Politicians seem to be making a habit of rape apology these days – yesterday it was Todd Akin across the pond saying that ‘legitimate rape’ doesn’t cause pregnancy, and today it’s our own George Galloway weighing in on the Julian Assange situation.
I was just going to talk about Galloway’s comments about rape, but having watched the full video I want to also discuss how the allegations are being discussed as a political issue.
TL;DR version: click here to skip to the part about his verdict on the rape allegation.
“It’s about Wikileaks, stupid. It’s not about totally unproven allegations, on which Assange has never been charged; on which the Swedes refuse to question him by video link in London; on which the Swedes refuse to send their police officers to London to question Julian Assange; on which the Swedes refuse to give an undertaking that if Julian Assange returns to Sweden to face questioning on these matters which could easily be cleared up in London, that the Swedes will not extradite him to the United States of America. When you know all that, it’s kind of obvious what’s going on.”
Galloway goes on to criticise William Hague for threatening to enter the Ecuadorian embassy, making the fair observation that this is Ecuador’s sovereign territory and to enter would be in violation of the Vienna Convention.
“And yet, the same William Hague has sent Inspector Knacker of the Yard and PC Plod by the dozen, who’s better out on the streets of London dealing with the actual crime wave that’s taking place, have sent them to effectively blockade a thin, rather odd, flaxen-haired fellow called Julian Assange, whose only crime is a big one. His crime was through Wikileaks.”
I believe in democracy and the power of the law, and I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we live according to the maxim of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. So it’s right to say that we should’t call Assange a rapist; he hasn’t been tried in court and so we cannot justifiably call him guilty. However, it’s neither necessarily correct nor responsible to say that Assange did not commit the crime of which he is accused. To claim that the work he did through Wikileaks was his ‘only crime’ is to say that he is necessarily innocent – something we can’t claim to know at this point.
By referring to other crimes in London as ‘actual crime’, Galloway implies thatwhat Assange is accused of – that’s rape, guys – is not an actual crime. That, for a politician, is an incredibly unsavoury thing to say.
Not content with absolving Assange of one accusation, Galloway goes on to praise Assange for his work with Wikileaks, which, he says, “has revealed more secrets that the rich and the powerful would liked to have concealed from us forever than any individual, any organisation ever in history… secret information that we deserved and needed to know.”
This sums up the attitude of many voicing their opinions on the Assange case at the moment: an inability to separate his professional work with Wikileaks and the associated crimes from his personal conduct. Even if we accept the premise that Wikileaks has exposed information that we “deserved and needed to know”, that should have no bearing on how we discuss his personal conduct.
It’s because of these political events that many are questioning the motive behind the women’s claims. In an aside, Galloway implies what so many have already said: that the women are making up the allegations for political reasons.
I’m not even going to go into their political connections; I’m gonna leave that for others and for another day. I’m gonna leave the fact that one, maybe both of his accusers, have the strangest of links to the strangest of people, organisations and states.
It would be foolish to deny altogether the possibility that the women are making false accusations to further a political agenda. But is is also foolish and irresponsible to believe that they are without evidence. Women with political connections are sexually assaulted just as others are. We can’t at this point judge the women to be guilty or innocent of false allegations any more than we can Assange of rape.
So, we’ve established that Galloway doesn’t believe the allegations brought against Julian Assange; but perhaps the greater, or more shocking, issue here is what he believes those allegations to be:
“Even taken at its worst, the allegations made by these two women were true, one hundred per cent true, and even a camera in the room captured them, they don’t constitute rape; at least not anyone with any sense can possibly recognise.”
Galloway’s statement is not only tasteless, insensitive and offensive; it is factually incorrect. Having sex with someone who doesn’t consent is rape. If, as the first woman claimed, they’re not able to consent because they are asleep – it is rape. It’s explained in very simple terms under Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003:
(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a) he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,
(b) B does not consent to the penetration, and
(c) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.
In this situation, B has not consented (because B is asleep), and A cannot reasonably believe B to consent (because B is asleep).
“Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you’re already in the sex game with them.
“It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘do you mind if I do it again?’. It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.”
No, George. It is not “really bad manners”. It is rape. As a member of the Vagenda team eloquently wrote: “Do you know what bad sexual etiquette is? Bad sexual etiquette is farting when I’m going down on you, not fucking me without my permission.”
Let’s look at the comment about asking ‘”prior to each insertion”. Rape can happen even where consent has been given previously. It can happen within long-standing sexual relationships. It’s no longer – thanks for a regard for basic human rights – legal in this country for a husband to rape his wife. But it does happen, and it is still rape. Are we to infer that George Galloway considers sexual assault between people who’ve had consensual sex in the past merely “bad manners”?
Addressing the second woman’s allegation that Assange refused to stop having sex with her when the condom they were using split, Galloway said that Assange’s behaviour was “”loathsome… caddish… brute-ish; but is it rape?”
Yes, George. It is rape.
This is the latest in a string of people seeking to limit the definition of rape in order to de-legitimise (sometimes literally) other kinds of sexual assault. It’s a definition which only considers rape by physical coercion by a stranger, on a street corner, during daylight hours and when a woman is dressed in a certain way to be real rape. It’s damaging and dangerous, and becoming ever more pervasive in everyday and political discourse. And it needs to stop.