In the Guardian January 5 2011, American feminist Naomi Wolf calls for the two women at the centre of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, to be publicly named. Thus far, the women have been referred to only as Ms A and Ms W in UK and Swedish legal proceedings. Wolf argues that this is demeaning to the alleged victims. She demands that the women be treated as “moral adults” and named as the complainants. She points out that it is usually only children whose names are withheld in criminal cases, and that to treat women in the same way is to infantalise them. Wolf writes: The shielding of sex-crimes accusers is a Victorian relic. Women are moral adults and should be treated as such.
Is Wolf’s call entirely gratuitous?
There is a certain disingenuous aspect to Wolf’s demands. The women’s names are easily found on the Internet, and have been published in at least one Australian newspaper. (As this writer doesn’t agree with the outing of complainants, you’ll have to go find the sources for yourself.) In the comments section of the Guardian article, a poster alleges that Wolf herself re-tweeted the names when she became aware of them. In her terms, that puts the alleged victims on an apparently level playing field with the accused Assange.
However, Wolf is sidestepping the reality that it is against the law in the UK to name accusers in sex crime allegations, even though she acknowledges this in her article. The current law makes her demands in this specific situation little more than theatrical posturing.
Does Wolf want all victims of sexual crimes to be named? Or just Ms A and Ms W?
It is very difficult to believe that a feminist such as Wolf is indeed launching a campaign for all victims of sexual assault to be outed when they make a complaint. For a person who wished to remain anonymous, and very many do, compulsory outing would be rather like another form of emotional and psychological rape.
Keeping the complainants’ identities secret seems like a sensible move. There is a great risk that women and men who’ve been sexually assaulted will be even less inclined to report their attackers if they themselves are publicly identified. The ordeal of reporting, examination, and facing your attacker in court is a great one, adding to this the risk of seeing your name blazoned across the media for weeks and months is not likely to encourage victims to complain.
Wolf and “the world’s dating police”
In the Assange case, the women have been vilified and harassed by his supporters across the blogosphere and in the mainstream press, which is a good argument for maintaining anonymity as much as is possible. Wolf has also done her best to discredit them prior to calling for them to be outed. In the article Julian Asssange captured by the world’s dating police Wolf accuses the women of using feminist rhetoric and the law to assuage their injured personal feelings over minimal offences. This may or may not be the case, and that is exactly the point. As yet, we don’t know. Equally, the women may have genuine grounds for complaint. Until the matter is heard, all is speculation and assumption.
When someone is wrongfully accused
There can be dire consequences for the man or woman who’s been publicly identified as standing accused of sexual assault, if he or she is subsequently found to be innocent of the charge. Mud sticks, sexual mud perhaps more than many other types. For the period leading up to the legal processes, the accused remains in an unenviable limbo, during which anything can be and is said about him or her in the media. We have seen this in Australia when, for example, footballers have experienced this process, and the media is seemingly willing to report just about anybody’s opinions on whether or not the man in question is guilty as accused, or innocent, well before the matter ever is heard in the courtroom. (Again, not wishing to perpetuate those issues about which I am complaining, you’ll have to look it up for yourself.) Trial by media is now an unfortunate commonplace.
There are murky circumstances surrounding the Assange allegations, not least of which is that they have already been dismissed by one prosecutor, only to be revived after the Wikileaks cable dump began in earnest. The allegations received new life when the case was taken up again by a right-wing Swedish politician, allegedly close to the US and facing an election, in spite of there being no new evidence against Assange.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Wolf is conducting a personal vendetta against the two women. To many feminists, it makes no sense at all that the identities of alleged victims of sexual misconduct should be revealed to the world. Wolf’s demands sound at this stage very much like tit for tat – the women’s complaints have caused Assange great difficulties, and so they should suffer difficulties as well. This ignores the reality that the women have already been subjected to considerable vilification world wide, and that no matter what one’s personal opinion of their actions, they have made a complaint that is now subject to due legal process.
Taking up arms for feminism
As well as the apparently personal aspect, Wolf has also taken up arms in the cause of feminism. She claims that in their pursuit of Assange, Interpol, the British and the Swedish governments have engaged in a form of political theatre, ostensibly pursuing a man on sex charges, in reality fuelled in their pursuit by entirely political agendas. These claims do make sense: as Wolf points out, when did anyone last hear of an alleged sex offender being pursued as relentlessly as Assange, put in solitary confinement, and denied bail while awaiting extradition? (With the relatively rare exception of child sexual abusers.) Governments and law enforcement agencies rarely if ever go to such trouble and expense.
This, Wolf claims, makes a mockery of all the women (and men, though she does not mention them) who’ve never seen justice in similar matters, and worse. In a December 13 2010 article in the Huffington Post, (titled J’accuse, in itself an interesting reference) Wolf claims that the extraordinarily disproportionate pursuit of Assange is not an example of the State embracing feminist concerns about the violation of women, rather it is an example of the State “pimping” feminism. One is tempted to observe that the States’ pursuit of Assange had nothing at all to do with feminism, either embracing or pimping, much as feminists would like to believe the philosophy had an influence in the proceedings. It is far more likely to be entirely politically motivated, perhaps in a futile attempt to silence Wikileaks by incarcerating Assange, or as a means of extraditing him to the USA, via Sweden.
To any fair-minded person, the argument ought be that no identities are revealed in such cases, neither the alleged perpetrator nor the victim. The most sensible solution all round might be to withhold the names of the complainants and the accused in alleged sexual crimes. On the downside, such a move would give the media less to prattle about, and would curb the tongues of many commentators, but it would offer protection to both parties. It should never be forgotten that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that is sometimes the case with accusers as well.
- The women accusing Julian Assange of sexual assault deserve to be taken seriously. (slate.com)
- How AOL News Started The “Sex By Surprise” Lie [Crime And Punishment] (jezebel.com)