I just tweeted about the same thing over and over, so that must mean it’s time for a blog post!
Summary of issue: Michael Moore has done some very ugly victim-blaming in his essay “Why I’m Posting Bail Money for Julian Assange,” writing that the sexual assault allegations are “strange” and not to be believed because they are part of the “official story” about Assange’s arrest. Over at Tiger Beatdown, Sady Doyle explains why it’s super important for progressives (like Moore) to take rape allegations seriously, and has encouraged folks to flood Moore’s Twitter feed to ask for an explanation and an apology (and ideally a donation to an anti-sexual assault organization).
Bigger picture if you’re new to the Wikileaks story: Julian Assange is the man behind Wikileaks, which has been steadily leaking embarrassing-at-best, dangerous-at-worst diplomatic cables to major news organizations for the past weekish. He also allegedly, unrelatedly committed multiple instances of sexual assault. The charges against him have been dropped and reopened, and he is currently in custody (or possibly out on bail, depending on when you’re reading this) in Britain.
My thinking, right now, subject to change: Michael Moore is a boor, always has been, and his attitude here is boorish. Sady Doyle has done a good job of explaining why victim blaming in rape cases is an absolute no-no. People much smarter than me have written a lot about the important ways rape gets underreported and poorly prosecuted, and what that means generally for communities. As a progressive, Moore should have known better than to victim-blame, and would do well to take seriously all the outraged tweets he’s getting.
That said, I also think it’s important to look critically at these allegations. Not at the women, but at the timing, and the timing that has nothing to do with the women. The first arrest warrant was issued in August; it subsequently went away. The investigation was reopened on September 1. Interpol placed Assange on their most-wanted list on Nov. 30, two days after Wikileaks began releasing diplomatic cables. (Unrelated: Apologies for the passive voice. Passive voice drives me crazy, but in this case I really don’t understand international criminal law well enough to be confident naming specific actors. Hi George Orwell, love your work.)
I’m not drawing any concrete conclusions here. But I do think this timing (timeline here) is fishy. It’s important to take that seriously, too, because if these rape allegations are being inappropriately used to keep Assange in jail, there’s a bigger problem than just freedom of information. For a government to intentionally use an unrelated criminal charge as a means of controlling someone suspected of entirely unrelated pernicious activities is one thing. For a government to intentionally exploit women who claim to have been sexually assaulted is really problematic.
As Doyle notes, rape victims are unlikely to come forward if they think the person who raped them is likely to be protected by the community or the media. How likely are they to come forward if they think they’ll be exploited by the government? And then, if they are being exploited by the government, how unfair is it to expose them to further harassment in the service of something questionably ethical? Rapists use bodies for power and control. IF anyone is using these rape charges as an excuse to keep Julian Assange neutralized, then they’re using these women’s stories (stories about their bodies) for power and control.
I feel like I’m not articulating this particularly well, so I hope someone is able to do a better job than I have. People are writing some incredibly smart things about Wikileaks, but I think it’s important to note how especially inappropriate it is/would be to use allegations of rape as a means to a political end.