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The Assange Case: won’t somebody think of the women

11 Feb

Assange

 

Julian Assange first expressed his willingness to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors, who were investigating allegations of rape and sexual molestation made by two women against the Wikileaks founder, in London in November 2010, as this BBC time line demonstrates.

It is common practice for Swedish prosecutors to interview persons of interest in countries other than Sweden via video link, or by travelling to meet with them.

Assange has continued to express his willingness to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors for five years. However, the Swedish government has not seen fit to carry out this basic next step in the investigation of the women’s accusations.

In fact, the Swedish government has succeeded in validating Assange’s claims that they harbour a hidden agenda: to get him back to Sweden not to investigate rape allegations, which they can do perfectly well in the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge,  but to expedite his extradition to the US.

I have no idea what occurred between the women and Assange. Neither does anyone else, but that didn’t stop feminist Naomi Wolfe from globally slut-shaming them at the time of their complaint, claiming that they insulted all rape victims with their “personal hurt feelings.”  Interpol were, Wolfe mocked, the world’s new “dating police” and the women weren’t raped, they were just mad because Assange didn’t call them back.

The women at the centre of the allegations were let down first by their government, who have to this day taken no concrete steps to proceed with their case, and next by a world-famous feminist author who was unable to distinguish between the politically motivated pursuit of Assange, and the fact that he had been accused of sexual crimes.

Things only got worse for the women, who became targets of derision, contempt and hatred from Assange supporters all over the globe. Few of these supporters, it seemed and seems, have the wit to tease out a complicated situation and understand that yes, Assange is indeed being extraordinarily hounded for his activism, and yes, there are sexual allegations against him that need to be investigated, for his sake as well as the sake of the women involved.

Rape victims are indeed being demeaned and insulted by this situation, but not, I would argue, by Assange or the alleged victims. Rather the governments of the UK, Sweden and the US are making a mockery of rape victims by creating a situation in which, yet again, alleged crimes against women are rendered a very poor second to alleged crimes against the state.

Public argument for the last five years has repeatedly returned to the question of whether or not the allegations are true. This is the wrong question. Why do three western governments continue to allow allegations of rape to go unexamined, is the question and the answer is, because women. Women are collateral damage in affairs of the state. It has always been thus, and the Assange case demonstrates it is still thus.

There is now only one allegation against Assange, a statute of limitations having been reached on the others. The Swedish prosecutors have knowingly allowed time to run out. They have deprived the alleged victims and the accused of the human right to natural justice. They continue to deny the alleged victims and Assange the human right to natural justice on the still valid allegation of rape. This act of denial continues to be perpetrated by three western governments claiming a high moral ground in the matter of state security, and Assange’s alleged attacks on that security.

Women? Molestation? Rape? Pfffffft. Tell it to someone who cares.

 

Let your heart bleed: compassion is not weakness

4 Feb

dalai-lama-on-compassion

 

Yesterday in Australia the High Court upheld the legality of off-shore detention of refugees, a decision that should come as a surprise to no one given legislation passed by both major parties in June 2015 that virtually obliges the Court to arrive at this decision. The June legislation was rushed through by the LNP and the ALP, in the knowledge of the imminent Court challenge which was resolved yesterday.

Some 267 refugees temporarily in Australia, mostly for medical treatment, can now be returned to Nauru, as well as some 33 babies. Whether they will be returned or not is up to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who yesterday in Parliament gave a thundering declaration reinforcing our right to sovereignty, and his determination to maintain the status quo, signalling his intention.

My question is, if the much vaunted Border Force is even mildly competent, why do we need to use the morally bereft indefinite imprisonment of refugees on a stinking guano gulag, to dissuade future asylum seekers from attempting to journey here by boat?

My observation is, if we have to treat refugees in this despicable manner, we have forfeited our sovereignty and there is nothing left to protect. Sovereignty is not merely a matter of a nation’s borders.

Robert Manne has written an excellent blog in The Monthly on what he describes as the “rigid, irrational mind-set” that has led us to this situation.

There is little point in engaging in yet another outburst decrying the lack of morality of a government that believes in order to protect the sovereignty of the nation it must destroy the lives of others, and an opposition that supports this view.

The very concept of morality has been so eroded by successive governments that it has come to mean little more than “getting emotional,” in other words, exhibiting a contemptible demonstration of weakness. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, interviewed on the 7.30 Report last night, said he would be guided by medical advice as to who to return to Nauru and when, and in the next breath said he wouldn’t be taking that advice from anyone who was “emotional.”

This conflation of morality and compassion with the pejorative “emotional” is part of what Manne describes as a rigid, irrational mindset that takes the view that any disagreement is a sign of inferior thinking, dominated by emotion.

Labor’s spokesperson on Immigration, Richard Marles, yesterday conceded that sending children back to Nauru would be “disruptive” but said: we are talking about people whose lives were disrupted long before Australia came on the scene. In other words, when people have been traumatised before we encounter them it hardly matters if we traumatise them further because they’re used to it. What harm can a bit more do?

Mr Marles demonstrates a despicable lack of regard for suffering. His attitude is also part of a rigid and utterly irrational mindset: anyone at all damaged is rendered less human by virtue of that damage, and so our obligations to them are correspondingly minimal.

As some 70 per cent of Australians are apparently supportive of how we treat asylum seekers, there’s not much chance of immediate change. All we can do is keep on keeping on. There are no doubt politicians in both major parties who are appalled at their colleagues’ attitudes and policies but unless they take a stand, nothing can begin to change. In the meantime, let our hearts bleed over everything, especially the ballot boxes, and let us wear compassion as the badge of courage it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Two: Family violence and the middle class

1 Feb

Escape

 

Yesterday’s post on family violence and the middle class drew some criticism, in one instance culminating in me being described as a troll, and my point of view as “stupid, sigh” by the male who didn’t agree with it, or the fact that I wouldn’t back down from it. I find that patronising sigh interesting, given that we were discussing gender imbalance and middle class abuse. I’ve noticed lately on social media that if I politely persist in addressing areas of disagreement, abuse almost inevitably results: apparently there comes a point in discussion with some middle class men where if a woman doesn’t capitulate her position is stupid, sigh. A clever woman knows when to shut her mouth, perhaps?

I’ve used as my source for the argument against using class as a determinant in the family violence debate this government document titled Domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia: an overview of the issues, compiled in October 2014.

Quote:

In Australia, domestic, family and sexual violence is found across all cultures, ages and socio-economic groups, but the majority of those who experience these forms of violence are women. However, it is not possible to measure the true extent of the problem as most incidents of domestic, family and sexual violence go unreported.

Risk factors:

As discussed earlier, domestic, family and sexual violence occurs across all ages, cultures and socio-economic groups.[27] However, research shows that some women are at greater risk of experiencing these forms of violence than others.[28] For example, exposure to child abuse or violence as a child, alcohol or drug dependency issues, financial or personal stress and lack of social support are all strong correlates of violence against women.[29] Some women are also more vulnerable to violence, or less able to leave violent relationships, based on factors such as age, Indigenous status, location, disability, ethnicity, and English language ability.

None of these risk factors are peculiar to any particular class, yet it’s far from unusual for such risk factors to be presumed to be indicators of class.

The face of Australian family violence for the last twelve months was Rosie Batty, whose son, Luke, was horribly and publicly murdered by his father. Ms Batty is a middle class woman. Indeed, a woman who was unable to perform the middle class expectations of that role would never have been appointed in the first place.  I don’t recall Ms Batty framing family violence as a class issue: far from it, it seems to me she at all times focused on violence against women and children, regardless of class.

I suspect that a focus on class in the family violence debate draws attention away from the far more threatening perspective of  family violence as an issue of gender inequality. Far easier for the middle classes, males in particular, to distance themselves from gender inequality if its most violent manifestation is said to occur in demographics other than their own.

As long as family violence is associated with the shame and othering of what is perceived as *welfare class* behaviour, middle class women and children will continue to remain largely silent on what happens to them in their homes.

I also do not and will not accept the stigmatisation of low-income, poor and Indigenous people in the matter of family violence as a class issue.

As a woman explained to me today, her middle class status changed overnight when she reported some twenty-five years of family violence to police.  The consequences of reporting saw her lose that status, and become a member of the *underclass.* How would I be represented in the statistics, she asks. How indeed.

Women and children who leave violent relationships frequently suffer financially and socially, as well as running a high risk of further injury and even death at the hands of the perpetrator.

Assistance, protection, legal help and sanctuary should be available for every woman and child who is a victim of family violence, regardless of class and any other consideration. When services are being increasingly withdrawn by the LNP government, either directly or through reduced funding to the states, it seems rather ludicrous to be quarrelling about the class to which victims belong.

I don’t buy the argument that establishing the class of victims allows policy makers to best direct funding. As the cited overview states, those who experience family violence are predominantly women, and it is impossible to measure the true extent of the problem as most incidents go unreported. Were adequate services available, women would be enabled to report. We might then see what place class has in family violence.

What is indisputable is that it is women who are most urgently in need of assistance, and that the problem is at its source one of gender inequality and not class, though class certainly has an effect on reporting, and perception.

 

 

Family violence and the middle class

31 Jan

 

Family ViolenceI’ve just read yet another white, middle-class journalist, female this time, assert that there are forces other than misogyny and gender inequality that are accountable for family violence, and that this type of violence is perpetrated in predominantly low-income families. This view is also held by Miranda Devine.

I wrote about this last year when Martin Mackenzie-Murray made the same claims in The Saturday Paper, and Mark Latham also claimed that current opinion on family violence had been hijacked by feminists who wrongly hold that the problem is rooted in patriarchal notions of male entitlement and domination that result in gender inequality. According to both men, domestic violence predominantly occurs in low-income families, including indigenous families.

What all these commentators fail to grasp is that while poverty, unemployment, alcohol, drug use and any number of disparate justifications can be found to *explain* male violence against intimate partners and children, all of these factors are the symptoms, and not the cause. A violent male believes that he is entitled to harm his partner and children. Whether he is poor, unemployed, drunk, sober or stoned, or middle-class, he first believes he is entitled to act out his dissatisfactions on the bodies and minds of his family.

I’m at a loss to understand why some journalists are so anxious to deny that family violence occurs in middle-class families. The assumption they make is that because domestic violence isn’t as evident or as frequently reported by middle-class women, it can’t be happening. This is ridiculously disingenuous, and bordering on the ignorant. Data about domestic violence comes from samples to which researchers have access. Women who report family violence to police are more likely to be from a low-income demographic, and/or living in poverty. Middle-class women have far more options available to them to either hide the abuse, or escape it. They are far less likely to end up in a system to which researchers have access.

There is no reason at all to assume that middle-class men have less of a sense of entitlement than men in the so-called “welfare classes,” to use Ms Devine’s phrase. For example, middle-class men sexually abuse children: educated priests, teachers, judges, entertainers, business men, coaches, there are abusers in every profession, as we know from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse. Middle class-men rape women. Middle-class men murder women. Are we to assume, for some reason I can’t for the life of me fathom, that middle-class men, while capable of every other kind of violence against women refrain from attacking their families, leaving that particular expression of entitlement and domination to their lower-class bros?

There is no “typical” female victim of domestic violence. There is no “typical” male perpetrator of domestic violence. All that is required is that a man believe he is entitled to abuse his partner and/or children, and this sense of entitlement crosses all classes.

It might be more comfortable to think of family violence as an us and them problem: it’s only the “welfare classes” and indigenous families, not people like us. While the middle-classes readily acknowledge gender inequality expressed in the imbalance of women on boards, in unequal pay, in the lack of female CEOs, in child care services that keep us out of the workforce, in sexual harassment in the workplace and so on, for some reason it is assumed that male entitlement and domination will not manifest in middle-class family life: that expression of patriarchal culture is apparently reserved only for the disadvantaged.

Well, no, it isn’t. And the questions we need to ask are: a) why is there a current push to persuade us otherwise, and b) what effect does the denial of middle-class family violence have on our so far futile efforts to reduce/end all domestic violence?

 

 

Briggs, Pearce and power

29 Jan

Power

I know there are differences between the Jamie Briggs’ scandal and the Australia Day shenanigans of footballer and Roosters’ vice-captain Mitchell Pearce: there was no dog involved in the politician’s folly, for example.

Apart from that, both men have attributed their ill-advised sexual advances on women (and a dog, in Pearce’s case) to an excess of alcohol, and both have admitted prior knowledge of the negative effects of that substance on their behaviour.

The other common denominator in both cases is power. As an elite footballer, Pearce enjoys the kind of power most of us will never experience. As a government minister, Briggs also enjoyed a level of power over others that most of us will never experience. Unfortunately, both men seem to have a corresponding lack of governance over themselves.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates takes issue with the man who “although he is incapable of governing himself undertakes  to govern others,” and argues that self-governance should be a pre-condition for the governance of others. This recommendation makes complete sense to me: If you can’t control yourself, what business have you exercising control of any kind over another?

In both cases, the men sought to exercise their power through sex. In Pearce’s case, when the woman refused him he actually said he’d fuck her dog, he didn’t care, which rather sounds as if a) he believes he’s got a right to stick his penis in anything with a pulse, and b) for Pearce, there’s not a lot of difference between sex with a woman and sex with a dog.

Neither woman sought sexual contact with either man, and both women experienced the advances as unwanted and upsetting.

I guess alcohol doesn’t help when it comes to reading signals, and I’m reasonably certain the dog didn’t send out an invitation anyway.

This situation, of men drunk and sober advancing on women who have not the slightest desire to be advanced upon, occurs probably every minute of the day somewhere in the world, with a continuum of consequences for both parties involved. It’s my opinion that such advances are always about power, before they are about sexual desire. The very acting upon desire for a woman who has demonstrated none for you is an exercise of power, of entitlement, and the unexamined assumptions that because you fancy her she has to fancy you, or that it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t you’ll have her anyway because you want to and, if you have enough power over her, because you can.

Given Socrate’s prescription that self-governance is a prerequisite for the governance of others, it’s entirely appropriate that men in positions of power such as Briggs and Pearce are stripped of those positions when they are unable to control their sexual impulses. I’ve read many arguments about the hard time Pearce was enduring, and the demands on elite sportsmen. Jamie Briggs’ wife Estee defended his behaviour, claiming Prime Minister Turnbull had over-reacted, and her husband flies a lot, which he doesn’t find easy.

Honestly. Women aren’t stress relievers for powerful men who aren’t coping with their lives. Sex can be, but only with people who want to have it with you. Leave the dogs alone.

PS: Nobody can know how hard it has been to leave Chris Kenny out of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Water cannon. Free speech. The right not to listen.

22 Jan

 

A metal toggle switch with plate reading Listen and Ignore, symbolizing how we choose to pay attention to certain messages

The robust exchanges of the last few days on the subject of so-called “brokens” and the need to control or silence their allegedly “broken” speech reminded me of Human Rights Freedom Commissioner Tim Wilson’s unfortunate tweet, posted shortly before he was parachuted into a job created specifically for him by Attorney-General George Brandis. Wilson was apparently walking through a public space in Melbourne on his way to somewhere else, when he suffered considerable affront at the sight and sound of an Occupy Melbourne protest:

@timwilsoncomau Walked past Occupy Melbourne protest, all people who think freedom of speech = freedom 2 b heard, time wasters … send in the water cannons 

What Wilson overlooked in this tweet is that nobody was forcing him to hear the protesters, except momentarily: he could walk right by them, remove himself from earshot, get on his train or tram and continue with his journey, free from the sound of others enacting their right to speak.

But Wilson was not interested in taking responsibility for himself: instead he felt an entitlement to protection from momentary affront, and it was to the state that he turned for his preferred method of protection. People exercising their freedom to protest deserved to be injured and silenced by water cannon, because Tim Wilson was aggravated by noisy views he did not share.

Engagement in social media is going to bring most participants slap bang up against views they do not share, oftentimes expressed in a manner to which they are not accustomed, and do not necessarily like. This happens to me regularly. I can either take the Tim Wilson route and demand these voices be silenced by some authority because I have a right not to listen to them,  or I can use my mute button, my unfollow button, or even my block button, and take responsibility for creating my own online environment that doesn’t include people who, for whatever reason, bother me.

The right not to listen goes hand in hand with the responsibility to take your own measures to protect yourself against another exercising her freedom of speech, if the content or manner of her expression bothers you, rather than appealing to the state or some other authority to do it for you, or demanding that the bothersome voices somehow be silenced so you aren’t subjected to them.

There are laws already in place that deal with dangerous situations and threatening people, but they don’t deal with boring people, or repetitive people, or people who don’t want to stop arguing their case, or people you think are stupid, and neither should they. I have the right not to listen to people who aggravate me, and I have a responsibility to enact that right myself when I have the means to do so. I’m not entitled to demand that the environment I want be created for me by the silencing of others.

None of us is entitled to protection from momentary affront caused by someone else enacting their right to freedom of speech. None of us has to listen either. But my right not to listen doesn’t trump your right to speak, unless your speech is illegal, or you’re forcing me against my will to listen.

One person’s broken record is another person’s gutsy persistence, and there are countless examples of situations in which injustices of all kinds would have continued unchallenged if it wasn’t for one person’s gutsy persistence, that could well have been perceived by others as “broken record” behaviour. There are also countless examples of people who vainly thrust at windmills, and so what?

If you desire civil discourse you won’t call for the water cannon, either literally or metaphorically, to silence those who in some way fail to attain your standards of debate. You’ll engage with others who have the same goal, rather than complain and angst about what we have to do to get those “brokens” as evolved as we are, or is it better just to condemn them to the margins because they’re incorrigibly dumb and boring and not worth the energy.

If you’re so damn smart, how come you haven’t worked out that you don’t have to listen, it’s a choice, and you’re the master or mistress of your online domain, if you only take responsibility for it?

 

 

Language, and civil discourse

21 Jan

Civil Discourse

 

If you don’t use Twitter, you likely aren’t aware of the kerfuffle of the last few days over the use of the term “brokens.”

Really cool people spell it “broekens” or “broekns,” adding an inexplicable Afrikaans note.

In itself it’s not an exceptionally noteworthy kerfuffle, except that it does starkly demonstrate a current conservative attitude to those considered lacking in calibre, how they ought to be treated, and what should be done about them.

Briefly, exclusion is recommended as a method of dealing with Twitter “brokens.” This remedy will be familiar to everyone who has been following governmental human marginalisation projects since the LNP took office.

In the Twitter case the term brokens is used by one group to refer to another whose manner of engagement they consider to be detrimental to public discourse. It is explained here by commentator Mark Fletcher:

The term ‘Broken’ appears to have a few different accepted meanings. One interesting etymology is that it’s related to the phrase ‘Broken Records’. They are the people who endlessly repeat tiny fragments of argument, persistently and unceasingly. I tend to think of it in terms of Broken People: here are people who are fundamentally incapable of engaging with rational discourse… endlessly repeating tiny fragments of argument, persistently and unceasingly.

Fletcher has a point: there are people who attempt to engage in such a manner, and they’re usually referred to as “trolls.”

However, the term “Broken People” has far more levels of meaning than that of troll, a scary strange non-human who in fairy tales hides under a bridge, determined to prevent you from crossing. It’s disingenuous of Fletcher or anyone else to argue otherwise.

The term was interpreted by many people  as abusive, offensive, elitist and controlling, as well as labelling, and as stigmatising anyone with mental health issues.

Here is how Fletcher recommends we deal with Broken People:

Being able to label and exclude the Brokens is important as part of the creation of a quality public forum. We label and exclude trolls in the same way. Where trolls don’t want to contribute constructively to public discourse, Brokens are fundamentally incapable of doing so. We are not better off as a public by including these participants. What value is there in expending a large amount of effort trying to get the Brokens to a place where they can contribute constructively? It’s a better use of time to let them play on the fringes of debate rather than let them occupy the mainstream. 

What is striking is that Fletcher seems unaware of the wider implications of his remedy for silencing what he terms the “brokens.” This isn’t a term can that be stripped of its levels of meaning: there is no way it will be understood as referring solely to someone who mimics a broken record.

I decided to conduct a small experiment. I contacted Fletcher on Twitter and suggested that his attitude could be interpreted as advocating social eugenics. Did I really want to suggest that calling for a higher quality of public discourse was the same as the Holocaust, he replied.

I was astonished at the speed at which Fletcher’s argument collapsed into Godwin’s Law, as well as his apparent ignorance of the history of eugenics which predates Nazi Germany by some thousands of years. I responded along these lines and he immediately called me a “Broken.” All this took place in just four 140 character tweets, only two of them from me, so it’s hardly possible to accuse me of mimicking a broken record and justifying labelling me thus.

My experiment worked. I’d suspected all along that the term broken had little to do with broken records and everything to to do with contemptuous elitist abuse from those who claim to be primarily interested in establishing civil discourse by excluding those they claim are incapable of that level of engagement.

My message to Fletcher and his cohort is: if you desire civil discourse, first take note of your own use of language. If you aren’t capable of considering the connotations, subtle and otherwise, of the language you employ, you aren’t ready for civil discourse.

 

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