Julian Assange: What Does Reaction To His Alleged Crime Tell Us About Attitudes To Rape In The UK?

'We Are Seeing Our Rights Rolled Back, Make No Mistake About That'

Sometime in the last week, the phrase "it's politically motivated" became the new "she was asking for it."

It might have been when MP George Galloway claimed Julian Assange’s alleged crimes did not “constitute rape” or “not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it”, taking care to mention the potential "connections" of the WikiLeaks' founder's two accusers.

Or when former Monty Python actor Terry Jones told his 80,000 Twitter followers that sex without a condom wasn't an assault.

It could have even been on Monday evening when a former ambassador for the United Kingdom, Craig Murray, named one of Assange's alleged victims live on the BBC.

George Galloway said Julian Assange's alleged crime did not “constitute rape”

For the avoidance of doubt, Assange is accused of sexual molestation, unlawful coercion and penetrating a woman while she slept. Or in other words, rape. Not, as George Galloway put it “bad sexual etiquette.”

But what does it tell us about the state of attitudes towards women in Britain when a member of parliament publicly declares that Assange's accusers "bankrupt the term rape of all meaning"?

For Dr Amy Russell at the University of Leeds, it says a lot about attitudes to rape in itself.

"I think we constantly have the problem of people responding to talk of rape with the answer ‘but how do we really know [that it really happened]’," she told The Huffington Post UK.

"It's not often someone gets mugged and people say "how do we really know you didn't want to give them your wallet - you've given gifts before," Russell, who is Deputy Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies says.

“I think Galloway's comments show we have a great deal to learn in this country if we still think it's appropriate to trivialise sexual violence,” she said.

“The under-reporting of rape can be attributed to attitudes like Galloway's; that disbelieves rape survivors.”

For Sarah Green, campaigns manager for End Violence Against Women, the debate about rape shouldn’t just be about criminal justice. It’s also about society.

“People always ask ‘what are your suggestions for the police?’ But a very small minority of victims report it to the police. It's also about broader public attitudes,” she told The Huffington Post UK.

So what about the views of George Galloway, Terry Jones and Craig Murray?

“They're all commentators who have a platform, one of them is an elected parliamentarian, they have a responsibility to be well informed.

"The way people have reacted to Julian Assange, it all tells us that there are some really deep seated misogynistic and victim blaming attitudes.”

But the issue doesn’t begin and end with the furore over the accusations against Assange.

This week there was also the matter of Todd Aiken, a Republican Congressman running for a Senate seat, and his comments on women not being able to get pregnant for “legitimate rape”, as well as the controversy over rape jokes in Edinburgh.

According to research by Mumsnet, which surveyed 1,600 women to launch their ‘We Believe You’ campaign in March, up to one in 10 women has been raped - and over half of all women feel society is mistrustful of them.

For Vivienne Hayes, CEO of the Women's Resource Centre, it’s about the state of women’s rights at the moment. “We are seeing our rights being rolled back, make no mistake about that,” she tells The Huffington Post UK.

“It's extremely worrying. We see that we're going backwards. This has just opened the door for misogynistic views to be aired in public without any concern.

“When people who are famous, celebrities, politicians, make those statements it gives the go ahead for any man to say 'it's not just me.' I do think it's indicative of the state of equality and the continued discrimination against women.”

Hayes adds: “I would say that this is a structural and institutional discrimination issue. Until it's tackled at the root then it's not going to go away.”

It’s not just women who are angry either. The author Owen Jones has spoken out against Assange, calling for him to face his claims.

He said it is time for men to “speak out” and “rape is rape.”

So why aren’t we talking? Hayes says a lot of people do not want to confront the reality of violence against women, particularly rape.

“A lot of people don't want to talk about it, they don't want to address it. It's very personal and it gets to the heart of a person's being.

“The reality of women's experience is not often known by the general public. we are struggling to educate and we do need to educate and we need to challenge the ideas that give rise to this kind of awful and damaging rhetoric.”

So what happens now? For Sarah Green of End Violence Against Women, there needs to be a public awareness campaign, similar to public health campaigns for road safety and against drink driving.

“What we need is some public campaigning in this area.

“In the same way you have drink driving campaigns we should have a large national campaign on attitudes to rape.

“If you are constantly insinuating things about what is rape you are giving a message to victims that what happened to them is rape and you are giving the nod to potential perpetrators."


What's Hot