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Friday, December 24, 2010

Shouldn't consent be at the center of rape laws?

There are tons of sites better suited to in-depth coverage of the Assange case, so I'm not going to talk about that case per se in this post, but I was re-reading the infamous AOL News "sex by surprise" piece that Jessica Valenti so brilliantly wrote a takedown of (sadly, not after it basically became the go-to article on the topic) and saw this, bolding mine:

But others say Assange, who denies any wrongdoing and says the sex was consensual, may have just run afoul of Sweden's unusual rape laws, which are considered pro-feminist because of the consideration given issues of consent when it comes to sexual activity -- including even the issue of whether a condom was used.

Now, I have not personally read the Swedish laws, but just the phrasing there should give us pause. Isn't consent at the heart of the issue of rape? Or shouldn't it be?

Even though I don't agree with Naomi Wolf (because being pithy, snarky and overly brief about a major topic works so well; do also see Yes Means Yes editor Jaclyn Friedman talking with her on Democracy Now) or former sex crimes prosecutor Wendy Murphy, who I quote from The Daily Beast below, that this case somehow hurts other cases simply by the timing and fame of it, I think this is a sad but interesting commentary:

In another context, I'd argue vigorously for wider understanding of the multitude of ways that the American justice system routinely fails to protect women's personal autonomy and bodily integrity by enacting inadequate laws, and failing to enforce the ones we have. For example, in almost every state in this country, rape requires proof not only of nonconsent but also "force." If you take my stuff without my consent, it's called larceny. If you also use force, it's called robbery. But if you take my bodily integrity without my consent, it's not a crime at all, unless you also use force. Non-consent should be enough.

I do think we're seeing a lot of great stories that point out the complexities of the issue of "how a rape victim should act," meaning, there is no "one right way." Amanda Marcotte at Slate wrote a great piece, The Perils of Charging Rape.

There's a 1994 book I read that I still think is extremely powerful, I Never Called It Rape: The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape by Robin Warshaw. This recommendation is not about the law per se but about some of the ways we talk about rape and sexual assault and the reality of the ways women talk and feel about their experiences; as the title shows, they do not all speak of it using the word "rape" or the same language at all.

I also just read a blog post by Teri Buhl stating that in London there is a belief that one of the accusers "is a honey fly, positioned to sit front row and braless during his college talk in Sweeden and entrap him in a sexually devious event." I have no idea what actually happened between Assange and these women but find the idea that a woman is even being discussed in this way offensive, but even more, what is a "sexually devious event" and what does that even mean? And, playing devil's advocate, this were remotely true, wouldn't you think Assange would have, I don't know, stayed away? I think that idea is as insulting to men as it is to women; that women don't think/act for themselves as well as that men think only with their dicks. Again, I'm leaving the Assange coverage to others but this has certainly brought the topic of what rape looks like in real people's lives (aside from the two accusers) and what our assumptions about what those who bring rape charges should look and act and sound like to the fore.

Though after Michael Moore's recent appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show, the #mooreandme hashtag on Twitter, at least as it relates to Michael Moore, is basically over (though still generating fascinating discussions), I wanted to share this post, "An Open Letter to Michael Moore", from The SAFER Blog, that I found extremely moving.

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