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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Yes Has to Mean Yes

I keep stumbling across great blogs with great statements about the Assange case.  It’s not necessarily that this case itself is more important than any other (it’s not on its own merits); it’s that this case is a perfect example of the whole whirlwind of media, culture, and politics that happens when a survivor tries to get justice.  Here’s my new favorite statement on the issue, from Harriet’s Fugitivus blog:

“No means no” took us a long way. To put it simply, but not inaccurately, it took us from a world where no meant yes. That is an incredible gain. But “no means no” has taken us as far as it can. Namely, it has taken us to “yes means yes.” It has taken us to a place where we can recognize, create theory, create terminology, and openly discuss the idea that sexual violence and sexual abuse can happen without a “no” as well as with one. We believe that requiring a “no” is not good enough, not a high enough standard. We require a “yes.”


Here’s a tortured metaphor for how I see the concept of enthusiastic consent, and “yes means yes.” It’s like getting my bicycle earlier this year (I’ll explain; bear with me for a moment).

I live in Allston, a neighborhood in Boston known for its undergrad population, dirtiness, music, and plentiful bars.  I love it.  It’s pretty much everything I want in a neighborhood.  The housing’s cheap, food is available late, there’s great music and life all around me.  One of the biggest downsides for me, though, about living in Allston is that it’s physically far away from a lot of the other neighborhoods in Boston.  It’s not well supported by public transportation, and I don’t have a car.  Getting to and from my apartment was a hassle, back in the day.  I needed to block out between 45 minutes and an hour every time I needed to go downtown, or to visit friends who lived in Cambridge or maybe in Jamaica Plain.  It seemed like a really intractable problem: I wasn’t going to be able to get the MBTA to run on time by myself, and there simply isn’t enough money or public will to fix up the B line enough to make it a reliable train.  Also, it stops running at 12:30, which curtails my mostly nocturnal existence.  It seemed like a problem I’d just have to deal with, if I wanted to live in the neighborhood I loved.

That turned out not to be the case at all.  With this problem, there turned out to be a really easy solution: I got a bike.  Boston’s a very small city geographically; even though Allston feels really far away from a lot of the rest of the city, it’s really only about three or four miles from downtown.  What used to take me an hour or more now takes me about 25 or 30 minutes.  I can get to Harvard and back in an hour if I want, plus I get a workout doing it.  I don’t have to rely on the public transportation, I can travel whenever I want, and pretty much the only restrictions are how cold it is outside and whether I’m too lazy to mount on up.  Now if I want to ride the train, I can, but I’m not required to.  It’s sort of become a luxury for those commutes where I want to read a newspaper or a book.  What was previously a seemingly intractable problem is now…not a problem anymore.  It had a simple, easy solution.  Something like a magic key.  I get to keep all the parts of the neighborhood I love, and I lose the downside with one very simple behavior change.

Consent is the magic key to rape, here.  With consent, sexual activity isn’t rape.  As one of the younger generation that Harriet refers to throughout her post, I’ve glommed onto the idea of “yes means yes” as my operating theory of sexual relations - if my partners aren’t giving me enthusiastic consent, then we stop.  It’s not hard.  It feels a lot like the bike to me: if we can press this idea as our new cultural model of consent, then we can start to SOLVE rape.  If people are consenting to sexual activity, it is by definition not rape.  That’s where we want to be - in a world where sexual activity is wanted and where it is undertaken enthusiastically (whatever that might mean for individual people).  Enthusiastic consent can be verbal or not.  It can be negotiated ahead of time, or in the heat of the moment.  I’d suggest that the vast majority of humanity is pretty good at telling when someone wants to do something with us, and when they don’t.

The theory alone doesn’t make rape go away, of course.  But what it does do is make the previous tactics (the types of things that the media and Assange’s lawyer are throwing at his accusers) completely irrelevant.  If your partner isn’t giving explicit consent for the current sexual activity, it has to stop.  It’s easy to understand! 

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Posted by Dave on 12/22 • (2) CommentsPermalink

Monday, December 20, 2010

Assange update!

My goodness, a lot has happened since my original post about the rape charges against Julian Assange. We now have great in-depth articles from The New York Times and The Guardian. The new articles, with information from the actual police report, are a lot clearer about the charges. To wit:

The details of their sexual encounter that night were redacted from the copy of the police report obtained by The Times. But The Guardian reported Saturday that Ms. A told the police that Mr. Assange had stroked her leg, then pulled off her clothes and snapped her necklace. The report quotes her as saying that she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again.”

According to The Guardian, Ms. A told the police that Mr. Assange pinned her arms and legs to stop her from reaching for a condom. Eventually one was used—but, she told her police interviewer, he appeared to have “done something” with it, resulting in its tearing.

Does that sound like “consensual sex where the condom broke” to anyone out there?


Yeah. Thought not.

I don’t have to recap everything in detail, I don’t think. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware that Michael Moore bailed Julian Assange out of jail, and that he and Keith Olbermann engaged in a bit of laddish rape apologism. (Info here.)

And you’re probably aware that the awesome Sady Doyle has struck back.

Sady says, “So now I’m outside the tower and I’m telling you, Michael Moore, I’ve known you my whole life, my mom showed me your movie to prove that it was a good thing to stand up to the bullies, we watched every episode of TV Nation together, I got to stay up late, I was in high school when Columbine happened and I was eighteen years old and voted in my first Presidential election and I watched everything get taken away, and you were what hope looked like. Michael Moore, I’m outside the tower, we all are, and I know because I’ve talked to my friends about it that I’m not the only one who had this happen.  I’m not the only one you meant this much to. We’re outside, all the people who relied on you, and we’re asking you just to come down. Just to talk. Just to prove that these little voices matter, that you really did mean it, that you should wait outside Roger’s office because for a man to do all that damage and not speak to a sufferer of it is a terrible thing, for a person to wait outside for the man in the tower with just his one small voice was the right thing to do, I’m just asking you, we’re outside, come down. We sound angry. We sound angry because we are angry, because you did a bad thing, several terrible things, over and over again and on TV, and you should apologize. And I mean, Keith Olbermann, honestly, didn’t mean that much to me. I didn’t expect anything better from him. But from you. But from Roger & Me… We’ve been standing outside all day, I’ve been called a whiny bitch and a liar and stupid and an insult to real rape victims as though I was never sexually assaulted my own damn self, I’ve been told to “fuck off and die” with like five exclamation points, I’ve been asked why I’m not “in the kitchen” because that’s always new and witty, I’ve been called so many names, all day, and it’s cold and I can’t sleep, and I’m still waiting. So please, please, please prove that you believed that story. Prove that we were right to believe it with you. We loved the story, we needed the story, please, please, make the story end better this time. Make Roger come down. Please, please, please come down.

“I mean, he’s coming, right?”

The Twitter protest #mooreandme is on its sixth day as we speak, and shows no signs of slowing. I have no idea how many of us are outside Moore’s tower, but we’re not going anywhere. Some of us are getting threats, but we’re not going anywhere.

At this point, the confidence that Moore will realize how wrong he was is not high. (Slightly higher for Olbermann, as he has at least acknowledged our presence.) But we’re here anyway, and this has become not just about telling Moore and Olbermann that they screwed up, but about so much else.

#mooreandme is about standing against lies, against misinformation. It’s about standing for and with survivors of rape and sexual assault. It’s about finding ways to help - witness the tweeting about trans-friendly rape crisis centers to donate to. It’s about being truly progressive, and how you can’t do that without being against rape and rape culture.

Some of us talk about rape all the time. Some people in #mooreandme have never talked about it before. Never.

Some people have been waiting for years to say these things.

And we’re listening.

We are here. We are outside the tower, and we are not going away. We won’t shut up and we won’t give up, no matter how many trolls and threats and crap we have to deal with.

We just want to talk, Michael Moore. About why repeating misinformation and myths is dangerous. About how incredibly low the incidence of false accusations is (St. John’s Law Review (Hecht-Schafran, L. (1993) cites a 1.6% false accusation rate (below car theft) ). About how the way you laugh off accusations makes it so much harder for rape victims to come forward - how it contributes to the message that society gives them that they will not be believed.

We are down here, Mr. Moore, because we want to believe that you just don’t know - that you didn’t set out to propagate rape culture. We’re willing to attribute this to ignorance instead of malice, Mr. Moore, and we are willing to talk to you about how you can do better, because we want to believe that you want to do better. We want to believe that no one would engage in rape apologism on purpose. If you didn’t know any better, that’s okay - we can fix that.

Just come down and talk. Come down and listen.

Because every day that goes by with no response from you makes is more and more likely that you know what you’re doing, and you don’t care. And no matter how you feel about people telling you you’re wrong, Mr. Moore, we don’t want that to be true. We want you to care.

So come down from the tower. And until you do, we’ll be here. We’re waiting. We’re not going away.

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Posted by Shira on 12/20 • (3) CommentsPermalink

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Online activism for today

Hello all,

Sorry it’s been a little while since I’ve posted something - I just finished my first semester exams and I can finally be a real boy again, hopefully.  Shira’s been keeping everyone busy with good questions about Julian Assange, which is like pretty close to every sexual violence activists’ favorite subject right now.  It perfectly illustrates so many of the issues we talk about!  Media, power, and how rape is considered a ‘woman’s issue’ - it all fits this Assange story really well.

I’m still coming out of my exam-induced stupor, so you’ll have to wait another week for the standard, way-too-long and tortured metaphors you’ve come to expect from me, but I wanted to get this on everyone’s radar: Sady Doyle’s twitter campaign against Michael Moore, on behalf of survivors.  It sounds weird when I type that, but check it out.

Sady’s piece is probably one of the best excoriations of male-driven progressive spaces I’ve ever read.  Seriously, check it out. 

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Posted by Dave on 12/16 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Legislative Advocacy Guest Post!

Here’s a guest post from one of our awesome CAPS volunteers, Becca Loya. Enjoy!

A recently proposed piece of federal legislation with bipartisan support aims to reduce sexual assault on college campuses and to define a baseline of services schools must offer to survivors. On November 30th, Representatives Thomas Perriello of Virginia and John Duncan of Tennessee introduced the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE) (HR 6461). SaVE would require colleges and universities to develop and distribute policies on sexual assault and intimate partner violence, including notifying survivors of their rights and establishing clear procedures for discipline for reported cases of assault.  SaVE would also require schools to offer survivors assistance changing their academic, living, transportation, and/or work situations to feel safer.  Importantly, SaVE recognizes the value of education to reduce sexual assault.  It specifically would require schools to educate their communities on the definition of consent, how to report offenses on and off campus, bystander intervention, and risk reduction through ongoing prevention campaigns. BARCC is ahead of the curve on the community education piece.  BARCC’s Community Awareness and Prevention Services (CAPS) program offers workshops on consent and bystander intervention. SaVE was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

HR 6461- The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act)
Bottom line: Schools will develop and distribute policies regarding their sexual assault and intimate partner violence programs.
Establish Procedures for Responding to an Incident of Intimate Partner Violence
* Any student or employee who reports that they have been a victim of intimate partner violence will receive in writing an explanation of their rights to notify law enforcement and receive assistance from the school in doing so
* An explanation of their rights to obtain a protective order from a local court
* Contact information for counseling, health, mental health, legal assistance and other on-campus and community resources.
* The school will help enforce protective orders

Education of Campus Community
* Schools will include prevention and awareness programming for incoming students and new employees including:
* Definition of consent
* How to report offenses on and off campus
* Bystander intervention
* Risk reduction
* The schools will conduct ongoing prevention campaigns to students and faculty to promote this information.
Procedures For On Campus Discipline in Cases of Alleged Offenses:
* Accuser can request prompt disciplinary hearings against the accused which will be conducted by officials who understand the unique circumstances of these crimes, and will use the preponderance of evidence standard.
* Both the accuser and the accused have the right to have others present at the hearing including an advisor of their choice and both will be informed in writing of the outcome of the proceeding.
* A student or employee who reports they have been a victim can receive assistance changing their academic, living, transportation, and/or working situations.

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Posted by Shira on 12/14 • (1) CommentsPermalink

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Let’s Talk about Julian Assange.

So all we’ve been talking about the last few weeks is WikiLeaks, it seems. Yes! Powerful relevant political topic! Fascinating real-life drama! But I turned to my husband and said, “Why is no one talking about the rape charges against Julian Assange?”

Oh, be careful what you ask for.

Because now people are talking about them. They’re talking about them all over the place. And, of course, the consensus seems to be “we like what WikiLeaks is doing, so Assange must be innocent.”

Shades of Roman Polanski, right? “We like his movies, so he must be innocent.” Umm, no.

I’ll set a few things out right now, regarding my approach to this whole thing:

1. Julian Assange is not WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is not Julian Assange. Whether you approve of what WikiLeaks is doing or not has absolutely no bearing on this case.
2. I’m not declaring him guilty. I wasn’t there; I don’t know what transpired. I’m just saying we shouldn’t declare him innocent just because people approve of work he’s doing, or because he’s “persecuted”.
3. Yes, the timing is “convenient”, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. I’ve head people draw parallels to Al Capone getting busted for tax evasion instead of his more criminal activities, because that’s what they could nail him for. Well, Al Capone was actually guilty of tax evasion, you know.

So let’s have some facts. What is Julian Assange accused of? “He is accused by the Swedish authorities of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010.”

“...the first complainant, Miss A, said she was victim of “unlawful coercion” on the night of 14 August in Stockholm. The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner. The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used. The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on 18 August “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”. The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on 17 August without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.”

The story that’s being spread by Assange supporters is that he was having consensual sex with a woman (we’ll call her Miss A., following the above format), the condom broke, and she accused him of rape. This is so widespread that my boyfriend thought it was the case! As you can see, the actual charges are completely different, and a lot less ambiguous. Let’s take them charge by charge.

1. Unlawful coercion, and Assange allegedly used his body weight to hold her down. Does that look like anything other than rape?

2. Sex without a condom. Okay, let’s unpack that a bit. Both of the women consented to sex only if Assange used a condom. “It also sounds like in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn’t, and the woman didn’t realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not. This is of course speculation based on the bare-bones reported description of events, but it’s at least clear that “this is a case of a broken condom” isn’t close to the whole story.” Okay, y’all, work with me here - when someone says no, and their partner doesn’t stop, what do we call that? If you said “rape”, you get a gold star. Also, consent to sex with a condom does not equal consent to sex without a condom any more than, to cite a different case, consent to breathplay equals consent to anal sex.

3. The deliberate molestation charge I don’t know anything about, and I can’t suss it out from context. I’ll get back to that when more information is available.

4. “Having sex” with a woman who was asleep. When you are unconscious, you are, of course, unable to consent. This is unambiguously rape.

Again, I am not declaring Assange guilty; that’s what the trial is for. What I am saying is that the charges describe rape. Not just a broken condom, rape.

So we’ve established what the charges are. Let’s move on to the media coverage.

Oh sweet fancy Elvis on a pogo stick, the media coverage.

We have, of course, gone straight to the victim-blaming.

One of the alleged victims is a feminist. So of course that means she’s lying, according to Assange defenders. And she dared to try to carry on with her life as normal afterward. Kate Harding, Jim Hines,  and Liz Henry have great posts on the victim-blaming; I encourage you to read them. Ferrett Steinmetz expands on the criticism of the accuser’s reactions here. Please read that post, because he hits the nail on the head. “When you are traumatized, you do not necessarily act in a logical fashion. That’s the nature of being traumatized. Applying everyday logic to something as harmful and psychologically devastating as rape is a falsity, especially when you’re deciding whether a given rape victim was faking or not based on third-hand, unverified reports and a couple of Tweets from a million miles away. There’s no gold standard we can use to determine what an “appropriate” response is. So stop trying to read the bones of someone’s potentially post-traumatic reaction to determine whether it’s appropriate. You don’t know what appropriate is under the circumstances, and neither do I.” (Read more about common reactions to rape here.)

The main tacks Assange’s defenders seem to be taking are that a) the timing is “suspicious” and that b) they like WikiLeaks, therefore Assange is a Good Guy.

Is the timing “suspicious”? Look, obviously the pursuit of the charges is politically motivated. That doesn’t mean he’s innocent. What it means is that this was a convenient way for Interpol to get their hands on him. The stark truth of the matter is that rape charges don’t get followed up on as often as they should, that it is damned hard to get justice. I have no doubt that the charges would have been ignored had Interpol not needed a reason to seize Assange. That does not mean they’re not legitimate charges.

As for the latter point, I’ve heard that before. “Linder and her graduate researcher, Rachel Johnson, found that a great many women whom they surveyed reported serious boundary violations (including sexual assault) at the hands of male feminist allies. Anecdotes turned into hard data (the study is unpublished, but we were given a summary of the findings) and that hard data revealed that the problem of misconduct by men who claim to be doing feminist work is far more serious than we had previously imagined.”

The fact that someone is doing work you approve of does not mean that they can do no wrong; in fact, many serial perpetrators deliberately place themselves in situations where accusers won’t be believed because the perpetrator is “such a good person”. (Read about tactics employed by serial perpetrators here.)

As Jill at Feministe says, “In fact, it is totally possible to support the WikiLeaks project and to think that the international response to Assange and the project is thoroughly fucked up and to think we should withhold judgment on whether or not Assange is actually a rapist and also to think that we should withhold judgment on whether the women are lying, and to not discredit the women involved, and to not create a hostile climate for rape survivors, and to not play into every tired old stereotype about women and rape.”

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Posted by Shira on 12/09 • (12) CommentsPermalink

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