Julian Assange, politics, and what we think of rape

I realize this topic has been talked about a great deal, yet I still feel the need to react to the frankly disturbing conversation on the blogs started by Keith Yost’s article on the topic. It seems to me that the opposing sides in this debate generally fall into two categories: those who are opportunistically using the rape allegations against Assange to silence all of WikiLeaks and those who are so madly in love with Assange and what he “represents” that they are willing to engage in some of the most revolting rape apologia I have seen since–well, let’s be honest–the last time a rape accusation was covered in the news.

On one hand, we have conservatives who are wetting themselves at the chance to put Assange behind bars. Something tells me that their advocacy for proper rape prosecution and compassion for the victims of sexual assault is dreadfully out-of-character. They want the right thing (a trial to determine Assange’s guilt or innocence) for the wrong reason (silencing an entity dedicated to exposing government and corporate secrets). On the other hand, we have liberals who are attempting to scare and shame the two women–who are possibly rape victims, I might add–into retracting their accusations. Keith Olbermann went so far as to tweet the names of the women, others have released their addresses and contact information, and Michael Moore referred to their accusations as “hooey” while also admitting he didn’t know the details. It seems that some people, men especially, simply cannot get over their bromance with Julian Assange and are sadly willing to smear and intimidate these women in their blind and rabid rush to his defense.

Let us get a few things clear: 1) WikiLeaks may very well have a valuable role to play in maintaining transparency, but it can still serve its purpose if Assange is imprisoned, 2) It is so not OK to dismiss rape allegations out of hand, to misrepresent falsehood as truth (like Olbermann and Moore and so many others have done), to release the names of the accusers in an ongoing rape investigation, or to threaten or endanger the lives of the accusers.

Unfortunately, deeply embedded cultural attitudes towards rape and consent mean that in the US only 6% of rapists ever serve time for their crime. It is sad to think that probably the only reason Assange will be prosecuted (i.e., if he even is) will be because he is being targeted by various governments and not, you know, because he is potentially a rapist.

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