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Part II…Feminists Debate Sexual Allegations against Julian Assange

StoryDecember 21, 2010
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We play Part II of the debate between feminists Jaclyn Friedman and Naomi Wolf over the sex crimes allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Freed on bail in London, Assange hasn’t been charged but is wanted in Sweden for questioning on sexual crimes allegations. Assange and his supporters have said the case is part of a wider conspiracy to discredit him because of his work with WikiLeaks, but some in the feminist community have accused WikiLeaks supporters of minimizing violence against women. [includes rush transcript]

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Web ExclusiveDec 20, 2010Part II…Feminists Debate on the Sexual Allegations Against Julian Assange
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to part two of the debate over the sex crime allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Freed on bail in London, Assange hasn’t been charged, but he is wanted in Sweden for questioning on sex crimes allegations.

Assange and his supporters have said the case is part of a wider conspiracy to discredit him because of his work with WikiLeaks. But that argument has been criticized by some in the feminist community who have accused WikiLeaks supporters of minimizing violence against women.

Well, yesterday on Democracy Now!, we were joined by two guests: Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action, & the Media and editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape; and Naomi Wolf, a social critic, author of seven books, including The Beauty Myth and The End of America.

Today, we go to part two of their debate. After we ended the live broadcast, Jaclyn Friedman talked about her definition of “consent.”

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: My book, Yes Means Yes, proposes a new model of consent, and it works like this. It is the responsibility of every party to a sexual encounter to not just make sure that someone is not lying there terrified of them, not objecting, but to actively make sure they’re consenting. And this is a model that’s being increasingly adopted, because it puts everybody in the driver’s seat. Everybody who’s participating with somebody else sexually has a responsibility to make sure that their partner is enthusiastic with what’s happening. I mean, really, in a practical sense, would you want to have sex with someone who is not enthusiastic? None of us would, I think, if we’re not sexual predators.

And so, when we talk about consent and we talk about whether or not she literally said the word “no,” we have to talk about the context. He had ripped her necklace. He had held her down. She was afraid. A lot of women have been taught that they can do nothing against someone who wants to rape them, and the best thing to do is to go along so they don’t get further hurt. And a lot of women operate with that fear. Further, if we look at the second case, she was asleep. A woman who is asleep, a person who is unconscious, is unable to consent. They’re also unable to object. So if you initiate sex with a sleeping person, you are sexually assaulting them, and that is perfectly clear.

NAOMI WOLF: I, too, worry about the fact that rape is so rarely taken seriously and that victims of very cut-and-dry crimes have very little chance of any kind of legal hearing around the world, including in the West, including in Scandinavia. But I would say that it’s exactly this kind of treatment of this kind of situation that undermines the seriousness with which rape victims are likely to get a response. If you look —- again, Jaclyn, I urge you to look at this report from the police. Again and again and again -—

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I fully have.

NAOMI WOLF: Can I just finish? Thank you.

Again and again and again, Assange did what Jaclyn and everyone who cares about rape and I say you should do: he consulted with the women. Now, if you’re going to say that, you know, anyone who takes someone’s clothes off, you know, in an assertive way is engaging in a sex crime, then a lot of people who are having consensual sex are going to be criminalized. But the point is, he stopped when the women said, “Let’s talk about the condom.” He discussed it. They reached an agreement, and they went ahead. He didn’t have sex with that woman when she was asleep. I agree that you need to be awake and conscious and not drunk to consent. We agree about that.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: He did have — that’s the allegation, is that he started when she was asleep.

NAOMI WOLF: Can you just bear with me?

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: That is the allegation.

NAOMI WOLF: Well, you know, he started to have sex with her when she was asleep, correct. And she said in her —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: And that’s rape.

NAOMI WOLF: Just bear with me —- that she was half asleep. Then she woke up. Then they discussed how they would have sex, under what conditions, which is, to me, negotiating consent. Your model is not a new one, with all due respect. I agree that people need to be clear about consent, be clear about the circumstances. Then they had a negotiation in which they both agreed not to use a condom. And then he went ahead, and they made love. And what I’m trying to say -—

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: She negotiated — they did not make love.

NAOMI WOLF: Well, I guess you — neither you nor I were there. And it seems to me that when you say, “OK, you better not have HIV,” he said, “Of course not.” Quote, “She couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night.” To me, that — I mean, if I was making love with a woman, if I was — you know, if I was a lesbian making love with a woman and we had that conversation, I would keep making love with her, because we had had a discussion about it and reached a conclusion.

All I’m saying is I think that this — again, never in 23 years of supporting rape victims — rape victims, people who had no ambiguity, who didn’t throw parties for their rapist four days later, who didn’t continue to host — I mean, women who have been raped, in my experience, don’t want to be around their rapist. They don’t host them in their home. They can barely go home if there’s been an assault in their home.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I find it surprising, then, that you’ve been around many women who have been raped, because the women I talk to who have been raped — 70 to 80 percent of all sexual assaults are committed by people who know their assailant.

NAOMI WOLF: Of course that’s true.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: That creates a lot of — OK, I’m talking now. That creates a lot of difficulty in terms of complex feelings afterwards, the ability for the rapist to emotionally manipulate them, and people — like you are doing — minimizing their experiences.

NAOMI WOLF: I am not minimizing the experience of rape. I’m asking women to behave as —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I went to — Naomi, I am speaking now.

NAOMI WOLF: — and men, as moral adults and take responsibility for their actions.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I went to — I go to a lot of Take Back the Night talks on college campuses, because I’m invited to speak there. And I hear the same story over and over again. I hear the story from women who were sexually assaulted by someone they knew, sometimes continued to date them, sometimes continued to live with them, because they didn’t know that they had rights. They didn’t know that what was being done to them was something that was not OK and that they could speak up about. They were afraid. They were confused. And they don’t tell anybody. And then they get up at these talks, and they say, “I didn’t tell anybody for three years. I let this keep going on, because I didn’t know that I had any better choices. And it’s been making me suffer in silence for three years, because I haven’t had access to any services or support.” And that’s the story I hear from trauma victims over and over again.

NAOMI WOLF: Yeah, so that is the story, Jaclyn.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: And what I’m trying to do —- and these are real rape victims, too, right? Like, real rape doesn’t necessarily involve -—

NAOMI WOLF: But Jaclyn, do you agree that —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: — getting punched in the face, getting drugged.

NAOMI WOLF: Can I respond to you, please? Do you agree —


NAOMI WOLF: And I think this is so important. For feminism to be successful, it is not about giving women a home court advantage; it’s about justice. It is so important that the rule of law operates impartially. So just bear with me. Do you agree that men, or anyone who’s the sexual initiator — because, of course, men can get raped, women can engage in unwelcome or nonconsensual advances —- do you agree that -—


NAOMI WOLF: — men deserve to know when something is not consensual? I mean, I, too, have heard stories that alarm me of young women — and God bless them, my heart goes out to them, right? —- but this is not the end result of feminism. This is not us evolving to the place we need to get. They say, “Well, you know, halfway through, I was having sex with this guy, and I felt raped.” And I said, “Well, did you say anything?” “No.” “Did you indicate anything?” “No, I just felt -— I felt it.” So, I would agree that that’s a failure of society, of —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: That is not what happened in this case.

NAOMI WOLF: In this case — you’re right —- Assange negotiated -—

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: He held the woman down. He raped another while she was sleeping. If someone asks me 20 times, do I want to have sex with them, or do I want to have sex without a condom, or whatever sexual act we’re negotiating, and I say “no” 20 times, and the 21st time I say “yes” because I am worn down and because I am being pressured and coerced and I’m afraid, and because I woke up to him already raping me and I’m freaked out, that is not real consent. That is not a chance to have actual consent.

NAOMI WOLF: Well, I guess, you know, you and I will have to —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: That’s not legitimate consent.

NAOMI WOLF: You and I will have to part ways, because I would like to see a world in which women and men are both treated as moral adults and a world in which, if someone is going to be accused of something as serious as rape, which is the most serious crime, short of murder, you know, or violent, violent physical abuse, that both parties take it very, very seriously. And in this particular situation, where he stops and consults with these women again and again and again, and they consent verbally and directly again and again and again —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: He wasn’t consulting. He was coercing.

NAOMI WOLF: Well, you and I have to agree to disagree about that —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: He was coercing.

NAOMI WOLF: —- because I would like to see a world in which -—

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: In a moral —- in my moral universe, where everyone is an adult moral actor -—


JACLYN FRIEDMAN: —- people are only having sex with people who are enthusiastic about what they’re doing at all times and enthusiastic about the circumstances. If you are pressuring your lover into something -—


JACLYN FRIEDMAN: — if you are coercing them, if you are having sex with them without consent when they are asleep, that is not a moral actor.

NAOMI WOLF: So, I just —- Jaclyn -—

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: That is morally unjustifiable.

NAOMI WOLF: I mean, in a way — in a way, Amy, I have to say, I find this conversation extremely frustrating and wrong, because really — and this is why I was reluctant to have this particular debate. You know, here we are debating, oh, you know, nuances of what is to me, working 23 years with rape victims, a highly ambiguous situation compared to the cut-and-dry, clear assaults and violence and, you know, date rapes that do not get a legal hearing every day, including in Sweden, whereas really the issue is a man who has, you know, released information showing wrongdoing at the highest levels being dragged out of the line of justice, out of any kind of ordinary treatment of ordinary assault — and by the way, these women did not make charges against him. They went to the police to see if they could get him to take an STD test. The police, the state brought charges.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, now, stop for a second. Explain that. We have talked about that, but —

NAOMI WOLF: OK, it is a very important distinction. And, you know, when I worked with rape survivors in the United Kingdom in the ’80s, there was a same situation where it was the state and not the women who pursued the case. And this very much marginalized what the women wanted. So, let us remember, the women didn’t go to the police and say, “This guy assaulted me,” or “This guy violated me,” or “This guy molested me.” That’s not what happened. They went to the police, much subsequent, and said, “Can we get him to take an STD test?” And the police walked them through what had happened, and the police said, “That’s against the law.”

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: He is alleged to have held one woman down and to have raped a woman in her sleep. It’s not at all about the condom.

NAOMI WOLF: He didn’t —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: The condom is an issue, but to make it about the condom — the issue here is that we are minimizing the attempt for two women in Sweden to get justice.

NAOMI WOLF: That is not correct. Jaclyn, I strongly object.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: And what that tells victims everywhere across the world is that they are not going to have a chance either.

NAOMI WOLF: Jaclyn, Jaclyn —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: What we should be doing is taking this as an opportunity to raise the bar internationally for the way we expect governments to protect their citizens —

NAOMI WOLF: Exactly, exactly.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: — including female victims of rape.

NAOMI WOLF: And that involves having a single standard of justice and a single standard of justice where rape victims and those accused of rape can be sure that the state will and the judiciary will take appropriate single standard action —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: And the way to be sure is to make sure your partners are enthusiastically consenting. I have to say I am really offended by your continuing to talk on behalf of rape victims, as a rape victim myself.

NAOMI WOLF: I am speaking on behalf of the rape victims who are emailing me.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: You do not speak for me.

NAOMI WOLF: I am not saying I speak for you, Jaclyn. I’m speaking —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: And I am speaking on behalf of the rape victims that I work with every day, and I’m speaking on behalf of myself as a rape victim whose situation was accused to have not been cut and dry, because you know what most women hear when they allege rape? They hear, “Oh, well, it’s ambiguous. We really can’t do much about this.” You know how endemic that is, and how much that is the reason rape is not reported and prosecuted?

NAOMI WOLF: Well, I do. I do know, Jaclyn, which is why —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: It’s the exact thing you’re saying right here: “Oh, it’s not a real, cut-and-dried rape.”

NAOMI WOLF: Jaclyn, please do not twist what I’m saying.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: And that is insulting to victims worldwide.

NAOMI WOLF: What I’m saying is, it’s because —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: You just said it!

NAOMI WOLF: It’s because rape is so —

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: There’s tape. We can watch it back.

NAOMI WOLF: Jaclyn, please.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s do one at a time.

NAOMI WOLF: This is a really important issue, and it’s important for us to have a substantive debate about it. And an ideally respectful debate. So, it is because I take the issue of rape so seriously, and it’s because so many women — and when I say —- I don’t mean ambiguous like date rape or ambiguous like she was drinking too much. I mean ambiguous like she consented and consented and consented. That is a big difference. I, too, support women -—

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: That’s not what happened here!


AMY GOODMAN: Jaclyn and Naomi, let me interrupt for one second and say, what would you like to see happen at this point in this case? So, you have Julian Assange who was held for a week in jail on allegations of sexual assault. He has been released. What do you want to see happen right now? What do you each think would be fair? He faces an extradition hearing on December 11th, extradition — on January 11th, extradition to Sweden. Jaclyn, let’s begin with you. What do you want to see happen now?

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I am mostly concerned that he faces the allegations. It does not concern me. I agree that extradition is extreme in a case like this. It certainly is not typical. On the other hand, he agreed to come back and volunteer for questioning in October and did not do so. But if the British wanted to insist that the Swedes go to Britain and interview him there and have him proceed with a prosecution there until they decide whether or not they want to bring formal charges, I think that would be perfectly reasonable. My concern is that these allegations are taken seriously, not minimized, treated as real, because they represent the real experiences of real rape victims everywhere, and that he is made to answer to them to the satisfaction of the justice system, at the very least.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Wolf, what would you like to see?

NAOMI WOLF: Well, I mean, what I’m interested in is equal justice and the rule of law. And so, I do believe that everyone who’s accused of a serious crime needs to know that they are acting without someone’s consent. So I’d like, going forward, for — you know, I think it’s incumbent upon people to express to each other if they are consenting or not. And so, to me, I agree that there should be a hearing, obviously. But I think it should weigh very seriously, as it does for me, reading these, as a supporter of rape victims, as a crusader on the issue of rape — it is important that I don’t see anywhere these women expressing a lack of consent. In fact, I see them indicating consensual willingness to engage in sex, consensual willingness to engage in sex without a condom. I see that from the record. So, to me, an impartial hearing would be ideal, if improbable.

And I have to say, I think we are being naïve. And I am kind of reluctant to be drawn into this side of the debate, because the larger picture is, why is the guy resisting coming back to Sweden? He’s resisting coming back to Sweden the way any journalist would, because in Sweden they will extradite him to the United States, where he is facing, you know, prolonged isolation, like Bradley Manning, which drives people insane, according to human rights activists. He’s facing being called an “enemy combatant” by some of our most senior political leaders, which would mean that they could ship him to Guantánamo, you know, where they’re still torturing people, where they’re still holding people in kangaroo court conditions, where there’s still — you know, people are dying mysterious deaths in Guantánamo, even in Obama’s Guantánamo, where he’s facing abuse or mistreatment of hideous kinds and the possibility of never having due process, because we now have, you know, a banana republic situation off the coast of Cuba, where people can get lost in a black hole, where their innocence or guilt doesn’t matter. And so, to be talking about, you know, these discussions about these complaints — you’re right that they’re not charges — without putting it in the larger picture of he’s not every guy who doesn’t want to go back to where women have accused him of sexual impropriety. He’s a guy who, if he goes back, is going to lose his freedom and his life, because he’s being made a scapegoat and a martyr, you know, on behalf of journalists everywhere by the most powerful government on earth, that doesn’t want whistleblowers shining any kind of light on their wrongdoing, even as they continue to surveil us, wiretap us, break the Fourth Amendment every single day. So, I think we have to keep that larger picture in mind.

I would like justice to be done. I would like a hearing. But I would also like my country to behave according to the rule of law and my country to stop acting like a global bully, you know, intimidating other nations and other judicial systems, which is clearly what happened here, into bullying and intimidating journalists, because, believe me, Amy, if he is taken into custody, if he is prosecuted under the Espionage Act, which closed down dissent in this country for a decade, and he’s made an example of in this way — wrongly, because he’s the New York Times, not the Daniel Ellsberg in the case; he is just the publisher — then you and I are not going to be safe doing our jobs as journalists any longer.

AMY GOODMAN: Jaclyn Friedman, do you find any common ground here?

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: Naomi, I couldn’t agree with you more about my concerns. Yes, I could not agree more about concerns about having him extradited to the United States, about the Espionage Act. I agree with you about all of that. However, I speak for myself and many, many rape victims when I say we are so tired of having our bodies thrown under the bus for the concerns of a powerful white guy. I totally agree, but I would like to see — and if he does get extradited to the U.S. from Sweden, I will be on the front lines with you protesting that. But, denying these two women justice is a denial of justice. He needs to be made to answer these charges anyway. While, yes, I think it is political and extraordinary the way this is being pursued, it’s an opportunity to raise the bar for the women of Sweden and the women internationally for what we can expect from our justice systems for women who are alleging sexual violence.

NAOMI WOLF: And I would have to say that I think you’re living in a —

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Wolf, final words.

NAOMI WOLF: I mean, I think it’s a fantasy world to think that after this case is over the bar will be raised at all. This is the last time we’re ever going to see consensual sex involving a dispute about a condom criminalized. And it’s the first time I’ve seen it in 23 years, and I am sure that after they’ve done whatever violent, brutal thing they’re planning to do to Julian Assange, it’s the last time we’re going to see it. I don’t think it helps the women of Sweden in the least to trivialize the very real issue of rape with this kind of thing.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN: Many, many of the women in Sweden think it is helping them. And I listen to the women there.

NAOMI WOLF: OK, I listen to the women there, too, and I guess there are many women in Sweden who have different opinions about this.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Wolf, social critic, author of seven books, including The Beauty Myth, The End of America. And Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action, & the Media and editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape.

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Part II…Feminists Debate on the Sexual Allegations Against Julian Assange

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