Male politicians, whether of the left or the right, should stop trying to tell women what rape really is. 

So it appears that the story of the Republican's senatorial candidate in Missouri, Todd Akin, and his somewhat interesting views on rape and pregnancy have made it into the NZ media. For those who haven't caught up with it, Representative Akin was being questioned about his position on abortion - which is that it should be illegal in all cases, including where a pregnancy is the result of rape.

OK ... that's a principled position, I guess (even if I personally think it is completely wrong). But the problem was that in seeking to defend it he made the claim that in the case of a "legitimate" rape, "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down" so that a pregnancy does not occur.

This is, of course, abject nonsense with no physiological basis whatsoever. But it does help to get abortion opponents out of a hole, insofar as it allows them to claim that any pregnancy a woman claims resulted from "rape" cannot actually have resulted from such action, so there's no reason to have a "rape exemption" to any ban on abortion. Hence, a number of abortion opponents have over the years continued to repeat it.

The difference being that those opponents aren't a major party senatorial candidate in a state that may determine who has control of the Senate after November's election; an election in which women voters are a very, very important swing block. Which is why Akin's attempt to distinguish between "legitimate" rape and "not-legitimate" rape has caused a major fire-storm, with his own party howling for him to step aside from the race (even as it prepares to adopt a policy plank at its convention next week that basically repeats his actual views on abortion) while the Democrats desperately try to connect Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to Akin's views.

Yes, this is what politics has come to in the US of A.

So, as sensible moderates (for who else reads Pundit?), let us agree that what Akin said was risible nonsense and that rape is rape is rape. And having agreed on that, let us turn our scorn across the Atlantic and heap it on another political figure.

For, according to The Independent, George Galloway - a gad-fly figure on the British left who has parlayed his opposition to middle-eastern wars into a seat in Parliament, as well as also pretending to be a cat on the set of Celebrity Big Brother - has defended Julian Assange's attempts to avoid extradition to Sweden on the basis that "his actions amounted to no more than bad “sexual etiquette”." 

Let's accept for the moment that there is as yet no definitive proof as to what occured between Mr Assange and the two female complainants. And let's also accept that such proof is notoriously difficult to bring to bear in cases of alleged sexual offending - amounting in many cases to a simple "she said/he said" evidence.

Nevertheless, contrary to Mr Galloway's allegation that the complaints by the Swedish women would never have resulted in a prosecution in the UK, the courts when hearing Mr Assange's opposition to extradition have made it plenty clear that the allegations (if proven true) would amount to a crime in the UK as well. And if Mr Galloway instead is saying that those allegations would not be prosecuted in the UK ... well, isn't that an indictment of the UK justice system and the way it treats sexual offences?

 So, least we be accused of cutting our cloth to fit our hero's shoulders, can we agree that having male political figures opine on what is "really" rape is just a really, really bad thing?

Comments (32)

by Chris de Lisle on August 22, 2012
Chris de Lisle

I think it is broader than male politicians - not a week seems to go by without someone 'newsworthy' offering their ill-formed opinion on rape. There seems to be a broad cultural undercurrent which wants to relax the definition of rape / fails to take it seriously (which is weird - no one's doing that for murder). We're not immune to that undercurrent here, as the Hell's Pizza debacle shows. People need to stop offering flippant opinions on it at all, and the media needs to stop publishing every stupid thing that gets said on the subject, because it just seems to encourage that undercurrent (though I admit that campaigning politicians pose a particular issue in this regard).

by stuart munro on August 22, 2012
stuart munro

Somewhere along the line men and women need to be able to agree what is and isn't rape, in non legal/technical vocabulary. The Republican is a fool, but Assange is also a political figure, as are the complainants. It is doubtful the complaint would have been made were he not, certainly he would not be obliged to take refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. So there is some benefit to plain definitions of rape if only to prevent legal systems being abused to serve political rather than justice issues.

by Andrew Geddis on August 22, 2012
Andrew Geddis

...but Assange is also a political figure, as are the complainants. It is doubtful the complaint would have been made were he not ...

Really? That seems somewhat speculative, if you'll forgive me for saying so. Is there any evidence the complainants were motivated by Assange's status as a "political figure"?

So there is some benefit to plain definitions of rape if only to prevent legal systems being abused to serve political rather than justice issues.

There's a pretty clear definition of rape - see, for example, here.

For the offence of rape to have been committed the defendant must have penetrated you without your consent, or continued to penetrate you after you withdrew your consent, and the defendant must not have reasonably believed that you were consenting.

It is not relevant what relationship, if any, a defendant has or had with you. Nor is it relevant if the act complained of occurred within a relationship. If the defendant intentionally penetrates with his penis the vagina, anus or mouth of the complainant without her consent where he does not reasonably believe in her consent the defendant has committed rape.

 

by Tim Watkin on August 22, 2012
Tim Watkin

Akin has made a $150,000 ad buy to defend his position and is calling the outcry over his statement an "overreaction". It seems he prays for rape victims. He has no idea. Or political sense as it could cost th Republicans the senate. But he's got blind gumption.

 

by Ross on August 22, 2012
Ross

It is not relevant what relationship, if any, a defendant has or had with you.

Just to think I could lay a complaint against my ex-wife.

by Ross on August 22, 2012
Ross

If the defendant intentionally penetrates with his penis the vagina, anus or mouth of the complainant without her consent where he does not reasonably believe in her consent the defendant has committed rape.

Hmmm by that logic men can rape women but women cannot rape men. I suggest you may need another definition. Did Assange give consent for the two women to have sex with him?

by stuart munro on August 22, 2012
stuart munro

My understanding is that the decline of consent was post facto, and subsequent to discussions with a male Swedish political figure. But let us be clear, these are consent rapes, not forcible rapes. In both cases the women had consented, and later determined that some other element over-ruled that consent - non-use of condom or initiating sex with a sleeping partner.

The status of condom use is apparently unique to Sweden, where not using one is apparently sufficient to establish rape.

Evidence of political motivation... I'm sure there are other sexual crime suspects not the subject of extradition proceedings or in danger of rendition and illegal detention by the US. They don't make it into the news.

by Andrew Geddis on August 22, 2012
Andrew Geddis

@Ross:

Sort of. Only men can commit a "rape" in UK or NZ law ... see the Crimes Act 1961, s 128, which says that the offence of "sexual violation" encompasses "rape", which in turn means:

Person A rapes person B if person A has sexual connection with person B, effected by the penetration of person B's genitalia by person A's penis,—

(a) without person B's consent to the connection; and

(b)without believing on reasonable grounds that person B consents to the connection.

However, it equally is the offence of "sexual violation" to have "unlawful sexual connection" with another person (see s 128(3)):

Person A has unlawful sexual connection with person B if person A has sexual connection with person B—

(a) without person B's consent to the connection; and

(b) without believing on reasonable grounds that person B consents to the connection.

So a women who had sex with a man without his consent (such as where, for example, a woman climbed into bed with a man who had drunk to the point of unconciousness and gave him a blow job) would be just as guilty of the offence of sexual violation as a man who commits penile rape on a woman. And both are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.  

by Ross on August 22, 2012
Ross

Thanks for that Andrew, though it is still unclear where that leaves us re Assange. I note that there seems to be some serious problems with the prosecution case. Feminist Naomi Wolf smells a rat. 

http://markcrispinmiller.com/2011/02/eight-big-problems-with-the-case-ag...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/naomi-wolf/jaccuse-sweden-britain-an_b_795899.html

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 22, 2012
Andrew Geddis

@Stuart,

There's a summary of the events leading to the issuance of an arrest warrant (which was then rescinded, before being reissued) here. I accept there's a bit of murkiness around whether any offence actually has been committed ... as I said in my post, "proof is notoriously difficult to bring to bear in cases of alleged sexual offending - amounting in many cases to simple "she said/he said" evidence."

However, when you say:

But let us be clear, these are consent rapes, not forcible rapes.

aren't you saying what Todd Akin said, just in slightly less offensive language?  

by Ross on August 22, 2012
Ross

aren't you saying what Todd Akin said, just in slightly less offensive language?

I'm not sure what Akin was trying to say. But even Naomi Wolf - a rape victim and rape counsellor - has referrred to consent rapes in the Assange case.

by Andrew Geddis on August 22, 2012
Andrew Geddis

Ross,

Having read those Naomi Wolf pieces, I do wonder if she is conflating her experience of how rape victims get treated by the criminal justice system in the parts of the world she know about (which is very badly) with how Sweden treats allegations of rape. In other words, it is entirely possible that Sweden follows a model of dealing with rape claims that Wolf really ought to support all other places adopting ... meaning that Assange's treatment isn't quite the outlier she alleges, rather it is Sweden's system that is. We might note, for example, that Sweden was one of the first European countries to outlaw rape within marriage - which perhaps points towards a more advanced 

There also is this article pointing out that Sweden has the highest level of reported rapes in Europe (the article then suggests that is not necessarily because there are more happening, but because it is taken more seriously by the justice system ... but this article appears to contradict that claim). And as such, we could speculate that the police force/prosecution authorities may be more inclined to take such allegations seriously when brought forwards (even, perhaps, to proactively encourage women to make complaints about how they've been treated).

Now - I simply don't know if this is the case or not. But I suspect Naomi Wolf doesn't really know either (despite her undeniable experience of dealing with victims elsewhere in the world). What would help us tell if the whole Assange investigation is a stitch up or simply the Swedish criminal justice system working as it would for anyone else (because, surely, Naomi Wolf or anyone else wouldn't want to claim Assange should be given a free pass on alleged offending just because he's done good things in terms of making available information about US actions in Iraq, etc?) is a series of counter-examples ... are there cases where the Swedish police/prosecution have either pursued rape claims against similar alleged offenders, or dropped them? That would be a meaningful comparator to enable us to judge whether his political status is the primary reason for his being pursued.

I'd note in all of this I'm pretty much agnostic on the issue of Assange's actual guilt or innocence, and I'm equally agnostic on whether the allegations against him are being pursued for mainly political purposes ... I just think that it's wrong to say (as George Galloway appears to believe) that even if Assange did do what he's alleged to have done, there was no real crime involved. It is to close to the "she was asking for it, and it ain't rape if there's no bruises" school of thought for my taste.

by Ross on August 22, 2012
Ross

Galloway recently said:

"No never means yes and non-consensual sex is rape," he said. "There's no doubt about it and that has always been my position. ... Julian Assange – let's be clear – has always denied the allegations. And this has all the hallmarks of a setup. I don't believe, from what we know, that the director of public prosecutions would sanction a prosecution in Britain. What occurred is not rape as most people understand it. And it's important to note that the two women involved did not initially claim it."

What Galloway seems to be saying is that the complainants consented and certainly there is evidence of consent.

by BeShakey on August 22, 2012
BeShakey

It all sounds very murky. Pity there isn't some kind of institution aimed at determining the facts in cases of alleged criminality.

by Ross on August 22, 2012
Ross

One of the lawyers acting for Assange has said the case against his client is one of the weakest he has ever seen. If Assange was questioned formally in Sweden, he doubts that he would be prosecuted.

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:LXTFoRoKy7gJ:www.fsilaw.com/c...

by BeShakey on August 22, 2012
BeShakey

Hmmm, so charges should never be heard against someone as long as their lawyer says the case is weak?

by Ross on August 22, 2012
Ross

Hmmm, so charges should never be heard against someone as long as their lawyer says the case is weak?

Did you read what the lawyer said?

by stuart munro on August 22, 2012
stuart munro

But let us be clear, these are consent rapes, not forcible rapes.

aren't you saying what Todd Akin said, just in slightly less offensive language? 

A very lawyerly cheap shot Andrew - You can do better than that. No, I made no comment on conception, Akin's comments go with a hard line against abortion, and he asserts that pregnancy is vanishingly rare from rape due to some kind of biological defense mechanism. Akin presumably learned this by direct revelation, because it is so far unknown to science.

by Andrew Geddis on August 23, 2012
Andrew Geddis

@Stuart,

My arched eyebrow was more at the juxtaposition of "consent rape" with "forcible rape", as a possible interpretation of that juxtaposition is that only the latter is "legitimate rape" (to use Akin's unfortunate phrase) ... nothing to do with issues of conception that may result. But I admit I may have been twisting your words somewhat, for which I apologise.

On the substance of my original post, this guy says what I was trying to say much better.

by Andre Terzaghi on August 23, 2012
Andre Terzaghi

Going back to the start of Andrew's original post, Akin's nonsense about women being able to prevent pregnancy from rape has been around in Republican circles for a long time. Santorum made a big deal of it in the early 90s,complete with all kinds of fabricated details about how this magic supposedly occurred. At the time during lunchroom discussions (at a workplace about 10 km away from Princeton University) I was utterly gobsmacked about how many apparently at least modestly intelligent people totally bought into it.

by Ross on August 23, 2012
Ross

Andrew

I read the article you linked to and I must admit the author lost me when he compared rape to burglary. I would also note that the author made no attempt to define rape. Also, to compare Akin and Galloway was unfortunate because in my opinion they are saying different things.

One of Assange's lawyers has noted that there are three types of charges in Sweden for rape - gross rape, ordinary rape and not gross (or minor) rape. According to another lawyer acting for Assange, “What is in Swedish law ‘minor rape’ does not amount to rape in any other European country...[t]he charge does not meet the European law standard concept of rape.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-07/assange-lawyer-tells-u-k-court-swedish-prosecutor-abusing-power.html

 

by stuart munro on August 23, 2012
stuart munro

I don't think it's difficult to imagine non-forcible rapes which are as bad or worse than forcible ones - threats of harm to children or the like. The difficulties arise over consent that may change after the fact. It is not unknown for men to wake up with someone they'd rather gnaw their arm off to escape than speak to in the morning, and it may be that some women sometimes feel the same way.

When you throw in the way memory changes over time that we know from psych and accounts of other crimes, consent rape cases are not always going to leave a satisfying feeling of fairness and objectivity. Together with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty it's not hard to understand how women might feel that a culture of tolerance for sexual offending exists or existed.

But the Assange case has certainly moved me to cut back on my casual affairs with Swedish political activists, even though I understand Ecuador is a very attractive country.

 

by Graeme Edgeler on August 23, 2012
Graeme Edgeler

Only men can commit a "rape" in UK or NZ law ... see the Crimes Act 1961, s 128, which says that the offence of "sexual violation" encompasses "rape", which in turn means: ...

Women have been convicted of rape in New Zealand.

by Andrew Geddis on August 23, 2012
Andrew Geddis

@Ross,

I'm sure Assange's lawyers have said a lot of things. But I'd note the UK Magistrate and High courts explicitly rejected that particular claim when they refused Assange's bid to stave of extradition. 

@Graeme,

Women have been convicted of rape in New Zealand.

I assume as a party to the actions of a male offender, given the wording of s128(2)?   
by Mike Osborne on August 23, 2012
Mike Osborne

 "can we agree that having male political figures opine on what is "really" rape is just a really, really bad thing?"

Loving the irony. Distinct lack of sheilas commenting - apart from proxy comments from Naomi Wolf who doesn't really know what she's talking about. 

by Ross on August 23, 2012
Ross

I'm sure Assange's lawyers have said a lot of things.

That doesn't address the particular issue raised. Would the allegation relating to the charge of minor rape in this case constitute rape in other countries?

by Andrew Geddis on August 23, 2012
Andrew Geddis

Ross,

Did you really not read my next sentence: "...the UK Magistrate and High courts explicitly rejected that particular claim [that the alleged behaviour would not constitute the crime of rape in the UK] when they refused Assange's bid to stave of extradition"? 

Here's a link to the court's judgment, in case you don't believe me. 

by Ross on August 23, 2012
Ross

Thanks, Andrew. Clearly, you're correct in regards to the UK  (though it's not clear whether the charge would be valid in other European countries or elsewhere).

by Graeme Edgeler on August 23, 2012
Graeme Edgeler

I assume as a party to the actions of a male offender, given the wording of s128(2)?

Also an occasion where someone with a gun or kinfe forced two others to have sex (so that there was no male offender).

by Graeme Edgeler on August 23, 2012
Graeme Edgeler

Thanks, Andrew. Clearly, you're correct in regards to the UK  (though it's not clear whether the charge would be valid in other European countries or elsewhere).

I don't know that it has come up, but I believe at least some of the charges would constitute rape in New Zealand (I wouldn't want to categorically state that the one where it is alleged he deliberately broke a condom would, but I'd probably go with yes there too).

Can you suggest a country or two where none of the allegations would constitute rape?

by Brendon Mills on August 28, 2012
Brendon Mills

Its pretty simple really. I dont see why people have to have such heated discussions about it:

Sexual penetration of a person by another without that person's consent is rape.

Plain and simple.

by Empathic on September 06, 2012
Empathic

None of this is plain and simple.  In NZ Section 128A of the Crimes Act lists a number of ways in which consent clearly given at the time of sexual interaction can be retrospectively, legally defined as not having been given.  Most of these situations are based on the belief of the complainant, not any particular wrongdoing of the accused.  And there is a catch-all clause allowing consent to be retrospectively defined as absent in any number of other circumstances.   Yes, most would agree that some of the listed circumstances might reasonably give rise to offences in some cases, but the law is written in a way that allows people (read 'men') to be convicted of rape and imprisoned for up to 20 years when he has participated in sexual interaction in good faith, without violent or exploitative intent and reasonably believing there was full consent, i.e. when he has done nothing that could reasonably be seen as wrong, .  That law as it stands is irresponsible.   

Todd Akin's use of the term 'legitimate rape' was unwise but widespread refusal to acknowledge his meaning has been dishonest and churlish.  His statement obviously referred to the extension of the concept of 'rape' that we have seen arise over recent decades in the 'western' world, as exemplified by Section 128A of the Crimes Act in NZ.  More generally, it does seem ridiculous to define a case of gentle sex involving unclear consent as being the same as forced rape under traditional definitions (though that's not to say that the gentle sex involving unclear consent should not be an offence).  If Assange did have intercourse with the now-sleeping woman who had fully consented to and participated in intercourse a few hours ealier, only an extreme ideologue would view this as comparable to violent rape by a home invader, yet modern definitions of rape don't distinguish.  As a male, if my lover woke me up through gentle genital stimulation should I see that as sexual assault and demand that she be imprisoned for up to 7 years?  In that case, if she woke me up by gently massaging my shoulders should I also view that as common or indecent assault (touching my body with intimate intent without express permission)?  The law in respect of sexual behaviour has become very dangerous to fairness and justice and it's time we recognized this.

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