January 01, 2011

Assange and the Victim Conspiracy

This is the second in a series of posts about the misleading, uninformed, and downright silly things some Assange supporters are saying about the rape charges over which he is facing extradition to Sweden.

Part 2: The women didn't cry rape until they found out Assange wasn't exclusive!!!
The basis of this argument is that neither of Assange's accusers went to the police until they'd met and compared notes. It's somehow presumed to follow from this that their "real" motive was jealousy. This is, at best, a nonsequitur. It's also not entirely compatible with the idea that they went to the police to have Assange coerced into an HIV test or the argument that one of the women is working on behalf of the CIA, but let's take it on its own merits for now.

What's not in dispute (note that this doesn't mean this information is accurate)? Neither woman immediately went to police after the events about which Assange is wanted for questioning. The women spoke to each other and were aware that Assange had had sex with both of them at the time they went to the police together.

What is in dispute? Whether this information has any value in determining whether the women experienced what the charges say they experienced. A reminder:

She said the first complainant, Miss A, said she was victim of "unlawful
coercion" on the night of 14 August in Stockholm.

The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.

The second charge alleged Assange "sexually molested" Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her "express wish" one should be used.

The third charge claimed Assange "deliberately molested" Miss A on 18 August "in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity".

The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on 17 August without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.

In order for the women's behavior to tell us anything, it should be something that is common in women who are not rape victims but uncommon among women who have been raped. (Information about male rape survivors is thin and complicated by a much stronger reluctance to report, even in surveys.) By that standard, nonreporting of rape is a worthless indicator.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that the majority of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated against women and girls in the United States between 1992 and 2000 were not reported to the police. Only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported. [3]

Reasons for not reporting assault vary among individuals, but one study identified the following as common: [4]

  • Self-blame or guilt.
  • Shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter.
  • Humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual's perceptions.
  • Fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime.
  • Lack of trust in the criminal justice system.

Let us note that reasons three and four for not reporting, if they played any part in the decisions of Assange's accusers, would seem to have been fully justified in this case.

From the same source, it's also not uncommon for people who don't report their sexual assaults to discuss what happened with others.

In the NIJ funded Sexual Assault Among Latinas Study (SALAS), it was found that victims did not commonly seek help from the criminal justice system, but did seek informal sources of help such as family and friends. However, one third of the women included in the study did not report their victimization to anyone.

The question of how common it is for victims to press charges when they discover they are not alone in their victimhood is trickier. Despite rape being as common as it is, it often leaves its victims feeling alone, separated by shame and denial from the rest of the world. These feelings are strong enough to keep some women from seeking any kind of formal support after their trauma (and with reason). On the other hand, we know that people with social support (friends, family, and acquaintances who believe them and don't blame them for the assault) are more likely to report and prosecute rapes.

Preventing other rapes is one reason presented to rape victims for reporting, and given some similarities between rape victims and domestic assault victims in reasons for not reporting their assaults, we can make some arguments why it might be an effective one. Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with domestic violence is familiar with the explanations offered by the offender: "I'm so sorry, honey. I can't believe I did that. I just got carried away. It will never happen again."

There are similar statements made in the case of rape. "You were so sexy. I just got carried away. It will never happen again." "I'm sorry. I didn't think you meant it. It will never happen again" In every case, either stated or implicit is the idea that this was a one-time offense, that it will not reoccur. We know that believing that the offender will change makes a difference in the behavior of victims of domestic assault. It isn't a stretch to posit that it will do the same in rape victims. Knowing that your assailant has raped someone else makes it much easier to understand that none of the fault for the rape was yours, and preventing someone else from being raped can provide the motivation to deal with your fear of the process of reporting a rape when you don't feel a prosecution can otherwise help you.

To bring this back to the Assange case and summarize briefly, the behavior of his accusers in speaking to each other before going to the police is hardly something that can only be accounted for by a conspiracy of sexual jealousy and revenge. Their behavior isn't unusual within the context of rape victims, and it's consistent with what we know about rape, assault, and reporting.

Does that mean that Assange is guilty? Oh, go read. Don't bother to comment here until you have.

What it does mean is that nothing about the validity of the charges Assange is facing can be determined from the behavior of the women involved. As an argument, this needs to be dropped.


Mark said...

I disagree, and believe that the fact they compared stories before going to the police is very relevant.
You ask what is in dispute? When Ms. A and Ms. W decided they were raped is in dispute. Ms. A waited 6 days between the events and going to the police, during which time she hosted a crayfish party in his honour. Ms. W waited 4 days, during which she paid for his meal and his train ticket. Both sent tweets suggesting they had warm feelings towards Assange. So it is entirely appropriate to ask when their feelings changed, and why.
Also, I argue you can't extrapolate the Bureau of Justice Statistics report to this case, because Assange's actions wouldn't constitute rape in America. It's comparing apples with oranges. For example, you couldn't read a report on bank robberies, and conclude that pickpockets wear ski-masks. Those statistics don't provide any guidance here
Because Assange will have a presumption of innocence and there is no forensic evidence, the case will depend on the accuser's stories. Their testimonies will have to be so convincing that the Judge will believe beyond a reasonable doubt of his guilt. Basically, the onus is on Ms. A and Ms. W to prove they are believable and trustworthy. Barring a miracle, they will both fail this test.
The reasons why they will fail are:
1) Both voluntarily consented initially to have sex
2) Although they may later have had misgivings, no suggestion has been put forward that either woman said "No, stop", or otherwise unambiguously withdrew consent
3) Both provided services for him after the supposed assaults. Ms. A hosted a crayfish party in his honour, and Ms. W paid for his train ticket.
4) They waited a long period before going to the police
4) They compared stories before going to police. The defence attorney will argue that they mutually reinforced each other's impression of Assange's negative characteristics, and downplayed his positive ones through derogatory statements. He will then argue that this amounts to unintentional coaching, and that their testimony had been compromised before made available to the police.
5) Crucially, both accusers tried to destroy evidence that helps Assange's defence when they tried to delete tweets and blog postings. This point alone, even in a perfect case with forensic evidence, would usually sink the case. When the lawyer asks in court "Ms. W., you tried to hide evidence from this judge that could help my client's defence. Why then should he believe anything you say now?", what will she say? What could anyone say in that situation?
6) Neither of the women initially intended to ask for charges to be pressed. Arguably, this means the police could have solicited a case against Assange by implanting a belief of abuse where no belief previously existed.
7) Ms. A. said after the investigation started, "Assange is not violent and we do not fear him". When the rape victim says the rapist isn't violent, it kinda makes the whole case seem dodgy. Stunningly, the women's lawyer said "they aren't jurists...and aren't qualified to determine if they were raped".
8) Only 24 hours after the police interview with the two women, someone leaked the story to the Swedish tabloids. When in court, the lawyer will ask Ms. A or Ms. W "How much did you get paid to leak that story?". It won't matter what they answer, because everyone will then think it.
6) Ms. A published an article called "7 legal steps to take revenge". It's a vicious, ugly article, and anyone who reads it will lose some sympathy for her.
You may be right that the women's behaviour does not impact on the charge's validity. But validity is irrelevant. It's what can be proven that is relevant. Perhaps all of the charges against Assange are true, but if there's no realistic prospect of a conviction, then the Swedish prosecutors are simply making the women's lives hell in a pointless exercise.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Mark, you're not just creepy in your assertion that the case shouldn't be tried because you're able to smear the accusers to your own satisfaction, but you're also wrong on a number of points. Not that it has any relevance for establishing the fact that few rape victims report the crimes against them (if anything, withdrawal of consent is less like to be reported than other kinds of rape, due to the victim confusion you mention), but withdrawal of consent is legally recognized in the U.S. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6700/is_1_95/ai_n29148498/

As for your idea that the accusers behavior has any relevance to whether a crime occurred, you need to read this: http://almostdiamonds.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-must-she-behave-to-have-been-raped.html

And in the future, leave the legal argumentation up to those who can do better than "kinda makes the whole case seem dodgy."

Becca said...

Hey Mark- you point out several difficulties the prosecution lawyer will face, and I agree it will be a significant challenge.

Nonetheless, you have not made any points that have even the slightest relevancy to the fundamental immorality and creepiness of sticking your dick in an unconscious person.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Or even its criminality.

lawguy said...

It seems to me that what Mark is pointing out are several reasons not to believe the allegations.

To think that the alleged victims are lying. Is that wrong? If so why?

Stephanie Zvan said...

lawguy, he's doing significantly more than that. He's saying the prosecutor has no business bringing the case. What's right about trying to undermine the validity of a legal case in the media based on a personal interpretation of evidence instead of suggesting it play out in the courts?

lawguy said...

I would suggest that this case was being tried in the news media (as they always are) by the prosecution before the defendant's supporters started to fight back.

If your point is that these issues shouldn't be raised in public and cases shouldn't be tried in public, then maybe. But that isn't the kind of world we live in (or for that matter have ever lived in, check the famous trials from the early 20th century if you think other wise).

Stephanie Zvan said...

lawguy, I have no doubt whatsoever that you believe the news media was claiming Assange was guilty. However, you also insisted, even after you couldn't find any evidence of it, that I was believing the accusers' stories over Assange's. You should probably reconsider whether the problem is in what was written (and provide some links/quotes) or in your ability to objectively read anything being written about this topic.

Mark said...

Becca, I think we both agree that penetrating a sleeping women is both despicable and rape. If Assange says on the stand, “Yes, your Honour, it happened just as Ms. W said”, then I’ll be the first to say “Lock him up!”

But if he says “No, your honour, she was awake”, then it becomes a he said/she said scenario, and I’ve listed the reasons they’ll probably fail to convince the judge beyond a reasonable doubt.

And yes, I believe prosecutors are behaving unethically when they bring forward a case with no case of success. Anecdotal evidence says that going through a trial is almost as harrowing to the victims as the violence itself, and an acquittal could be devastating. In medicine, the directive “first, do no harm” can be extremely hard to follow, but we follow it because we’re ethically obliged to. Doing nothing really is sometimes the best option.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and they’ll unveil a whole different set of facts at trial, but if the media reports are accurate then it’s hard to imagine a difficult case to prosecute.

By the way Stephanie, about undermining the “validity of a legal case in the media”; I somehow doubt that the Swedish justice system will crumble due to my comments.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Mark, this is why you're so creepy. It isn't up to you and your paternalism--not one tiny bit--whether the accusers go through a trial. Actual study data is mixed on the effects of going through the criminal justice system, but it appears to be mediated by social disapprobation. In other words, the bit that you're doing here is the damaging part, but you're twirling your hair and pushing the responsibility onto whomever you think will give you the outcome you want.

Then, just in case the court case turns out differently than you hope, you're poisoning the well with rape myths and irrelevancies in an attempt to make sure the verdict will never be considered valid. All the while, other rape victims and future rape victims are watching and learning. It's a damned good thing for them and for society that they're far stronger than you're willing to give them credit for.

Now, unless you have something new to say, go away.