in the wider sense.  It is fair to everyone, rather than just one.  And it’s fair in that it forces people not to look for the person most like them (as most recruitment policies do) but to look for people differently.

Please understand my argument before screaming about all the discriminated against white men out there.  I’m not saying a lesser-woman should get a role over a better-man.  I’m saying that when any organisation becomes so unbalanced that everyone looks the same, they are likely to need to be forced to consider ‘outsiders’.  I’m saying that an organisation that has looked exactly the same for hundreds of years is going to need a little encouragement to change.  It will need to be persuaded that change is needed and desirable.

And put this against the backdrop we are painting – of politicians who so misunderstand biology that they believe women can’t become pregnant from rape.  Of politicians who so misunderstand the law that they claim having sex with a woman who can’t give consent, or proceeding to force someone into another sex act because they’d already agreed to something else, wouldn’t be crimes in the UK.  Jonathan Freedland wrote brilliantly in The Guardian on Friday about how these incidents are part of a wider misogyny amongst politicians.  And if we were to let our other branches of government, including the Civil Service fall further into the hands of this group of privileged men, we are seriously putting human rights at risk.

An enzyme that causes rape

I should have learnt my lesson about reading glossy women’s mags, but every so often I give one a try, and then end up really angry about something stupid.  But this month, Easy Living magazine really managed to exceed even my worst imaginings. In an article about the dangers of alcohol, they include a brilliant paragraph;

“Women produce far fewer of the key enzymes which break down alcohol, thus protecting vital organs, cells and body tissue.  This also leaves them with a heightened vulnerability to assault, rape, unwanted pregnancy, STDs and clinical depression through drink.”

I read that a second time, and yes, this magazine is actually claiming to have discovered an ENZYME that makes us vulnerable to sexual assault and rape.

It seems we need to spell it out even to women’s publications, that surely should be supporting women?  There’s not an enzyme that causes rape.  Rape isn’t a bad decision that women make when they’ve had too much to drink.  Alcohol doesn’t cause rape.  RAPISTS CAUSE RAPE.  Rapists chose to attack women when they spot a vulnerability.  Some rapists may chose a victim who has been drinking.  Or a woman who’s walking alone, or a woman who lives alone.  Whatever the reason why a rapist chose his victim, the rape was caused by his decision to assault, not his victim’s.

One of the things that makes me most angry is the lack of justification.  It’s just dropped in that rape is women’s fault, and then the article moves on.  There was no discussion of whether alcohol can make PEOPLE take risks they wouldn’t otherwise take, or make themselves less aware of their surroundings.  There’s no mention that men out drinking can become victims of violence.  It’s just a casual “oh yes, you might get yourself raped if you drink” and then moving on to the next bad decision you might make if you drink.

We’ve all done or said stupid things after a few drinks that we wouldn’t have done if we’d not been drinking.  But being raped is not one of these things.   If even women’s magazine’s are repeating this dangerous victim blaming – that women need to moderate their behaviour in order to prevent rape – the Slut Walks earlier this year really did achieve nothing.  This victim blaming needs to stop.

Why should only victims need credibility?

The reporting around the Dominique Strauss-Kahn trial has made me absolutely furious this week.  But first, to get a few things straight:  I’m not angry that due process is being followed, I’m not angry that there’s a suggestion he’s not guilty.  Both of those things are important.

But I’m really angry at the media and legal supposition that only victims need credibility.  The victim came forward to prosecutors to show some issues with her immigration status.  She also has some friends who are on the wrong-side of the law.  And somehow, this is damaging the credibility of her account.  On the other side, we have DSK, with allegations of sexual harrassment and bullying, and more than one allegation of previous sexual violence all coming forward.  And yet this isn’t relevant.  These stories aren’t making his counsel consider dropping their defence.  There’s very little suggestion by the media that this adds up to a description of a dangerous sexual predator.  Instead, the media is worrying about what will happen “IF” he is found guilty.  And what the implications are for him if he’s let off.

It’s this double standard that is driving me crazy.  Rape is a notoriously difficult crime to prosecute, because so often it comes down to consent, and then it’s one word against another.  But we’re not fighting on a level playing field.  The victim’s sexual history can be discussed.  The victim’s behaviour earlier in the encounter can be discussed.  The victim’s friends and family are fair game.  And yet the accused is off limits.  Previous allegations of similar attacks?  Not relevant.  Earlier behaviour in the night – harassment, where they went, who they were with – irrelevant.  Accounts from previous partners of violence?  Not relevant.

I’m not a lawyer, and although I’m interested in how the law interprets and balances this it’s not what I’m commenting on.  But for the media, it’s disgraceful that they are showing only one side.  We have no hope of society becoming less suspicious of victims until the media drops this double standard.

Very few people have a spotless past if someone was to comb through it.  All of us make mistakes, big or small, and have to live with the consequences of them.  But the media has a responsibility to examine both sides equally.  The fact that a woman may (or may not) have a shady past is only as relevant as the past of a man.

Educating our politicians

Lets start here – Rape is rape. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we need to remind our politicians of this very simple fact.

Firstly, to Nadine Dorries:  A victim of sexual abuse is a victim. Not someone who should try saying “no”.

And secondly, to Kenneth Clarke; whatever else you meant or didn’t mean, please NEVER again use the phrase “forcible rape”.

So, to the Dorries’ comment.  She is trying to justify her comments by saying that her abstinence for girls campaign will help prevent the sexualisation of children.  I really couldn’t disagree more.  There are many studies which prove that abstinence-only policies increase levels of teen STIs and pregnancies.  But even if you really believe in abstinence, why is it that only girls should say no?  I hardly think her intention is to get the boys being sexual only with each other.  Couples don’t have sex because dirty girls finally “give in”.  This idea that girls are less sexual than boys is wrong.  It’s teaching girls that women shouldn’t enjoy sex, it’s something they just have to do to keep boys happy.  Which is unhealthy, and hardly going to discourage sex – if you want a boyfriend, he’ll want sex and you’ll have to give it to him.  And then there’s the deeply offensive idea that all men want sex – even children.  When Dorries is teaching female child-abuse victims to say no, what happens to the male victims of abuse?  Do male victims not exist in Dorries world, or are they just not important?

Abstinence is a damaging policy.  Female-only abstinence is ridiculously flawed and very offensive.  Positive sex education doesn’t sexualise children, it helps young people prepare for adult relationships together.  It helps young women and young men realise when they are ready for sexual relationships, and when they are not.  It doesn’t encourage sexual behaviours, it helps young people recognise sexuality and negotiate sexual behaviours.  A lot of the time, this will involve deciding no – and both parties realising that no means no.

And on to Ken Clarke.  I’m pleased he clarified his comments and stated clearly that “rape is rape”.  Rape happens when a man has sex with a woman against her will. Creating a special “forcible rape” suggests that some rapes aren’t forced.  If you knew your attacker – still rape.  If you were unable to say no because you were drugged or unconscious – still rape.  If an adult has sex with someone under the age of 13 (and not 15 as he said in his interview) – still rape.  If you froze with fear and didn’t fight back – still rape.   Whichever way you start categorising rapes it doesn’t work.  Rape is rape.  STOP THERE.

And the thing that links these two comments?  These are two members of our parliament.  Supposedly representing us, and making our laws.  These comments are not only stupid and offensive, they are also really very frightening.  Especially as the government haven’t distanced themselves from these comments.  Just as the education minister was kept on after blaming feminism for preventing men attending university, we have a Justice Minister keeping his job who doesn’t know or understand rape.  We have a government happy to turn a blind eye to any misogynistic clap-trap that comes it’s way.  Each week we get another of these insane comments, and we’re accused of “over-reacting” or “selectively editing”.  Which might ring true the first time (or not).  But this consistent pattern is wrong.

Why I’ll be at Slutwalk London

Whichever way you look at it, I am a slut – I’m living with a guy I’m not married to, and cleaning my bathroom rarely gets to the top of the priority list. Yet there’s something about saying I’ll walk under the slut-banner that is really uncomfortable.

It’s a nasty word, that sums up some really nasty attitudes towards women. There’s been a lot of arguments that we shouldn’t be reclaiming the word. That rape crisis counsellors have had people making jokes about how “they knew rape victims were sluts really”. But we can’t just ignore this word. I personally, wouldn’t want to use it. But if by reclaiming the word, we can stop society using it, that is a really strong motivation.

I’m also horrified at how many comments and how much victim-blaming has been uncovered by the popularity of Slutwalks. Jessica Valenti has brought together many of the comments, and @SantaEvita has written a great post about why you can’t compare rape to car crashes – preventing rape is not as simple as just wearing your seat belt.

Firstly, exactly what is “dressing like a slut”? Short skirt and tight top? Except lots of men like a bit of mystery. Or formal attire, or maybe knee-high boots. And there’s that famous case of a judge throwing a rape case out as the rapist couldn’t possibly remove tightly fitting jeans without the victim’s assistance. So basically, we need to wear long baggy clothes. Kind of like a burka. Except, rape happens in arabic countries where women are wearing burkas, and rape is still the victim’s fault and she is punished for adultery. How exactly should we dress to prevent rape?

And then, there’s the idea that otherwise good men will be driven so crazy by this glimpse of flesh that they just have to rape. I know plenty of men who have managed not to rape women, whatever they’re wearing.  Ben Pobjie has written a wonderfully useful 7 point guide showing men how not to be a rapist.  Rape isn’t because men just can’t help themselves.  Rape victims shouldn’t be told to feel flattered that someone wanted to rape them, or guilty that they led him on.  Rape is a violent crime.  Last year, a young man was walking home, was attacked and had a paving slab dropped on his head.  The press weren’t asking what he was wearing, or how come he was walking on his own anyway.  No, they were talking about the horrific nature of the unprovoked violent assault.   There is no other crime where people are so preoccupied with checking the victim wasn’t at fault.  If you report a mugging, you’re not told “well, it’ll be your word against the mugger.  Are you sure you didn’t just give him your handbag?”.  If you tell your neighbours you were burgled, they won’t be thinking “well, I did see that you left your window open last week”.

The Home Office stats on rapes actually show that the two factors that make you most vulnerable to intimate assaults are being disabled or long term sick, or having recently ended a relationship.  Women can’t protect themselves from rape by behaving modestly.  Rape is not the fault of the victim.

And this is why Slutwalk is so important.  By using the word slut, and all it’s connotations, society is keeping the discourse of rape focused on blaming victims.  And by suggesting that rape victims aren’t really victims, it makes it easy to justify removing funding from and closing rape crisis centres.  When actually, the criminal justice system is failing victims on a consistent basis.  The policeman who made the comment that started the Slutwalk movement is based in Toronto.  But I’m sure (from all the comments I’ve seen) that some UK policemen would agree with him.  That judges still allow a woman’s sexual history to be brought up as “context” in trials.  That victim’s compensation is reduced if a woman has been drinking.

The way that society deals with rape and views victims with suspicion is wrong.  Which is why I’ll be joining the London Slutwalk.

New lows in victim blaming

Victim Blaming seems to have been taking a disturbing new turn this month, with a few horrendous stories emerging of child victims being blamed.

A councillor in Scotland has recently been sacked for suggesting a 9 year old “wanted it to happen” when she was raped.    The New York Times this week seems to have more sympathy for the “boys” (aged between 18 and 27, hardly innocent children) who will “have to live with this for the rest of their lives” than the 11 year old girl they gang-raped.  She sometimes wore inappropriate clothes, and y’know, what was she doing outside her home anyway?

These incidents are especially concerning, as they are happening in the mainstream, amongst people who really should know better.  A councillor, in a court room, on the record.  The New York Times.  Ok, not known for being liberal, but hardly extreme.

I blogged recently about the reporting of rape and the desire in the mainstream press to brand all women as liars.  But this additional step, that all females – even girls as young as 9 – are evil temptresses, and to blame even in cases of rape is truly alarming.  The phrase “Promiscuous behaviour” being used as a justification for assault – even in the case of children – is extremely worrying for all of us.

Not only is this 9 year old child being blamed based on her own behaviour (not fighting back hard enough) she’s also being judged on the behaviour of any girls vaguely in her age group.  “walk into any high school and observe girls in short skirts coupled with their promiscuous behaviour”.  Well, 9 year olds don’t often go to high school, but even if they did, this is not the point.
Women being able to wear short skirts, maybe to drink, or even <Shock / Horror> enjoy sex does not mean rape is justifiable.  In fact, the behaviour of other women and girls has nothing to do with one individual case of rape.  And y’know what, the previous behaviour of the 11 year old girl in Cleveland has nothing to do with her being gang-raped by a group of adults.

New York Times writers and public officials should learn what we’ve known for ages.  Victims aren’t to blame for rape.  Rapists are.