**Trigger warning for discussion of rape and rape apologism. Please note also that the comments may be triggering.
Here’s the thing.
I only want to say this: whatever you say about a rape, any rape (or alleged rape, let’s be clear, because I am well aware that Assange may be innocent — or fictional rape, for argument’s sake, because whether the rape actually occurred or not is not relevant to this point) can be heard by others. It can be heard by others who have been raped, or who will one day be raped, or who may have raped someone, or may rape someone one day. And you, when you are speaking or writing or tweeting or commenting on Facebook or blogging or muttering under your damn breath on the train, need to take responsibility for that.
- Say you’re watching the news, and the story of Assange’s arrest comes on, and you say to your spouse, or the cat, I don’t care who, pffft, what a CIA conspiracy, there’s no way he’d ever rape anyone and your thirteen year old daughter hears you. What does she learn?
- Say you’re at the pub, and you say to your colleague, those women just felt pissy when they found out he’d slept with both of them. That’s not called rape, it’s called regret and the woman serving you your beer was raped two weeks ago but has been too afraid to report it because her friend reported a rape once and wasn’t believed by the police. How does she feel?
- Say you’re at the same pub, and one of your colleagues says yeah, and one of them was asleep apparently. Who hasn’t done that after a drunk night out hahahaha and you laugh, because it seems funny after the beer, and you like that guy. That guy, the one that you like, has actually raped an unconscious woman and now thinks you’re all a-okay with that, because it’s just what blokes do, and you laughed. What does he learn?
- Say you’re at a family barbecue and someone mentions that one of Assange’s accusers was a feminist who wrote about taking revenge on men, and you say yeah, rape is terrible but so is being wrongly accused. So many women just cry rape to get the attention, it’s disgusting and your mother-in-law leaves the room because she was raped many years ago by a trusted family friend and nobody believed her, but you don’t know that story, because you never asked. How does your mother-in-law feel, how does she feel about you being the parent of her grandchildren?
- Say you’re on Facebook and someone posts a joke about the blonde, tight-clothes wearing Swedish women Assange is alleged to have assaulted and you hit Like on it because it’s funny, you know?, and then one of your male friends unfriends you the same day and you never notice the coincidence, because you don’t know that he was sexually abused as a child, and now he will never tell you because you think rape is funny and you can’t possibly conceive of his pain, you can’t even touch it, you don’t even know it exists because to you it’s a punchline or it happens to women, only women or maybe in prison, and only when it’s deserved. How does that feel?
- Say you’re on Twitter, and you are enraged, and you retweet some posts that muck-rake about Assange’s accusers and their sexual histories or their clothing or their feminist leanings. You’re probably being unfair to those women but you don’t care, you don’t have to care, this is Assange, this is WikiLeaks, this is important. You don’t know that many of your Twitter followers have been raped and have been through various traumatic experiences from dealing with police and legal process and maybe even the media and how do they feel that this is being dragged up again in their Twitter feed? How do they feel, that you don’t even care about them (and you don’t care, because the only way you could possibly fail to know that a shockingly high percentage of women have been sexually assaulted, even women you know, would be if you didn’t care).
It doesn’t matter (not here — quite obviously it matters in other ways) whether or not Assange is guilty of rape or molestation or anything else. It doesn’t matter a jot, because your daughter your colleague your friend your relatives your social media buddies and the woman who works at the pub and every person you open your mouth in the prescence of has already learned something about rape and rape myths and about you.
What you say about rape — any rape, alleged or fictional or otherwise — matters. What you say, what I say, what journalists say, what your hairdresser says, what teachers say, what doctors say, what police say, what Julian Assange says, what your kid repeats at school: all of these utterances contribute to our cultural understanding of rape. And when what we hear time and time again is some version of apologism or some perpetuation of a rape myth like sluts can’t be raped or women always cry rape or nice men aren’t rapists then all we do is make the noise of rape culture louder and the voices of victims and survivors ever more silent.
You have a choice, when you speak about rape, any rape.
You can make victims and survivors hurt more. You can take justice further out of reach. You can encourage the disrespect and objectification of women. You can further silence marginalised victims, like children (and sex-workers and prisoners and trans* people for that matter) and make it ever harder for those who can face the greatest resistance to telling their stories, like male victims, or those raped by celebrities and ‘heroes’.
Or, you can not.
Think about it.
*Here is a list of crisis support lines for people within Australia who may need to talk to someone about rape or sexual assault.
* Here is a list of international resources for those outside of Australia.