Last week, amid the ongoing debate of women's rights, there was an international media frenzy on the topic of rape -- how it's defined, prosecuted and who can commit it. As the headlines have already informed, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange faces an Interpol order for his extradition to Sweden for the crime of sexual assault and one of illegal coercion which were reported in 2010 and have only recently resulted in charges.
At that time, he was speaking at a seminar organized by the Brotherhood Movement, and seeking work and residence permits in Stockholm (possibly due to Sweden's strong laws for media protection and journalistic shield). It was only four days later that allegations of rape began, but charges dropped and Assange left for England. He is currently in London's Ecuadorian embassy after being granted asylum, claiming that, if returned to Sweden, he would then be extradited to the U.S. where severe charges, or even death, would await him.
This case infuriates me: as a Swedish woman, a feminist, and someone who works to promote sex as passionate and beautiful act within the adult industry. Born and raised in Sweden, I can attest to my country's excellent laws protecting women's health and rights, which gives us the confidence to report such trauma and also that the system will pursue justice in our case.
In a 2009 study by the European Commision, the number of rapes reported in Sweden was 46 per 100,000 citizens. Its definition of rape is broad and it was one of the first countries in Europe to recognize and criminalize spousal rape in 1965. The incident of rape in any country is a horrible thing, but I am particularly proud to come from a culture that encourages its women to speak out about their experiences in an effort to eliminate the act.
Even the organization Women Against Rape backs Assange, stating,
"When Julian Assange was first arrested, we were struck by the unusual zeal with which he was being pursued for rape allegations... whether or not Assange is guilty of sexual violence, we do not believe that is why he is being pursued. Once again women's fury and frustration at the prevalence of rape and other violence is being used by politicians to advance their own purposes."
While I understand that their stance is one denouncing a judicial system which ordinarily minimizes or badly defines the crime of rape, I can't help but be astonished. Despite being advocates of sexual assault survivors, it feels as though they, as with all the Assange supporters through their actions, are saying that these rapes are not crimes in their own right, but rather can be used falsely and as a scapegoat. This effectively minimizes everything Sweden is doing to encourage women to speak out, especially in this case where the alleged rapist is a well-known figure, by indicating that even rape support groups won't believe that you don't have ulterior motives.
Rape is a gross power play and the message to victims needs to be that, though they were violated, they can regain control through reporting their rape. I understand that many have no faith in the legal and political system, and that Assange is responsible for a lot of disillusionment in this regard. However, what I cannot reconcile the idea that "we want rapists caught, charged and convicted... But does anyone really believe that extraditing Julian Assange will strengthen women against rape?" No buts. I want him to answer to the charges, and it's the men I want to strengthen against rape: the politicians, popular figures, and citizens alike.
It doesn't seem very far fetched to me that even a global champion of human rights and free information can be chauvinistic in their private lives. In fact, the public and private spheres rarely tend to be related -- particularly when sex is involved -- and it is the powerful figures who tend to think they are persecuted for who they are, rather than fair legal issues, while simultaneously being untouchable.