How do I know that Interpol, Britain and Sweden's treatment of Julian Assange is a form of theater? Because I know what happens in rape accusations against men that don't involve the embarrassing of powerful governments.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is in solitary confinement in Wandsworth prison in advance of questioning on state charges of sexual molestation. Lots of people have opinions about the charges. But I increasingly believe that only those of us who have spent years working with rape and sexual assault survivors worldwide, and know the standard legal response to sex crime accusations, fully understand what a travesty this situation is against those who have to live through how sex crime charges are ordinarily handled -- and what a deep, even nauseating insult this situation is to survivors of rape and sexual assault worldwide.
Here is what I mean: men are pretty much never treated the way Assange is being treated in the face of sex crime charges.
I started working as a counselor in a UK center for victims of sexual assault in my mid-twenties. I also worked as a counselor in a battered women's shelter in the US, where sexual violence was often part of the pattern of abuse. I have since spent two decades traveling the world reporting on and interviewing survivors of sexual assault, and their advocates, in countries as diverse as Sierra Leone and Morocco, Norway and Holland, Israel and Jordan and the Occupied Territories, Bosnia and Croatia, Britain, Ireland and the united States.
I tell you this as a recorder of firsthand accounts. Tens of thousand of teenage girls were kidnapped at gunpoint and held as sex slaves in Sierra Leone during that country's civil war. They were tied to trees and to stakes in the ground and raped by dozens of soldiers at a time. Many of them were as young as twelve or thirteen. Their rapists are free.
I met a fifteen-year-old girl who risked her life to escape from her captor in the middle of the night, taking the baby that resulted from her rape by hundreds of men. She walked from Liberia to a refugee camp in Sierra Leone, barefoot and bleeding, living on roots in the bush. Her rapist, whose name she knows, is free.
Generals at every level instigated this country-wide sexual assault of a generation of girls. Their names are known. They are free. In Sierra Leone and Congo, rapists often used blunt or sharp objects to penetrate the vagina. Vaginal tears and injuries, called vaginal fistulas, are rampant, as any health worker in that region can attest, but medical care is often unavailable. So women who have been raped in this way often suffer from foul-smelling constant discharges from infections that could be treated with a low-cost antibiotic -- were one available. Because of their injuries, they are shunned by their communities and rejected by their husbands. Their rapists are free.
Women -- and girls -- are drugged, kidnapped and trafficked by the tens of thousands for the sex industry in Thailand and across Eastern Europe. They are held as virtual prisoners by pimps. If you interview the women who spend their lives trying to rescue and rehabilitate them, they attest to the fact that these women's kidnappers and rapists are well known to local and even national authorities -- but these men never face charges. These rapists are free.
In the Bosnian conflict, rape was a weapon of war. Women were imprisoned in barracks utilized for this purpose, and raped, again at gunpoint, for weeks at a time. They could not escape. Minimalist hearings after the conflict resulted in slap-on-the-wrist sentences for a handful of perpetrators. The vast majority of rapists, whose names are known, did not face charges. The military who condoned these assaults, whose names are known, are free.
Women who testify to having been raped in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Morocco face imprisonment and beatings, and being abandoned by their families. Their rapists almost never face charges and are free. Women who testify to rape in India and Pakistan have been subjected to honor killings and acid attacks. Their rapists almost never face charges, are almost never convicted. They are free. A well-known case of a high-born playboy in India who was accused of violently raping a waitress -- who was willing to testify against him -- resulted in a cover-up at the highest levels of the police inquiry. He is free.
What about more typical cases closer to home? In the Western countries such as Britain and Sweden, who are uniting to hold Assange without bail, if you actually interviewed women working in rape crisis centers, you will hear this: it is desperately hard to get a conviction for a sex crime, or even a serious hearing. Workers in rape crisis centers in the UK and Sweden will tell you that they have deep backlogs of women raped for years by fathers or stepfathers -- who can't get justice. Women raped by groups of young men who have been drinking, and thrown out of the backs of cars, or abandoned after a gang-rape in an alley -- who can't get justice. Women raped by acquaintances who can't get a serious hearing.
In the US I have heard from dozens of young women who have been drugged and raped in college campuses across the nation. There is almost inevitably a cover-up by the university -- guaranteed if their assailants are prominent athletes on campus, or affluent -- and their rapists are free. If it gets to police inquiry, it seldom gets very far. Date rape? Forget it. If a woman has been drinking, or has previously had consensual sex with her attacker, or if there is any ambiguity about the issue of consent, she almost never gets a serious hearing or real investigation.
If the rare middle-class woman who charges rape against a stranger -- for those inevitably are the few and rare cases that the state bothers to hear -- actually gets treated seriously by the legal system, she will nonetheless find inevitable hurdles to any kind of real hearing let alone real conviction: either a 'lack of witnesses' or problems with evidence, or else a discourse that even a clear assault is racked with ambiguity. If, even more rare, a man is actually convicted -- it will almost inevitably be a minimal sentence, insulting in its triviality, because no one wants to 'ruin the life' of a man, often a young man, who has 'made a mistake'. (The few exceptions tend to regard a predictable disparity of races -- black men do get convicted for assault on higher-status white women whom they do not know.)
In other words: Never in twenty-three years of reporting on and supporting victims of sexual assault around the world have I ever heard of a case of a man sought by two nations, and held in solitary confinement without bail in advance of being questioned -- for any alleged rape, even the most brutal or easily proven. In terms of a case involving the kinds of ambiguities and complexities of the alleged victims' complaints -- sex that began consensually that allegedly became non-consensual when dispute arose around a condom -- please find me, anywhere in the world, another man in prison today without bail on charges of anything comparable.
Of course 'No means No', even after consent has been given, whether you are male or female; and of course condoms should always be used if agreed upon. As my fifteen-year-old would say: Duh.
But for all the tens of thousands of women who have been kidnapped and raped, raped at gunpoint, gang-raped, raped with sharp objects, beaten and raped, raped as children, raped by acquaintances -- who are still awaiting the least whisper of justice -- the highly unusual reaction of Sweden and Britain to this situation is a slap in the face. It seems to send the message to women in the UK and Sweden that if you ever want anyone to take sex crime against you seriously, you had better be sure the man you accuse of wrongdoing has also happened to embarrass the most powerful government on earth.
Keep Assange in prison without bail until he is questioned, by all means, if we are suddenly in a real feminist worldwide epiphany about the seriousness of the issue of sex crime: but Interpol, Britain and Sweden must, if they are not to be guilty of hateful manipulation of a serious women's issue for cynical political purposes, imprison as well -- at once -- the hundreds of thousands of men in Britain, Sweden and around the world world who are accused in far less ambiguous terms of far graver forms of assault.
Anyone who works in supporting women who have been raped knows from this grossly disproportionate response that Britain and Sweden, surely under pressure from the US, are cynically using the serious issue of rape as a fig leaf to cover the shameful issue of mafioso-like global collusion in silencing dissent. That is not the State embracing feminism. That is the State pimping feminism.