As part of my continuing philosophical education I like to read articles from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, and one recent article that I was reading was on the subject of Rape.
In recent news developments and reactions have come around Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange, who, while being infamous/famous for being the head of an organisation which has leaked many documents and other files about the US Government (inter alia), some of which provoke many serious discussions about US foreign policy; Assange is also infamous for a rape allegation.
Among us in the Noumenal Realm Blog, we’ve decided not to talk much about the controversy about Wikileaks, on the one hand about whether government should keep documents and their decisions public against the need for secrecy about any given current military or operational project (such as say, social research or police operations, which when revealed, would undermine the efficacy of those projects). Then the infamy of the rape allegation took place.
I don’t feel that it’s right to keep silent about this issue anymore, and here’s why:
- Rape is a serious and devastating act against the victim. One writer in the F-Word pointed out how even if people convicted of rape endure out a criminal sentence, the victim lives a sentence of a different kind, in terms of long term psychological damage, as well as the relationships around them.
- The counter-claim of people like Assange and his supporters that this is a government conspiracy, or George Galloway’s claim that this case was a set-up, is deeply harmful and undermines all victims of Rape and sexual assault and the seriousness of these allegations
It’s a bizarre straw man position to be in defence of the act of Rape, but what I will say is that I was not aware until recently about the degrees of harm against women that sexual assault has. Greenfield (1997) points out that 91% of rape victims are female while almost 99% are male. Some feminist perspectives highlight the deeply ideological nature of rape through history, and the difficulties that women have in reporting, conviction and recovering from the incident reflect these challenges. It is also true to say that many women and men have different kinds of responses to having been raped. The long term and cultural impacts are perhaps the most harmful.One thing I didn’t realise is how broad the notion of sexual assault can be. There are many acts that can make a woman deeply uncomfortable and that violate her sense of autonomy.The distinction between ‘rape’ and ‘not rape’ can be less important when we broaden our conception of sexual violence beyond the act of forced penetration. There are behaviours such as verbal harassment or indecent exposure which are harmful to women and their sense of security in public spaces. I have a distinct feeling that whatever will happen with Assange’s case, it will harm women unless he goes through a criminal court for his allegation. There’s a certain political tribalism that is getting in the way of this issue and it has caused a divide of sorts.
Reading about this issue and following many twitter discussions have forced one to think harder about sexual assault. I cannot emphasise how damaging it can be to diminish the seriousness of sexual violence. The diversity of the phenomena is also something that may not be obvious to everyone. Rapists may know the victim, perhaps as a co-worker, relative or friend. There are ways of violating someone’s autonomy through sex, this can include: not using a condom when someone explicitly says to do so, having sex with someone while they are unconscious or asleep with no indication that this is acceptable and using sexual acts as a form of coercion or bargaining with a person in need (such as the transactional behaviour of many women in East Germany during the end of the Second World War).
Bringing countercultural insights to this issue makes the issue of Assange’s allegation all the more difficult. With countercultural movements such as Occupy and leftist type movements rushing to Assange’s defence. I think that the seriousness of Rape is undermined, as well as the cultural and political space that women hold today. On the other side of the Atlantic, there are lots of stories about Conservatives who are outspoken about their views on birth control and on a related subject, pregnancies through rape. The one thing that really upsets me about all of this, is that women seem to be least visible on this issue in US politics and in the media at large. This shows to me that women are not being taken seriously as political beings and conscientious individuals with their own views, while male pundits talk on their behalf.
I really shouldn’t have to say this. Rape is not okay. It’s not okay to have relations with someone that is not in any way out of the agreed terms.